December 01, 2003 | Graham

It takes two to Tango but only one to rock the boat

Which is why Mark Latham should hope he doesn’t win tomorrow’s ALP caucus ballot for Federal leader. Public opinion polls show that Kim Beazley is the most popular candidate with the public. Gary Morgan’s latest offering has 38% favouring Kim Beazley, 21% Kevin Rudd and 17.5% Mark Latham. Wayne Swan trails the field on 5%. If Swan is eliminated from contention Beazley moves up to 39%, Rudd to 22% and Latham 20%.
Ominously for Labor, 19% are unable to name a preferred candidate. This indicates that there is a large degree of public apathy on the issue. OLO won’t be polling on this one for reasons to do with teething problems with our new web host. Last time we polled on the Labor leadership we found that the leader of the Labor Party was a secondary issue. The problem was the product, not the salesman. A 19% “don’t know” or more likely “couldn’t give a toss” factor suggests that this is still the case and that we shouldn’t put too much store in Morgan’s figures. While I am not questioning their accuracy they are just not necessarily significant – a bit like measuring someone’s blood pressure when the problem is with their head rather than their heart.
Morgan’s qualitative research is much more interesting. What voters appear to be saying is that Beazley is a known quantity and that, forced to make a choice, they prefer the known to the unknown. But one of Beazley’s known qualities is that he has lost twice to John Howard and was unable at the last election to project a Labor Party that was both attractive and credible. Our research showed quite clearly that people liked Beazley, they just didn’t trust him to deliver.
Comments about Rudd center on his youth (he’s 7 months older than me, I like the sound of that!), diplomacy and new ideas. Latham is seen as being in touch, aggressive and a straight shooter. Given that Labor’s major problem is that it is seen as shifty, you would have to think that Latham actually comes with the best review out of this.
But none of this matters one iota because one of the qualities that the successful candidate needs to have is the ability to bring unity to the party. Unfortunately for Latham, that candidate is Beazley, but not for reasons that have anything to do with Beazley’s skills. Rather they have to do with the fact that if Latham were to win there is a percentage of the party who would not accept that win and who would set out to destabilize him. For evidence of this you only have to look at the reactions to Latham’s declaration that Labor is for tax cuts not tax rises. In internal party politics 50% plus one of the vote is not enough for a real win – you have to either be able to totally dominate your enemies, or bring them along with you. It only takes one to rock the boat, but one is also enough to capsize it. If Latham were to win, the party would be heading for another ducking.
Latham’s best result (and I am personally a fan) would be if he were to just lose to Beazley. That would make him the front-runner after the next election if Labor loses. If Labor wins it would put him in a position to be the consensus choice for successor. While Rudd is young, Latham is even younger. There is so much time in front of each of them that they could both end up being Labor Prime Ministers at some stage. In the meantime Labor has a lot of issues that it needs to sort out for itself, and I am beginning to suspect that will cause and require another election loss. Then perhaps all elements in the party will be prepared to start pulling in the one direction.

Posted by Graham at 7:36 am | Comments Off on It takes two to Tango but only one to rock the boat |
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