Cuddly but still unpopular Telegraph August 22, 2005 KIM Beazley is about as popular as a Middle Eastern backpacker on the Clapham omnibus. Voters don't want to go near him, even though Labor remains a competitive option for government. The spectacle of the electorate holding its nose when asked about Beazley ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ even though he remains one of the most liked politicians ever to try for The Lodge ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ is baffling many observers. Kim Beazley is focused like never before on getting Labor into government in 2007. His commitment is obviously greater than it was in the late 1990s when some colleagues doubted he really wanted to be Prime Minister. Beazley is more active, more organised, less troubled by self doubt, less impeded by internal party critics. His office is working well ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ from his chief-of-staff to his press secretaries ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ and his colleagues are hard at work. He has a second home in Sydney to eliminate some of the agony of those trans-continental flights to Perth; wife Susie Annus remains his biggest supporter personally, and also is strongly behind the bid for the prime ministership. His children are now old enough to be less of a concern during his absences. Beazley has most wheels of the machine he hopes to drive into government turning over nicely. Yet, for some reason known only to the voters as they weigh the big man while answering the questions of opinion pollsters, he isn't rating. His dedication to the task, and the Government's stumblebum management of some operations, have not been enough. Voters apear to still be convinced Beazley, like the backpacker on the bus, will detonate. His relative lack of popularity is a mystery to most observers, a mystery which can only be charted by survey findings. The authoritative Newspoll organisation last week reported Labor's two-party preferred vote, after preferences were allocated, earlier this month was 48 per cent to the Coalition's 52 per cent ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ the same ratios as at the October election last year. However, Beazley's satisfaction rating with voters was a miserable 31 per cent, a record low, while just 25 per cent of voters thought he should be Prime Minister. So nearly half the electorate wants Labor to be in government, but only a quarter want Kim Beazley to lead that government. One possible reason for this is that he is still suffering from criticism of Labor's handling of Budget tax cuts. On the night of the Budget, Beazley said Labor would oppose the Government's proposed cuts, but it took a while for him to come up with an alternative scale. It soon became clear the Government's cuts would come into force sooner or later because it controlled the Senate, but Labor maintained its rejection. It looked pointless and petty, and ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ rightly or wrongly ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢Â‚Â¬Ã¢Â€Âœ the blame sped towards Beazley. Further, around this time Mark Latham rose from his bed of nails to cuss Beazley's leadership. This was done through a book by Bernard Lagan. While the attack was discounted in some quarters, it is likely to have influenced a significant number of voters. However, survey findings underscore the probability that the tax debate resulted in Beazley's marking down by voters. Newspoll reported in July, at the peak of claims that Labor was dithering over tax cuts, that voter rating of Beazley's decisiveness and strength was 58 per cent. This was down from 69 per cent in March. Howard's decisiveness and strength was rated at 78 per cent. However, at the same time 80 per cent thought Beazley cared for people, compared to Howard's embarrassing 67 per cent. And 72 per cent said Kim was likeable, as to Howard's 61 per cent. He again was hit by the old slogan: Kim Beazley for Best Friend, Not Prime Minister. That might change as Beazley gets more involved in the industrial relations debate which has set Labor apart from the Government. He has performed well at rallies, and there are many workers who are not union members but who are bothered by the Government's blank slate of workplace law reform. They are looking to Beazley to protect them. There might soon be a change to the attitude that Beazley is the sort of bloke you would invite home but not send to Kirribilli House. The Government has looked patchy of late, with the vote for a Telstra sale far from a seamless procedure. The decision itself might be so unpopular Beazley will get his point of contrast with Howard on a major issue, a fact of strategic importance. That would be coupled with the industrial relations demarcation. If that happens, he might not appear so cuddly to voters. Instead, he would look aggressive and assertive, and the type of chap who might make a Prime Minister.