When politicians perform in Parliament they have two audiences. The immediate one is their parliamentary colleagues; the second is the voters outside the chamber. Those dual requirements make it a difficult for a politician because they are inevitably contradictory.

Within the parliament the combatants play to get the applause of their colleagues with the aim of establishing some kind of verbal superiority over their opponents. Voices are raised. The aggression is applauded. Press gallery journalists report it as a kind of verbal prize fight.

Watching news clips on the television at home, the parliamentary performance looks quite different. Loud voices are a turnoff. Insults appear like childish bad manners. Rather than gaining support from a forceful oration, the esteem with which voters hold politicians falls.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a very capable insulter — as references to a mincing poodle well-illustrated, appears to be one of those suffering the most. Her popularity as measured by the pollsters is going down. Perhaps the time is right for her to ignore trying to impress her backbenchers and concentrate instead on the viewers and listeners at home. A little more of the softly, softly is called for.