Until recently, there have been two areas where John Howard’s brand has taking a beating. Firstly, the Liberal party has been desperately trying to take control of the agenda, but it might be the case that the Rudd brand has created its own inertia, or a snowball effect, whereby the more the electorate perceives that Rudd is going to be the next PM, the more likely it is that they will vote for him – most swinging voters don’t want to pick the losing team.
Secondly, Kevin Rudd’s brand has an advantage, in that we only need to “imagine” what Kevin Rudd stands for, because he is new, and has never been in government. Unfortunately for John Howard, we already “know” what he stands for, because he has been with us for eleven years, and more (when he was on-again, off-again opposition leader).
In the past week, though, there has been another factor thrown into the mix – the possibility of Prime Minister Peter Costello. His brand is somewhat distinct from John Howard’s, mainly for the reason that his brand as a “leader” has not been contaminated (by the Iraq war, climate change, etc.), and, as a leader his brand has some degree of imagining, as well. To top it off, he has done the right thing by staying out of the debate. His brand is seen as statesmanlike, by those who like him, and perhaps, weak, by those who don’t. And this might be the only factor that will hold on to some of those swinging voters still wanting to vote Liberal.
In addition to the Howard brand, the Liberal party brand is now suffering. The party is behaving like an opposition, with in-fighting, and embarrassing behaviour around the leadership of the party. This behaviour only adds to the belief around the brand Liberal – that the party has already decided that it is on the way out, and is looking to self-destruct.
In some respects, many of those who still desperately want to vote Liberal, would probably be more likely to vote for Peter Costello, because as far as Howard’s brand is concerned, it is seriously on the decline. However, those who voted for Howard in the past, will be looking for a way to reinforce their previous decisions.
One question needs to be asked, though. If the Liberals lose the election, will Peter Costello want the poisoned chalice? After all these years as 2IC, and in a sense, expecting to be handed the Prime Ministership, I don’t reckon Costello would be willing to stick around for another three elections as Leader of the Opposition.