Five update observations on our sister party in Australia, the Liberal Party:
Current opinion polls suggest that Kevin Rudd will gain seats if he calls an election. The Liberal Leader Malcolm Turnbull is seen by only 19% of Australians as best choice to be PM. That compares to 66% for the incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Andrew Bolt charts Rudd's popularity here.
Liberals are suffering an exodus of talent but can't get rid of the bedblockers. Key members of the Howard frontbench had already left the Parliament including former foreign minister Alexander Downer. Former Treasurer Peter Costello has also announced he will be leaving elected politics (although speculation about his future intentions persists – not least because of the success of his memoirs). Former Defence minister and briefly Liberal leader Brendan Nelson (pictured) has now announced his immediate retirement, precipitating an awkward by-election. Unfortunately, however, there are some 'bedblockers' who are not retiring and preventing an influx of new talent.
A focus on Labor debt. Turnbull wants the issues of "debt and deficit" to be front and centre (read Christian Kerr in the Australian edition of The Spectator). This video below is part of the Liberals' campaign and we've already noted their imitation of our baby-born-with-debt campaign:
Tensions on climate change. Rather than focusing on debt Turnbull is, for the moment, having to manage internal tensions over climate change. He is attempting to amend Kevin Rudd's Emissions Trading legislation with a promise of something "greener, cheaper, smarter." But some members of his own party and of the Liberals' traditional ally – the National Party – are completely opposed to the legislation. The Australian's Paul Kelly reports here on how the Nationals are becoming strident in their opposition to Rudd's climate change proposals.
But at the state level the Liberals on the comeback trail. When John Howard was defeated as Prime Minister at the end of 2007 – and lost his own seat – the Liberals were out of power in all of Australia. Unlike Britain, government at the state level matters in Australia but the Liberals had lost control in every state legislature during their extended period of domination at the federal level. The Liberals won back control of Western Australia last September and the new Liberal-led administration remains popular. Polls suggest the Liberals could gain control of Queensland and (more of a stretch) Tasmania. Labor governments – like nearly all governments – have been in power for extended periods in these states and have become tired, complacent and often sleazy. Most encouraging of all for the Liberals is polling suggesting that they could win back New South Wales, which includes Sydney. NSW is the biggest prize of all outside the federal government and a classic US-style "blue state". Liberals don't win it very often.
Click to enlarge. PDF source.