There is no climate change ad campaign, the Prime Minister insists. And it’s public knowledge that almost $53 million has already been set aside for it – so how can it be an issue, his Treasurer demands to know.

If you want an explanation for the government’s current poll performance, this is it – in a nutshell.

They look extravagant on advertising. They look out of touch about climate change. And the PM’s lawyerly linguistic hair-splitting might cover the contingencies, but it’s also wearing thinner and thinner.

The Prime Minister has denied the campaign exists 11 times. The opposition has been chasing him over it since last week. The Sydney Morning Herald ran details of the brief on Friday.

Senate Estimates have learned that $176,000 has been spent on market research for it. But still the PM maintains a campaign is not a campaign until it gets official ministerial approval.

Why? Michelle Grattan is bang on the mark today when she says: “He simply sounds devious, stubborn and slightly crazy.”

Indeed. The Prime Minister looks as if he is embarrassed by government advertising and prepared to go to absurd lengths to play it down.

Then there’s the actual issue the campaign is supposed to cover.

When Labor censured Howard over his answers to their questions on the campaign, he bagged them for backing Sir Nicholas Stern’s “Eurocentric” report to the UK Treasury on climate change.

Jack Lang probably described Sir Otto Niemeyer’s work in similar terms.

John Howard says he’s not a climate change sceptic. He says he’s a climate change realist. In which case, you’d think he’d know that the science and politics of global warming are two very, very different things.

We know from the leaked details of the brief that it’s proposed to send a booklet on energy saving and how to become carbon neutral to every household in Australia as part of the campaign.

The bloke who invented practical reconciliation should have no problems with practical ways to save energy. Saving energy saves money; for households, for business – and for government by lessening demand on infrastructure.

JK Rowling publishes the last Harry Potter next month. Someone’s got to meet that massive public demand for fantasy.

John Howard is clearly not the bloke. All he did with his claims yesterday was reinforce every negative thought that voters have about him. He wouldn’t have done it in the past – and he certainly shouldn’t have done it with Newspoll giving Labor a 20-point lead.

Everything Howard has done on the climate change campaign has shown why voter support for him and his government is rapidly cooling.

It’s just amazing that the prints haven’t caned him for it harder today.