8 December 2003

Abbott shoots from lip, hits large foot

Most people knew almost nothing about Mark Latham a week ago. Now they know he is a human being with an interesting past who makes Peter Costello and Tony Abbott froth at the mouth.

Perhaps someone in the Coalition ought to be wondering if this is such a great political achievement? Surely Pauline Hanson showed that there are dangers in making an ordinary sort of person look like a victim by over-reacting to them?

A lot of people I have spoken to this week have volunteered the opinion that the thrashing Latham has received this week - and the grace with which he has copped it - have wiped out a lot of the negative things they knew about him.

As David Penberthy noted on this page yesterday, there is a growing groundswell of voter discontent with the Government's arrogance.

The Government's ham-fisted assault on Latham this week provides more evidence of just how out of touch it is.

At week's end three things were established in the public mind, each of them potentially vital to winning marginal seats. One, Mark Latham is entertaining: when he comes on the TV, people are going to watch and listen. Two, his big theme is about climbing the ladder. And three, he is about the future and not the past.

As Latham sits down this weekend to celebrate the birthday of his son Isaac Gough, this is not a bad place to be at all after only four days in the job.

And he has the Government to thank for much of it.

Media mirrors (perhaps as much as it moulds) public opinion. If the Daily Telegraph is writing about the grace of the opposition leader then it is time for the government to reconsider their tactics. I cannot remember a week when the news cycle was so dominated by the opposition leader. I also cannot remember an interview so embarrassing as when Costello did his goldfish out of water impersonation after challenging Latham's inexperience and then being asked about his own identical inexperience when deputy leader of the opposition.

The Howard government is about feeling comfortable with a safe pair of hands on the driving wheel. Getting shrill sits ill at ease with comfort. Getting shrill in a way that reveals the prime minister's personal headkicker to be a prisoner of some fairly old-fashioned prejudices does nothing to preserve the comfort zone.

No comments: