This opinion poll reported in the Sun-Herald shows Labor 4 points ahead on the two-party preferred vote. I don’t imagine that this will persist – the government has had a particularly bad week. Still there are a couple of lessons that can be drawn.
One is that, contrary to what was, at least a week ago, the conventional wisdom, Howard does not bestride the political scene like a colossus. Given some bad luck at the right time (for example, a Tampa-style stunt that went wrong), he could easily lose the next election.
The second is that the view of the government as ‘mean and tricky’ is well-established for a large section of the electorate. Episodes such as the ethanol scandal, Abbott’s efforts over Hanson and the WMD lies all fit into this perception.
As long as the housing bubble continues, the odds are in Howard’s favor. But, the bubble will burst sooner or later. When it does, the accumulated costs of mean and tricky government will burden the Liberal Party for years to come.
Update 1/9/03: Glenn Milne agrees with much of this, and emerges as a Costello partisan and strong critic of Howard. Is this new, and does it reflect a nascent Press Gallery consensus that Howard is consistently dishonest, and therefore should not be PM?
Further update 2/9: Dave Ricardo and Tim Dunlop, who follow Milne more closely than I do, say that he is a longstanding Costello partisan. And Mork raises the more general issue of the Press Gallery and its role. This will require a big post some time.