Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: Andrew Meares
To be quoted approvingly by Sydney's Daily Telegraph is indeed a beautiful thing. I assume the tabloid was endorsing my sentiments, because it was highlighting my personal evaluation of some of Kevin Rudd's attributes. Alert readers will be aware that, regrettably, these are not all positive.
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume this indicates any endorsement (implied or otherwise) of Tony Abbott. On the day after the election I shall head to work, whistling as I go, before pointing out the weirdly, heroically optimistic economic assumptions underlying the Coalition's commitments.
One example: returning defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP by the end of the decade. The non-partisan, indeed unimpeachable, Australian Strategic Policy Institute insists achieving this would require a steady, year-on-year increase of more than 5 per cent each year. In itself this appears unlikely, although it's not impossible. But couple this initiative with the Coalition's other firm commitments (such as following through with the national disability insurance scheme, boosting health and capping government spending) and the problem is readily apparent.
The only possible way of achieving such objectives is to grow the economy. This isn't unreasonable in itself, because such expansion is natural. Over the first quarter of the year, for example, GDP grew by 0.6 per cent and that's roughly the amount of increase you'd expect the Coalition to be factoring in. The highest yearly growth rate in the past 60 years was in the 1970s, hitting 9 per cent. The growth rate implied in Coalition forecasts appear to be greater than 17 per cent.
That's why Labor's screaming, correctly, that Abbott has no financial clothes. But it may as well be shouting into the wind, because nobody's listening. Focus groups show the electorate has made up its mind - Labor is the party that's economically naked. The government handed its credibility in this area to the opposition when, despite repeated promises, Wayne Swan failed to return the budget to surplus. Voters aren't mugs. They know Labor inherited a surplus. They know the money has gone.
The government must be pretty thick if it can't understand it is engaging in battle on the Coalition's chosen terrain every time it talks finances. Every time Labor suggests the economic outlook is dire; every time it tries to fight on economic management, it loses. This explains why Labor has been going backwards every day. Every time Rudd points out that Abbott's figures don't add up, the electorate nods in agreement, before making a mental note that things will be worse under Labor.
I'm quite sure Rudd believes he's led a good government - but that doesn't mean anyone else does. And this is the really devastating point: on the decisive character issue it seems many people have decided they prefer Abbott.
Labor has travelled backwards in this campaign and the reason is summed up in one word: Rudd. It's become apparent that he hasn't changed at all. Rudd Mark II is the same person that his colleagues dismissed three years ago. The only reason he's back is because the alternative didn't work out.
Everyone knows politics is a ruthless game, yet how sad to have been Julia Gillard on Sunday. Did she watch Rudd's launch on television, I wonder? Or is she knitting away like Madame Defarge at the steps of the guillotine, waiting for a ghastly tumbril to tip its load of severed heads and electoral bodies at her feet on Saturday night?
What makes the speechifying gurgling out from the mouths of Labor's ''hard heads'' - people like Anthony Albanese - so revolting is not simply the disconnect between the words and the reality of their record. This isn't even a united party any more. The vitriol's still being held in check until the weekend. The full venom will be withheld until the extent of defeat is revealed. But those in the party who hate Rudd are already clearing their throats. There will be no forgiveness. If he doesn't realise this and get out straight away, he will be making a massive mistake.
Is there a chance Rudd could be in danger in his own seat of Griffith? It will be worth watching on Saturday night. The demography of the electorate has changed and it no longer represents the working class. But neither does Labor.
The cause of the failure of the past six years resides within the party's bosom. If your promise is the ability to manage government, people expect you to deliver. Labor hasn't. Ideology has been tossed overboard in a bid to travel more swiftly. Instead of lightening the load this has left the party tossing around without the necessary ballast to maintain any course. Every new intervention is unhelpful.
The most serious thing a government can do is go to war, yet at the weekend Penny Wong seemed to desperate to do exactly that. She upbraided Abbott, whose sin, apparently, was urging caution. He had merely pointed out the Syrian conflict is extremely complex.
When I find myself praising Abbott's moderation, being quoted by the Telegraph, and condemning Labor's incompetence, the time has probably come for a little lie down. Normal service will be resumed next week.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.