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Labor in despair as morale hits new low

Date

Chris Johnson

Morale in Labor ranks has plunged to a new low described as ''unprecedented despair'' with many backbenchers fearing the combined Thomson and Slipper scandals have made it all but impossible to win the next election.

The government has reached its lowest ebb since taking office, according to a number of MPs contacted this week by The Canberra Times.

Leadership change is again being openly discussed, but the mood is such that few believe removing Prime Minister Julia Gillard will revive Labor's stocks.

Ministers Bill Shorten and Stephen Smith are regularly talked about in leadership terms, but former prime minister Kevin Rudd's name is still thrown into the mix.

Former Liberal Party leader John Hewson suggested yesterday that Foreign Minister Bob Carr could be catapulted into the top job - and into the House of Representatives - before Christmas, but no one seems to give that scenario any credence.

In fact, the backbenchers believed Labor to be so on the nose that it would be difficult for anyone to pull it out of the current mire. A noticeable turning point, both in how constituents are interacting with Labor backbenchers and in how the MPs are handling it, was the recent Queensland state election.

''That's where the message was driven home loud and clear that we are not very loved,'' one backbencher said.

But across the country, Labor MPs are getting the message they are in serious trouble.

''It is really affecting morale. There is this unprecedented despair that Abbott's stupid rantings are going to get him into the Lodge and at the expense of a lot of good ALP members,'' a Labor MP said.

''And the really sad thing is that Julia is doing some incredibly good things - things that will make a real difference in people's lives - but no one is listening. All they can hear is Abbott.''

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has this week continued his anti-carbon tax campaign while also condemning the government over its handling of NSW Labor MP Craig Thomson and embattled Speaker Peter Slipper.

Backbench anger over the ongoing Thomson affair, in which he is accused of using his former Health Services Union credit card to pay for prostitutes, is now matched by that felt over the fraud and sexual harassment allegations against Mr Slipper.

The former Liberal MP turned independent late last year after being coaxed by Labor into taking up the Speaker's chair so as to free up a parliamentary vote for the government. But the manoeuvre appears to have backfired.

''It is just awful. Awful,'' one said.

''The mood in the electorate is so hostile that we can't see a way out.''

Another said that while Ms Gillard was not a popular Prime Minister, she remained Labor's best choice.

''Yes we are talking about leadership, but who do we turn to?'' the MP said.

Both Mr Thomson and Mr Slipper deny any wrongdoing in the respective allegations against them.

Another Labor backbencher said that for many in the party there was a resignation that Labor would fall at the next federal election.

But another backbencher said there remained a strong mood throughout government that the electorate would ''eventually see through Abbott's rhetoric''.

''We are very determined to win this fight, as difficult as it might look right now,'' the backbencher said.

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