We're approximately at the half-way point between Rudd taking over the Labor leadership last December, and a likely November election, and it seems like a good time to take stock of how things are going.
On the face of it, pretty darn well. Even after Costello's "big spending...on everyone we in the Coalition like" budget last week, Labor has "surged ahead" (I love the language of the pundits) in the polls, leading the Coalition 18 points on a two-party preferred basis. Things seem pretty rosy for Rudd and Labor right now, as even Howard admits (though he could just be trying to claim the valuable "underdog status", so beloved of Australian pollies in the lead up to an election).
Having been burned so badly by the 2004 Federal election, I can't help but remember that the poll results were looking good for Labor back then too, but as this graph (scroll down) shows, Labor's poll performance now is far ahead of where it was three years ago.
Leaving that aside, it's fair to ask what, exactly, Rudd/Gillard and Labor have done to attract these positive figures. I was concerned enough when they assumed the leadership to beg of them, "Please, for the love of God, don't f**k this up". They haven't. But they haven't done much of anything else either.
Getting the smug, slack, arrogant Coalition government out of office after the eleven years they've had to make Australia a country fundamentally diminished in so many ways must be the top priority. And whilst any alternative would be welcome, it would be great if the alternative really was an alternative. Labor have announced no radical new policies, no dramatic shifts in thinking, taken almost no risk at all. They merely take cues from the Coalition; if the Government is doing something that Australians seem to like, Labor vows that they will do the same and lots more of it. If the Coalition's position something unpopular (Iraq, the IR laws), Labor takes the path of least resistance in deciding where to stand.
But in terms of taking a brave stand of their own - silence. The Labor party cannot really call itself left-wing, or even Third Way. It's seems to be more a case of looking at the sentiments of the Not Happy John brigade and saying "Not John. Happy?". It's not enough, and could well send those of us looking for a real alternative into the arms of the minor parties. I'll be voting Labor at the Federal election, because as I've said removing the Howard government is the most important thing Australia has to do right now. But I don't like this pact with the devil I feel I've been forced into. As much as I wish Rudd would take a stand - on gay marriage, phasing out Australia's use of fossil fuels, re-evaluation the U.S. alliance - I know it won't happen, as he'd rather be standing on the winner's podium come election night. Understandable, but the frustration at this lack of real courage is enough to make you scream.