What does Bill Shorten have to do to be liked?
Is it his short hair that has voters shunning him in droves? Or his socks? His voice?
It certainly can’t be his standing in the polls because while his personal support might need a good hard kick, he’d win a general election for his party today.
And isn’t that the aim of the ALP - to win the next election?
But despite that, he is the headline each day ahead of the byelection bonanza on Saturday, with the debate around how many seats he needs to win to keep his job.
To pick winners on Saturday is a bit like choosing the winning numbers in Lotto because so many different factors are at play.
There’s the anti-incumbent variable (that is, let’s make it harder for the government). And the local angle (like let’s pretend we have a service medal we don’t). The holiday issue (Aloha Pauline). Then there’s state issues, depending on the state. And federal issues.
But none of them seem as big as the personality issues, and that brings us back to Bill Shorten.
It’s hard to find someone who likes him. Even glued-on Labor voters don’t really trust him. But why?
The bottom line is it’s hard to know who he is, and what he stands for, personally.
You might like Malcolm Turnbull or you might loathe him, but you know what he stands for. He has such a big house on the harbour that he’d prefer to live there than at the Lodge, was some sort of bigwig with the internet before he went into Parliament and was the head republican when it suited him.
He let a lot of people down with his empty promises last time, but he’s not in politics for the money either because he doesn’t hide the fact that he’s loaded. He’s happily married to Lucy, who he speaks about constantly, has grandkids, calls Sydney home, has lots of friends in big business and probably doesn’t know the cost of a carton of milk.
A personality analysis of Bill Shorten isn’t quite as clear. We saw him as the guy who was the worker’s friend, particularly during the Beaconsfield mine disaster. But he did fly in on the plane of a billionaire.
He makes out he’s into free speech but he censors bad news about himself before sending it out to colleagues. He looks like he’d be a good mate, but then he’s shown he can sharpen the blade when it comes to his own leader. Twice.
He’s as ambitious as hell, which shouldn’t be a bad thing, but it comes across as being a bit more than ambition. Desperate maybe.
Under Bill Shorten, the Coalition has lost more than 60 polls on the run.
Now normally that’s a feat that would earn the leader a medal (and perhaps the LNP have a spare one lying around in Longman), but then again even the polls tell two stories about Bill Shorten - because his own polling is pretty shoddy.
He mightn’t be, but he seems disingenuous; like he’s in there for himself, not anyone else. Before you start filling my inbox, I know he’s certainly not the only one who boasts that trait. Indeed, even those who like Malcolm Turnbull label his ambition ruthless.
But it hangs over Bill Shorten’s head like a 10-kilometre run with a hangover. It makes him kind of unlikeable, to many people.
That didn’t stop Paul Keating. Or John Howard, who struggled at one point to find anyone who liked him.
But in these shouty and short election cycles, where promises are empty and egos are full, it’s the way it is. Being unlikeable can trump policy on any day.
Saturday will test the government in five electorates across the nation. At the same ballot boxes, the ALP will sit in judgment on its leader.
Madonna King is a leading journalist and commentator. She was an award-winning mornings presenter on 612 ABC Brisbane and is a five-times author.