John Howard is hoping that the opinion polls are measuring an interesting exercise by a public with an innate sense of humour. The better the economy gets the more those polled pull the pollster’s leg but when it comes to the real polling day they will mark their ballots for the Coalition and cry “fooled you!”

It is the kind of belief prevalent among people on their way to the gallows. Politicians trailing badly in the electoral race need some hope to cling to as they battle onwards for another six months. The thought that the better the objective measurements of success the worse you will do is just too hard to contemplate.

A growing economy; record low unemployment; minimal inflation; and above all a sense of optimism about the future — today’s Australia has them all and Newspoll says the Government is behind 41% to Labor’s 59%!

I wrote in Crikey many weeks ago how Treasurer Peter Costello was reported to be musing that a few clouds on the economic horizon would help rather than hinder the Coalition’s cause.

Mr Costello was aware that benign times are risk taking times. The people are far more inclined to give that young Mr Rudd a go when the future seems bright than if hard times seemed to be approaching where an experienced and proven captain would seem desirable.

On this measure, what Mr Howard needs to pray for along with the rain is a dash of international economic uncertainty. Perhaps the China which has created so much of the Australian good times with its demand for raw materials might oblige with a crash of the Shanghai stock exchange so severe that it sends shock waves through the whole international financial system. A tumbling in the value of people’s superannuation savings just might take the smile off those ungrateful faces.

Or perhaps it is not economic security that needs threatening but another round of Islamic murder and mayhem that will make Australians think they need a tough and wise old head in charge of national security.

Certainly something quite dramatic is needed to revive the fortunes of the Coalition for there is little apparent gratitude being recorded by the pollsters. Which is perhaps not that surprising as my back of the envelope scribblings on personal income growth since the last election show that there is no huge gain for the man on average weekly earnings.

The after-tax wage is up some $85 a week but 50 litres of petrol a week costs $8 a week more and interest on a $250,000 mortgage another $50. Three years of inflation on what is left after petrol and interest knocks off the equivalent of $30 so our average income earner has ended up with only an extra $5 a week in the pocket.

Not a great deal to be grateful for really.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey