Sighs of relief echoed around Australia yesterday as Wayne Swan finally fronted up to formally ditch the surplus promise, but none would have been deeper and more heartfelt than among Labor MPs and staff at campaign headquarters in Melbourne.
They had been faced with coming back from Christmas holidays and starting an election campaign having to find at least $15 billion in new spending cuts for no good economic reason. In fact business and markets were pushing for a deficit so the Reserve Bank didn’t have to do all the work in countering the strong currency.
The political calculation was this: is it better to face an angry squall of broken promise accusations from the Opposition while the voters are doing their Christmas shopping, or cut $15 billion from government spending during an election campaign? No contest really.
And the barking from Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott yesterday was probably neutralised by polite applause and yawns from business groups and market economists.
It’s been a pretty good week for the ALP. The campaign has been freed from a fiscal straitjacket and a Roy Morgan face-to-face poll taken over the past two weekends has put them comfortably in front – 52.5 per cent to 47.5 per cent, which are roughly the figures of the 2007 election.
Obviously there is a long way to go, but Labor MPs and the campaign staff led by national secretary George Wright will sit down to Christmas dinner this year with the sniff of victory in 2013.
The key to Labor’s turnaround is a surge in support from women. According to the Morgan poll, support for the ALP among women went from 35 per cent to 40.5 per cent between November and December, and on a two-party preferred basis from 50.5 to 56 per cent.
Men are roughly equally divided between the ALP and the Coalition, but Tony Abbott and his team now have a real problem with women. Their two-party preferred support among women has collapsed from 51 per cent in November to 44 per cent now.
These are notoriously volatile figures and need to be confirmed by other polls, but as Gary Morgan said this week, it’s been "a bad couple of weeks for the Opposition as the sustained attacks on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over her involvement in an AWU ‘slush-fund’ from nearly 20 years ago fell flat due to a lack of evidence of any wrongdoing … (and) the case the L-NP promoted against former Speaker Peter Slipper involving his former staffer James Ashby backfired.”
Normally the ditching of a budget surplus promise after three years of saying you’d do whatever it takes to deliver one would be good for the Opposition, but despite all the furious broken promise finger-wagging, it’s unlikely to get the Opposition anywhere unless Abbott and Hockey counter with a surplus plan of their own, which they can’t.
The Coalition now has a problem with Tony Abbott’s leadership. His disapproval rating is now 63 per cent and Julia Gillard is now well ahead (49/36) as "preferred prime minister”. That wouldn’t matter if the Coalition was well ahead overall, but it’s not now.
Actually I’d say there’s a fair chance yesterday’s dumping of the surplus by Wayne Swan will actually extend the ALP’s lead, especially among women – because it’s plainly sensible.
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It’s all about Abbott’s deficit among women
Normally a broken budget surplus promise would spell disaster for the government, but Tony Abbott's own particular deficit leaves Labor with a hope of victory next year.
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