Julia Gillard should stay where she is. The Labor Party has run out of party tricks. The federal government's perceived unpopularity is a collective effort, an effort that began with Kevin Rudd, who as prime minister was so dysfunctional in his leadership and his megalomania that his own colleagues revolted against him.
Now he's being touted as prime minister again but not by those who removed him. The only people who will never be cured of the disease called ''leadership fever'' are the Canberra press corps and the media commentariat. When I tried to create a database of stories about leadership speculation, there were so many of them - about Howard and Costello, Beazley and Crean, Crean and Latham, Latham and Beazley, Beazley and Rudd, Costello and Turnbull, Nelson and Turnbull, Hockey and Turnbull, Gillard and Rudd, Abbott and Turnbull, and now Gillard and Rudd again and Gillard and Shorten - that I gave up. Let's just say there have been, oh, about 10,000 stories about federal leadership over the past eight years, a period of unprecedented carnage for federal political leaders.
Driving all this public speculation are the opinion polls. Who creates the opinion polls? The media. Who drafts the questions? The media. Who promotes the results? The media. Who acts as if opinion surveys are surrogate elections? The media. Who profits from the publicity and the speculation? The media.
Julia Gillard ... should stay where she is. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The only group that takes these polls as seriously as the media is the political class, the group of politicians, courtiers, aides, ideologues, lobbyists and power groupies to whom politics is a career and a living.
Now the Gillard government's primary vote has slumped to 30 per cent according to the latest Fairfax/Nielsen national phone poll, ''leadership fever'' has broken out again with a fury.
The justification for removing Australia's first woman prime minister is the recent polling showing Gillard trails behind the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, as preferred prime minister.
This faux news event - a phone poll is a scripted media event that has nothing to do with the electoral process - has prompted the speculative fever to intensify, with a collective titillation and agitation about the prospect of an Ides of March assassination.
The fact that only 30 per cent of Australians surveyed have indicated they intend to vote Labor at the next federal elections suggests Labor's support has fallen back to the rump of the electorate whose perceived self-interest is tied to Labor's fortunes, the public sector workers and unionists who benefit most from having a Labor government in Canberra.
Gillard may be responsible for a series of moral, ethical and policy mistakes but she had nothing to do with the collapse of Labor's credibility in the core electoral battle ground of greater Sydney, where Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Craig Thomson, Mark Arbib and Anthony Albanese have all left an indelible mark on the electorate's psyche.
Even if Labor were to be spooked and goaded into another leadership change by the media, nothing can remove the stain on Labor's reputation in Sydney and the central coast between now and September 14, the date set by the Prime Minister for the next election.
The entire federal Labor caucus is responsible for protecting and promoting Thomson in the 2010 election even after his troubles had become public knowledge, and the entire party is culpable for protecting him thereafter. The Labor machine tried to bury what this newspaper exposed.
The entire federal caucus is responsible for voting Peter Slipper into the speakership, a collective act of cynicism.
The entire caucus is responsible for deciding to run the campaign of personal attack on the character of the Leader of the Opposition as the government's main election campaign issue.
It was not Gillard, but the famously foul-mouthed Treasurer, Wayne Swan, who carries primary responsibility for the multiple blunders in the budget calculation. The same Treasurer who led the charge in the politics of personal vituperation. The same Treasurer Wayne Swan who was the first and last man standing in peddling the fantasy that this Labor government could ever deliver a budget surplus. The same Wayne Swan who negotiated the mining tax.
Also largely ignored is the stagnation of the Greens, which says a lot about where the electorate is heading. The indicative primary vote for the Greens is lower in this poll, 11 per cent, than it was in the 2010 federal election. The corruption and gold-plated stuff-ups that have afflicted the Gillard government have not translated into any benefit for the Greens.
The great weakness in this latest outbreak of ''leadership fever'' is the widespread assumption Labor could, or even would, snatch victory from defeat if it changed leader simply because the polls indicate that Rudd is more popular than Gillard or Abbott.
It is a facile assumption. It cannot factor in the reaction of the electorate. It assumes voters would not see another leadership pivot by Labor as an act of cynical desperation, no matter who ends up as the shiny new leader.
Let us not forget voters in NSW have already seen Labor pull this trick four times in recent years, have had a gutful of this tactic, and a gutful of Queenslanders shafting NSW on water rights, and would almost certainly see yet another Labor leadership pivot as an act of political bankruptcy.