I believe that there is now a real chance that Julia Gillard will win the 2013 election. I base my view not so much on policies or opinion polls, but on an idea Gillard picked up from Paul Keating last year.
Keating told a gathering of major business people that Julia Gillard "had not enough stagecraft skill to get herself out of this hole”. I relayed the Keating remark at the time that Kevin Rudd was preparing a challenge to Gillard’s leadership (No curtain call for Rudd's stage triumph, February 24).
Keating was right, but Julia Gillard listened to the message, and listened carefully. She went out of her way to learn the art of political stagecraft with the help of the amazing global political advisor John McTernan.
By contrast Tony Abbott did not learn stagecraft. While his criticism of the carbon tax was winning applause he looked good, but Tony was ‘a one trick pony’. The crazy misogyny affair illustrated the newly acquired stagecraft skills of Julia Gillard and Abbott's ignorance of the trap.
As I understand it, the Gillard misogyny speech was written well in advance and it sat in the Gillard filing cabinet waiting for Tony Abbott to make a mistake. His ‘shame’ speech on the Peter Slipper exodus provided the perfect opportunity.
To be a prime minister you need at least two qualities. First you need to be able to run a cabinet. Bob Hawke and John Howard were brilliant at this task. Rudd was hopeless and Liberals believe their experience with Malcolm Turnbull as opposition leader showed that he too could not run a cabinet.
But running a cabinet well is not enough. You need to have stagecraft (and good policies help). In their own way Hawke and Howard had brilliant stagecraft. Rudd had it in abundance and so did Keating, but Keating as prime minister was short on cabinet running skills.
Gillard has always been able to run a cabinet and she has got better with experience. She has now learned the art of stagecraft and so looks like a prime minister. Tony Abbott does not. The policy mistakes of Julia Gillard may still outweigh her stagecraft/cabinet running advantage, but the coalition will need to be much smarter.
Recently I ran into a bunch of coalition shadow cabinet people in a Qantas lounge. I gave them some advice, which I doubt they will accept. The coalition’s greatest unused asset is their small business shadow minister Bruce Bilson. Lock Bilson and Abbott in a room for 12 hours so he can explain to Abbott how to capture small business votes.
Small enterprise owners are too smart to be fooled by stagecraft. Had Tony Abbott really understood small business he would have won the last election. For what it's worth, I don’t think he has learned the small business lessons, just as he has not learned stagecraft.
The senior Liberal senior shadow minister who understands stagecraft best is Joe Hockey. I don’t know whether he could run a cabinet. If Abbott loses in 2013, Hockey is likely to lead the Liberals in 2016, which is likely to be an "unloseable” election for the opposition (Lightning risk to the Australian dollar, November 21).