There have been plenty of first Rudd anniversary stories in the media, which generally rate the government as politically successful. This is not surprising. It was the Liberals who risked serious trouble in Labor’s first year. Though I did not agree with those predicting the Liberal Party’s demise, I have been quite pessimistic about the party’s long-term prospects.
At 45-55 in the two-party preferred Newspoll, Coalition support is a little worse than the election result but better than where the polls had the party for much of 2007. Things haven’t gone dramatically backwards.
The Australian Election Survey found that the party base – the proportion of people who generally think of themselves as Liberals – was intact at about 36%. Apart from an increase to 40% in 2004, it has been around that level since the late 1970s. Though the AES sample of under-25s is too small to be reliable, it does suggest on-going problems there, with only 27% identifying with the Liberals.
In my view the defeat was partly due to the issue cycle moving against the Coalition, but now there are some signs it is turning back towards issues on which the Coalition has more credibility. If the key issues remained who could best spend the dividends of prosperity the political debate would have remained very much on Labor territory.
Labor remains the clearly preferred party on the environment, but the politics of an ETS – to begin in election year! – look very difficult, which may play into the Coalition’s hands.
Though there was leadership instability for much of the year, I don’t believe that this reflects fundamental divisions in the party room. There is no sign yet of the kind of destructive leadership rivalry that afflicted the Liberals in the 1980s.
I’m still pessimistic over the long term. But year one of opposition has not been as bad as I feared.