The ALP is sowing seeds of doubt over Abbott, but still has its own doubters.

IT HAS taken a little time to emerge from the fog and clutter, but the Gillard government has a strategy to claw back lost political ground. It's not exactly innovative. In fact, its core is older than time. There is cash for working families, Labor's base, fretting about cost-of-living. Wads of it, flowing out the door.

Cash is the dominant political theme, day in, day out, harmonised with taxpayer-funded advertisements. A rare example of this government really backing in a message - every question time, every interview, in front of every open microphone, they are shouting, ''Cash, cash is coming! For you.''

I suppose the brutal simplicity helps, but this is a sea change. This government has historically lacked persistence with the daily sell. Certainly the frenetic media cycle doesn't help, always demanding something new. But ''consistently on song'' is not this government's strong suit. Someone's panic about having to fill the void generally asserts itself. As a result, new confetti is tossed in the wind, scattering randomly.

When Gillard and her ministers aren't talking up the cash, they accuse Tony Abbott of wildly exaggerating the impact of the carbon tax. (One month until implementation day; four weeks to till the soil and sow the seed of doubt.)

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yelled in Parliament last week. Shouted. And sang. Here was the perennial straight man, rising to the vaudeville of the times. Uncharacteristic, this hogging of the spotlight. Combet was out-thundering those opposite - which takes some doing.

They are all yelling in the Labor Party right now, straining to be heard above the din - almost like a parental directive has been issued: speak up, for God's sake, don't mumble.

The government is trying to promote a suspicion some voters already have that Abbott is a wrecker, not a builder (today's Age/Nielsen poll once again records high dissatisfaction ratings for the Opposition Leader). And not just doubt with the voters. Labor wants to put a question mark over the Abbott strategy, invite foment in the opposition, and self-doubt in the candidate, who is a confidence player.

Labor is also bent on disrupting Abbott's narrative. It's the barrister's trick in the jury trial: create reasonable doubt.

The government is not trying to prove the carbon tax is good. That's now impossible.

What Labor is trying to prove is that the tax is not as bad as Lead Prosecutor Abbott says it is, that there are other versions of reality than the one the Opposition Leader has spent months meticulously laying out. They seek to do this because Abbott rarely misses when he stands in front of a microphone; in his telling, the carbon tax is always present, and catastrophic, whatever the premise of any reporter's question.

Labor's alternative reality is this: the world doesn't end on July 1. Coal is mined and exported. Carbon-tax-generating heaters are not tossed in pique into the street.

The Labor hope is that Abbott finds himself stranded on the wrong side of reality at a time when the punters might be inclined to discount his arguments, and question his motives. That Labor can catch its breath on the ledge before resuming the punishing slog up Mount Everest. Such is the hope, just a tiny glimmer.

The hope of some at least: the Prime Minister, who wants to breathe on that ledge without looking down, and others who believe in the policy.

But there are Labor people who have never been on board with the policy in any iteration; and people who don't want the carbon tax to be their epitaph, who don't want to be washed out with the tsunami for an abstract policy ''right''.

As is often the story, the government is not of single mind and single aspiration. Which is why a step forward is often accompanied by a few shuffles backward. Look at the clumsy positioning over the foreign workers deal for Gina Rinehart: a revealing little window on the government's lingering internal mistrust and murk.

The government's cash-plus-reasonable-doubt strategy is being rolled out regardless, and that has been the case since last month's budget. Not a backward step. No obvious hesitation. Some good days, even.

But the truth for Labor is that frozen in this moment are two adrenalin-soaked impulses: fight, and flight. In its soul, the government is like Road Runner, aloft, frozen, with legs pointing in opposite directions.

The carbon tax remains a proxy for the leadership question: there's a sotto voce suggestion around the place that Kevin Rudd, if drafted back, could pull the toxic tax back somehow, then steam forth, smash Tony Abbott and save the day (or if not the day, then at least the furniture in Queensland and NSW).

For Gillard there's an equal and opposite hope: nail the next few weeks, glue cracked foundations, be Labor leader at the next poll.

July 1 is not only an inflection point in the national political debate, it is an inflection point for the Labor leadership. ''Good'' polls - where the ALP primary vote ticks up, and Abbott's negatives remain high - insulate the PM. But bad polls, like today's where Labor's primary vote slumps down into the 20s, will panic those inclined to panic.

It's as simple and as timeless as cash-plus-reasonable-doubt.

Katharine Murphy is national affairs correspondent.