Tony Abbott's real challenge

This is a radical prescription to write for Tony Abbott, but if he dares, why doesn't he let the public see a bit more of the ''real Tony''?

He shouldn't announce he's doing so, of course. Everyone remembers the farce of Julia Gillard's declaration that she was unveiling ''the real Julia''.

Just do it. Tell the minders who keep him in a strait jacket that he is grown up enough to be let out on his own occasionally, that he's the boss and sometimes he knows best. That he was a cabinet minister for quite a while and only occasionally got himself into serious trouble.

Why doesn't he go out, just once in a while, without a staffer, perhaps taking his wife Margie — whom the public would really like, if they saw more of her — and look natural and normal? This is not the time to  appear with her in some confected interview that the minders negotiate with terms and conditions. Just to do a bit of ''stuff'' together, despite her dislike of the public forum. Possibly — no guarantees — it would help with the ''woman problem''.

Today's polls — Nielsen and News — both reinforce the message Abbott has a major issue with his own ratings and, worse for the Coalition, that it is starting to leak into the voting figures. At the least, it is making it easier for Gillard and her government to recover somewhat.

Now this should not be overstated. Newspoll's 50-50 two-party result is probably too good to be true for Labor; Nielsen still has a comfortable opposition win. The election money would have to be still strongly on the Coalition.

Objectively, you would much rather be in Abbott's position than in Gillard's.  Subjectively, however, it would be another story.

Gillard has hope. Abbott is probably in a funk in his head. He wants this prime ministerial prize too much for his own good. That desire has been so strong that he has allowed himself to transform — or be transformed — into a robot. Being terrified of mistakes, he is making more of them. A mistake made then increases the likelihood of making another.

A certain fear takes over. Judgment goes. Like about ''That Punch''. The real Abbott would not have allowed this incident to turn into a right hook (his office might prefer one said a left jab) to his own jaw.

The difference between the excessively prepped Tony and the real Tony was on display on Friday. First, he was out complaining about how it was all the fault of a Labor dirt unit; then he was calling David Marr, author of the Quarterly Essay, to assure him he wasn't suggesting Marr's source was the dirt unit. There is a certain sense of fairness about the real Tony which is absent in the robotic Tony.

Abbott is in tougher times. The test is how he copes with them. Important decisions of strategy and tactics will have to be made, and the colleagues and the advisers will and should have strong voices in the debates about those.

But if he wants to improve his personal ratings, Abbott needs to regain control over his ''self'', and insist that self has more say and greater public visibility.

The real Tony can manage people quite skilfully. This was recently shown in how he kept a volatile Barnaby Joyce — deeply upset over the Cubbie Station affair — in the frontbench tent. Now, his challenge is to manage himself — often the hardest challenge of all.

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