Prime Minister Julia Gillard met school students before she addressed the National Press Club. Photo: Andrew Meares
Labor backbenchers are rallying behind Prime Minister Julia Gillard, after what some describe as outstanding examples of her leadership over the past weeks.
The Canberra Times has spoken to a number of government MPs, many of whom just weeks ago had quietly confessed to believing Labor could not win the next election. Some had canvassed the prospect of switching leaders before then, but a slight improvement in opinion polls, and the fact Ms Gillard has skilfully tackled a number of issues head-on, has bolstered her position. Two weeks of good performances from Ms Gillard have buoyed the troops, bringing more backbenchers into line behind their leader.
Yesterday's National Press Club address was the latest in a string of strong prime ministerial speeches, media conferences and Question Time appearances to have raised the government's hopes. ''The PM has been on fire, in the parliament and outside of it, and it is certainly lifting the team,'' one backbencher said yesterday. ''Her leadership right now is outstanding.''
Another said talk of returning to former prime minister Kevin Rudd was suddenly not so frantic.
''There is this feeling that Julia just might lead us out of the doldrums, where we have been for too long.'' the MP said.
Others are more restrained, noting that polling still places Labor in an election-losing position but that any improvements were welcome. At the same time, speculation lingers that Mr Rudd is gauging support behind the scenes for his return to the top job.
''To be honest, I have been weighing up our options,'' one MP said. ''While things aren't great, it's getting a little better. My preference would be for us to improve in the polls while Julia is leading us. She should be the one taking us to the next election. As it is now though, we are still in trouble.''
Indeed, today's Newspoll shows Labor's momentum has stalled.
Labor's primary vote enjoyed a seven-point rise during July and August but has weakened two points to 33 per cent in the past two weeks. The Coalition's primary vote is up one point to 46 per cent and, based on preference flows, it holds a 10-point election-winning lead of 55 per cent to 45 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.
The poll does however show voter satisfaction with Ms Gillard's performance has jumped to a seven-month high. Approval of Ms Gillard lifted from just 27 per cent two weeks ago to 31 per cent last weekend as dissatisfaction fell three points to 57 per cent, while for Mr Abbott the results were 31-59. Ms Gillard is also one point ahead of Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister, 39 per cent to his unchanged 38 per cent - her best result since June. with AAP