Rudd and his senior colleagues and advisers have recognised there has been a change of sentiment towards him among voters, a sense of disenchantment over broken promises on public hospitals, whaling and computers in schools, as well as a dangerous view among voters that he is more interested in doing things overseas than looking after their interests.
Since the end of September, Rudd’s personal approval in Newspoll surveys has slumped to new lows, and more recently the Labor Party’s support has trended down as his popularity has fallen.
“We are taking a whacking in the polls now. I’m sure we’ll take an even bigger whacking in the period ahead. And the bottom line is, I think we deserve it, not just in terms of recent events, but more broadly,” Rudd told ABC TV’s Insiders program yesterday.
“I think that’s been happening for a period of time.”
He conceded the problems went beyond the disastrous home insulation program and well back into last year, with broken commitments on health and hospitals. The government had to “lift their game” in education and “get on” with the “business of action on climate change”.
But while highlighting the problems in health, education and the roofing insulation scheme, Rudd again took “personal responsibility” for all the problems to demonstrate he was back in touch with voters’ concerns, and trying to keep commitments.
This was Rudd “biting the bullet”, “forming the spearhead”, “putting himself in the frame” and attempting to “rebuild trust”, as Labor figures put it last night.
It was a decision Rudd took because he has acknowledged he’s the problem and he has to fix it.
The failed roofing insulation scheme has only served to crystallise simmering discontent with Rudd over too much international travel, too much concentration on the emissions trading scheme, trying too hard to be an influence at the Copenhagen climate conference, and not paying enough attention to what directly affects the lives of Australian workers.
Just as he took responsibility for the roofing disaster and the attendant risk of being blamed for any further house fires or worker injuries, the PM has knowingly accepted responsibility for the latest strategy, which is seen by Labor MPs as “Rudd in the lead and a few in the loop”.
The danger for Rudd in reasserting his leadership, trusting in his successful political instincts and rebuilding trust with the electorate through saying sorry is that people will overlook the positives of the first two years of Labor’s golden age of polling, and concentrate on perceived failures, broken promises and disappointment with him personally.
While he is trying to grab attention and shock his colleagues, there is a real problem for Labor in that he has removed the global financial crisis as an excuse for not delivering commitments on time.
Yesterday the global financial crisis was described as “just a context” as Rudd admitted he’d misjudged the difficulty of delivering on so many political promises and big expectations.
The strong economy, the goodwill over avoiding recession, and education are standout positives for the Rudd government, while health and hospitals should be.
But there’s a fear among some Labor figures that Rudd may throw the baby out with the bathwater. If he does, he knows he’s responsible and so do his colleagues.