At some point over the course of the year, the ramifications of Labor’s truly dire political position will sink in to those few remaining MPs who have succeeded so far in putting off deliberation about their fate next August.
There’ll be a Budget on 8 May, then four weeks of sittings, including Senate Estimates, then the winter recess. When parliament returns, it will be one year to go. One year to go to an election at which Labor will lose around 25 seats to a national swing of the kind on display on current polling.
Needless to say, there won’t be a uniform national swing. Queensland, currently, is a disaster area for Labor. Essential’s polling, aggregated across several weeks, suggests Labor’s primary vote in Queensland is around 28%. In WA (using a small sample size even in aggregation) it’s 29%, with the Coalition on nearly 55%. In NSW Labor’s vote is under 32%. The polling is bad enough to suggest the Coalition could take control of the Senate, although against that, the Greens only have three senate spots up for grabs and are polling well enough in Victoria, at over 12%, to be a strong chance of picking up an extra seat.
Barry O’Farrell and Campbell Newman might also wear out their welcome with voters sufficiently by August next year to lift Labor vote off the floor in NSW and Queensland, but that’s straw-grasping stuff.
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Much can happen between now and August 2013, of course. Just ask the Liberals about how things looked in November 2009. Much will need to change, for Labor. A very great deal indeed.
But does Labor have until then? Notionally, the government solved that problem when it elevated Peter Slipper to the Speakership, giving itself extra insurance beyond that afforded by its agreements with the independents and the Greens. The defection of Slipper seemed to guarantee stability for the government until the election, even if it lost an MP along the way.
But Julia Gillard cashed that particular insurance cheque in January, when she sent Andrew Wilkie packing, partly because of her concerns about the effect of the poker machine issue on her leadership. It was not, as the sporting types might put it, the percentage play. Not when everyone knew about Slipper, regardless of the conspiracy theories circulating about how he’s been set up.
The net effect was that Labor acquired the problem, well known to all, of Peter Slipper, and lost the support of Wilkie. A lose-lose. Now there’s no insurance. Just a trail of allegations about the Speaker and one seriously p-ssed off Tasmanian.
It brings the possibility of a successful vote of no-confidence closer again, and the resulting election — because while Oakeshott, Windsor and Wilkie would be happy to support a Turnbull government, none of them are that keen on an Abbott government.
Or Slipper might decide he’s had enough and take his monumental parliamentary pension into retirement now rather than at next year’s election, where he’s guaranteed to lose.
But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? With questions about the Prime Minister’s judgment, the one-step-forward-two-steps-back politics, the wondering when the government, which is commendably pursuing a sound reform agenda, will find some clear air or at least some workable tactics to get itself out of the hole it’s in. We’re in the prime pre-Budget season at the moment — the dodgy “alternative Treasury” forecasts are starting to get their usual run in the papers — and yet no one’s talking about what will happen on 8 May. Instead, the press is forensically analysing Cabcharge vouchers, in the exact way they don’t forensically analyse policy.
Reforms are all very well, but if they don’t stick they don’t count. And much of Labor’s legacy — the NBN, the carbon price, the mining tax, FOFA — is scheduled for demolition under the Coalition. It would be as if the Labor years never happened.
All things for Labor MPs to reflect on as the cold closes in in Canberra over the coming months.