So the 2010 election looks headed for a relatively simple contest. It’s no longer Tony Abbott versus Kevin Rudd. It’s several large, wealthy transnational companies — Rio Tinto, BHP-Billiton, Xstrata, News Ltd — versus Labor.

The transnationals have very deep pockets, are well-led, single-minded and can draw extensively on the necessary talent required to convince voters of the need to remove a once-popular government from power.

Labor has… well, not much that I can think of. An incompetent leader who might have finally worked out he has a real problem with voters’ perception of him, but does not appear to have much of a clue about what to do about it.

The mainstream media will be the battleground. One of the transnationals owns much of it; the rest will be a contested space in which an outgunned Government will attempt, through both advertising and political smarts (OK, stop laughing up the back), to combat a clever, very expensive campaign run by the mining industry.

There’s only one thing that concerns the miners at this point: the possibility that the Government might offer a reasonable compromise — one sufficient to leave them looking obstinate and obstructionist in the eyes of voters.

This is a real concern. A source within one of the big four consultancy firms has told Crikey that the miners have commissioned modeling, in anticipation of a Government compromise offer, intended to demonstrate that a move along the lines of the compromise repeatedly rumoured to be on the cards — a doubling of the 6% cut-in rate, and the abandonment of transferability and deductibility of deductions — will only leave the sector slightly better off than the RSPT. The purpose is to circumvent any benefit for the Government from moving to end the stand-off.

That’s because the big miners want to get rid of the Government, not just get rid of the RSPT. They are particularly concerned about the possibility of the Greens holding the balance of power after July next year, driving the Government in effect leftward on issues like climate change. Far better to have a compliant and mining-friendly Liberal Party in office that will reintroduce aspects of Workchoices.

News Ltd made its intentions clear with a series of blatant lies in The Weekend Australian suggesting that Kevin Rudd’s leadership was in effect dependent on the outcome of today’s Newspoll.

There is anger in Caucus, anger at Rudd and his seeming obliviousness to the need for a different management approach. MPs are deeply frustrated and angered because they sense the same arrogance from Rudd’s office as they saw when he was 20 points ahead in the polls, and wonder how bad things need to get before they realise they need to change. But there’s no mood for a leadership change.

That’s partly because MPs are aware the problem isn’t just Kevin Rudd but the party itself — the lack of anything voters can see that the party clearly stands for.

There’s a lot of sloppy journalism today about the alleged Federal implications of the Penrith by-election — apparently generations of evidence voters persistently vote differently at State and Federal levels doesn’t wash with some commentators. There are no Federal implications. The problem is not one by-election, however disastrous — quite why anyone in NSW is voting for Labor at the moment must be considered one of the great mysteries of politics — but of years of government that eschewed real action and reform in favour of spin, self-obsession, constant policy reannouncement and reactive managerialism.

This has damaged Labor not just in NSW but across the eastern states, and federally as well. And this year Rudd has appeared to play by the NSW Labor playbook, and magnified the damage. Switching to Julia Gillard isn’t going to instantly restore long-term perceptions of Labor.

It is this poorly-led, damaged outfit that must fight off a determined effort by powerful interests to change the government. I wouldn’t bet on them at this point, but there’s a ways to go yet and the Opposition still seems to have the same problem Labor has — a leader who is weighing them down.