22 June 2004

Australians tell Bush: stay out of it

A majority of Australians say President George Bush was wrong to criticise Labor's pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq by Christmas and the nation is evenly split on whether the relationship with the US is too close, a Herald Poll has found.

In the poll taken last weekend, after Mr Bush and other senior figures in his Administration publicly savaged the stance by the Opposition Leader, Mark Latham, on Iraq as 'disastrous', 56 per cent of those surveyed, and more than one-third of Coalition voters, said the President was wrong to comment on Australia's domestic politics.

The Herald-ACNielsen poll found that only 29 per cent agreed that, as leader of the coalition in Iraq, Mr Bush had the right to comment on policies affecting the coalition. But 41 per cent of voters said the Australian-American alliance would be weakened if Labor won the election, and only one-third believed that it would be unaffected.

This suggests that the public disagreement between the White House and Mr Latham created disquiet in the electorate about the implications for the relationship of a Labor victory.

A couple of things make the alliance issue dangerous for the coalition. The most obvious is that if the alliance between nations becomes a party issue then the alliance is in danger every time a Labor Government is elected. The Bush endorsement did not help the pro-war government in Spain and it looks like it is not going to help the pro-war government in Australia. It's worth recalling the massive swing against the Spanish right was not predicted by any poll taken before the election. Later research has showed the electoral impact of the Madrid bombing was to outrage swinging voters at the manipulation of the issue by the Aznar government. Aznar himself has since admitted this error.

Howard would do well not try and manipulate the issue here. Bush could not be elected to a shire council in Australia and I just cannot see why his endorsement is seen as a good thing by the Man of Steel.

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