It is an old adage that a week is a long time in politics. With the world speeding up it seems like a day is now a long time. It is highly unlikely that Wednesday morning that many Australians would have thought there would be a new prime minister within 24 hours.
The fall of Kevin Rudd is quite remarkable. Twelve months ago he was riding high in the polls and at one point enjoyed record high approval. This is a first term government, which came to power after over 11 years in opposition.
Certainly the popularity of politicians goes up and down. Polls, which seem to dominate all thinking these days are necessarily done on small numbers of people and the results extrapolated. Often they are close to the mark but as all the politicians know there is only one poll that really counts.
Clearly the labour party formed the view that they were likely to lose those years election with Rudd in charge and replaced him with his …deputy.
This raises the real question of style versus substance. Were people turning “against” the prime minister because of the policies of his government or him personally? It is worth remembering that as his deputy, new Prime Minister Julia Gillard was involved in policy making. So it is not likely that a new face will bring about huge change in policy. One of the key issues has been the mining profits tax and I wrote about the connections between wealth and health previously.
So is the issue the message or the delivery of the message. Are the governments’ approval ratings falling because people do not like what they are doing or is it simply that what they are doing has not been “sold” in the right way.
Julia Gillard will, like all new leaders, have a honeymoon period. Many will like to see her succeed because she is the first woman to be Australian Prime Minister and this will in itself provide a boost in the polls and an air of goodwill, which will color people’s opinions and also media coverage.
Ultimately the problem though facing many countries is that there is a focus on personality rather than policy and a fixation on polls and the 24-hour news cycle. To grow an apple tree you need to pant the seed and tend it over many years before it grows and provides fruit. Expecting fruit after three months and declaring the tree a failure (and ripping it out) if that doesn’t happen would be ridiculous.
Equally with government policies, which have, long-term effects, judging policy success in a short time frame and then acting on that may make as much sense as ripping out the tree. Of course bad policies should be dropped as would trees, which are not growing be removed from the orchard.
With an election due within nine months it will be interesting to see whether we see changes in policy (particularly the unpopular mining tax) or simply a change in selling the message or perhaps a bit of both.
Most interesting will be the response of the people.