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Memo to Abbott: your grades do count come the final exam

Date: November 04 2012


DEAR Tony, suddenly you have become THE talking point among the chattering commentators. We're all running round quizzing nervous Liberals about what's going wrong and what you must do about it. So, a few thoughts.

If we mark your performance as Opposition Leader, you get distinctions for the early grades. You helped bring down Kevin Rudd, put big holes in Julia Gillard. But, unfortunately for you, Tony, you're enrolled in a continuous assessment course. There's a big exam at the end but if you start to bomb out in the monthly assignments, there could be unpleasant surprises later.

It's still hard to see how you could actually lose, or to believe your troops would get to the stage of replacing you. But the size of majorities matter. You don't want to squeak into office and have that Bill Shorten (or whoever) doing you over quickly.

On the leadership: if you're in a long trough, Malcolm Turnbull might not be able to get the numbers but his omnipresence will drive you mad.

So, you need to get those grades up, Tony - by which we mean your performance and your personal ratings. Look in the mirror - now. Why do 58 per cent disapprove of how you are doing your job?

We reckon a lot of the problem is that you don't look sufficiently sunny or substantial.

Study some role models. Put aside the politics: have a look at Kevin Rudd and Gough Whitlam in their opposition salad days.

Labor says that ''having plans for the future'' plays well with the punters. Both Rudd and Whitlam had big plans in opposition (forget they went somewhat awry in government).

On Friday you said you had outlined ''plans for a stronger economy, stronger communities, a cleaner environment, stronger borders and modern infrastructure''. But when asked how you'd want your prime ministership to leave Australia, you said: ''I am mistrustful of top-down visions.'' Don't be, Tony. A flash of vision - provided it sounds authentic - should be part of the tool kit.

Unfortunately you don't look like a guy with a plan, let alone a dream; your image is of a bloke with a pickaxe.

This brings us to sunniness. Rudd laid into the Howard government but he radiated cheer. Elect me, and political life will be good (again, not quite the reality but that's another story). Whitlam caught and reflected the mood of his times.

Your Margie said in her marathon testimonial that you have ''a broad, open approach to life that is so hopeful and optimistic''. That's not what we see on TV, Tony. Out at those small businesses you look as if you've had to don one fluoro jacket too many. You noticed, when they played grabs of you visiting the same Canberra business two years running, that you were using similar lines? Oops.

Tired mind, tired body. Cut back on the exercise a tad. Say no to some of those fund-raisers. It's been a long march and the heavy ground lies ahead. Dip into the Whitlam biographies for tips on bulking up on pre-election content and endurance. Get out old Rudd footage to remind you of the remarkable power of the smile. Spend as much time trying to enthuse voters as you do attempting to depress them.

And a small postscript. Could you smooth, albeit only a tiny bit, what Barnaby calls that ''square-gaited'' walk that makes you look slightly menacing? A step too far?

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