25 May 2004

Latham winning the war

Labor would win in a landslide if an election were held now, as more Australians than ever regard the Iraq war as unjustified, a new Herald Poll has found.

A week before John Howard heads to the US for meetings with President George Bush and the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on Iraq, the poll showed a strong majority - 63 per cent - thought the war was not justified, compared with 51 per cent in September last year.

Only 31 per cent now think the war was justified, compared with 43 per cent last year.

The poll also revealed a big gap in electoral support opening up between the Government and Labor, which now leads the Coalition by 56 per cent (up three points) to 44 per cent (down three) in two party preferred terms.

This suggests that Labor would have won an election held last Saturday with a swing of about 7 per cent.

The poll shows that although voters were impressed by the budget they are deserting the Coalition, with Mr Howard's approval rating falling to its lowest level since August 2001, immediately before the Tampa crisis.

By contrast, the Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, is enjoying record support, according to the poll, conducted last weekend by ACNielsen.

The Man of Steel may be starting to rust. 7 August must be off the table as an election date, but I suspect Howard intends to go to the country before the presidential election on 2 November. He will not want to fight a difficult election on the back of a possible Bush defeat because his foreign policy is essentially built on his personal relationship with the Great and Powerful Dubya. I'd say some time towards the end of the period between 7 August and 30 October.

Howard has a history of putting off the unpalatable and this election is not going to be easy at all. National security is now the only issue he controls, so we can expect a lot of antiterrorist legislation designed to be as difficult as possible for the opposition to accept. The collapse in support for the Iraq war must be very, very bad news, almost as bad as the budget going phut.

It's going to be an interesting 5 months, especially if Latham follows Whitlam in 1972 and starts to make the date an issue in itself.

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