After an interesting day in Canberra, things are clearer; we can write with confidence the political obituary of Kevin Rudd, and look at what faces Julia Gillard as she moves forward (sorry, I couldn’t resist). And we can state, with real confidence, that Gillard’s woes have only just begun.
But first of all, in keeping with the occasional trend here at The Red And The Blue, I have a very special YouTube clip for Kevin Rudd to reflect on. Indeed, this is the third time he has earned the YouTube honour here, and the second time in five days — thus far, a record.
In terms of Rudd’s political future — or, at the very minimum, of his prospects for advancing an inch beyond the post of Foreign Minister, which he threw away some days ago — I think the melancholic nostalgia, of things lost that can never be recovered, that oozes from the piece I have selected for this article fit Rudd’s circumstances perfectly.
I even felt a little sorry for him this afternoon: I have never liked or trusted Rudd, and have certainly never had any respect for the man. But the dose of humble pie he was forced to eat — apologising for this and that, ruling himself out of this and that, and pledging himself in explicit terms to the support of Gillard — was almost too excruciating to witness.
Yet as I have said previously, he has only himself to blame; passed over as a serious leadership contender in 2003 and 2005, he was endorsed by his colleagues out of near-desperation in late 2006 to take the fight to then Prime Minister John Howard. Of course, Rudd beat Howard the following year in a modestly comfortable — but not runaway — election win.
Subsequently, his treatment of his ministerial colleagues, other MPs, many staffers, elements in the media and beyond virtually ensured his days as ALP leader and Prime Minister were numbered.
So it came to pass, on 23 June 2010, that his papers were stamped: faced with the prospect of Julia Gillard winning a minimum of 80 votes (out of what was then 110) in the following day’s ALP party meeting, Rudd declined to even stand.
Circumstantial and anecdotal evidence tends to prove the charge that ever since that day, Rudd (or those loyal to him) embarked on a systemic program of destabilisation designed to result in the destruction of Gillard’s leadership and his own, triumphant return as Labor leader and Prime Minister.
Today’s events have been the culmination of that endeavour; Rudd has been annihilated by a 40-vote margin, 71-31, in the Labor Party leadership ballot.
And this, my friends, spells the end of Kevin Rudd as a force in Australian politics.
He is finished and, on balance, good riddance.
The only question is whether — and for how long — he intends to remain in Parliament as the Member for Griffith.
He has said that it is his intention to stay, and to recontest the next election; but such declarations made in the present tense are as likely to be revised in the cold light of morning a day, a week, a month or a year down the track.
With one caveat — and I will get to that later — it appears to be a conclusive case of “Farewell Kevin…” and I don’t think he will be missed, remotely, when all has been said and done.
The one real surprise I had today (and I apologise to readers for an erroneous guess last night on this score) was that the margin of the vote wasn’t closer; I genuinely thought that given a secret ballot, some of the pledged support for Gillard would break off and transfer to Rudd.
In other words, the trouncing I expected him to receive ended up being more of a poleaxing — and I realise that not only had support against Rudd crystallised, it had calcified and fossilised.
To the point that the only votes that broke away from anywhere were chipped out of Rudd’s tally to further inflate Gillard’s.
And this brings me neatly to Gillard; to her victory today; and to what may now ensue.
Contrary to the valiant attempts at spin that have been played out by senior ALP figures in the media since this morning’s vote, the result is not an emphatic endorsement of the leadership of Julia Gillard: it is an emphatic rejection of Kevin Rudd.
It’s an important distinction.
Much has been made in the past week, by those in the ALP either bitterly opposed to Rudd or professing near-unbridled hatred of him, that most of the woes Gillard has faced as Prime Minister derive directly from the plotting and scheming Rudd has undertaken since he was dumped.
Certainly, this may have been a complicating factor for Gillard, but as I have been saying to people today, Julia Gillard doesn’t need Kevin Rudd to get herself into trouble — she is perfectly and monstrously capable of achieving that all by herself.
The riot one of her staffers attempted to incite on Australia Day, in a foolhardy and baseless attempt to damage opposition leader Tony Abbott, had nothing to do with Kevin Rudd.
The promise not to introduce a carbon tax prior to the 2010 election — subsequently broken, and the root source of so many of Gillard’s, and of Labor’s, political woes — also had nothing to do with Kevin Rudd.
The deal Gillard made with Andrew Wilkie, promising to legislate dubious but well-intentioned reforms on poker machines — which she subsequently reneged on — was something Kevin Rudd had absolutely nothing to do with.
The speech Gillard gave at the recent national conference of the ALP — the toe-curling and embarrassingly cringeworthy “We Are Us” speech — had nothing to do with Rudd (apart from the fact, in an attempted poke in the eye, Rudd was the only Labor Prime Minister Gillard did not name in her roll call of “Great Labor Prime Ministers”).
Kevin Rudd had no input into or involvement with Julia Gillard’s much-vaunted “solutions” on illegal asylum seekers; these were meant to be the issue, in her own words, that would define her government; instead, they have been an abject failure and — the truth be told — an abject source of international embarrassment to Australia.
The fact this country averted a recession four years ago is widely credited as an achievement by the Labor government; yet even now, sovereign debt in Australia continues to skyrocket at a time of moderate GDP growth.
Let’s not forget that the so-called GFC was nearly four years ago now; the excuse is wearing thin when it comes to the billions of dollars of additional debt being racked up each month.
The likelihood of this government ever delivering a budget surplus, short of doctoring the books or a massive assault on spending, is nil.
And Rudd isn’t — and wasn’t — a Treasury minister at all.
I could detail dozens more such examples; the simple fact is that whilst Rudd had and has giant flaws and faults, much of what he has been blamed for had nothing to do with him.
And I defend Rudd with clenched teeth, and seeking a blackboard to run fingernails down.
The point is that Rudd was correct about something: the Australian people have lost all trust in Julia Gillard.
If you doubt this, go and look at her approval ratings in yesterday’s Newspoll.
People don’t like her; they don’t trust her; they don’t believe anything she has to say; and they certainly don’t support her.
There has been a lot of rhetoric from Labor types today about the imperative to all come together; to “heal;” and to “unify.”
All of that is noble sentiment, but the problem remains: Rudd might have been a disloyal troublemaker, but ultimately the government’s problem is its leader.
And this is why I say that Gillard did not receive an emphatic endorsement today; she benefitted from an emphatic rejection of Kevin Rudd.
And some of the “unity” rhetoric is implausible, even if you accept Rudd’s attempt to be gracious in defeat at face value.
For instance, the resignation from the ministry and from the Senate of NSW Right Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib — supposedly as a gesture to help “heal” the party — loses the credibility of its presentation when it is revealed that his primary purpose was to spend more time with his kids.
As someone with a toddler I fully understand, but the grandiose, noble gesture isn’t quite so noble when the real motivation for it is uncovered.
The fact Rudd and arch-critic Wayne Swan shook hands after the ballot is, frankly, nothing.
And not one of the most trenchant critics of Rudd — Swan, Nicola Roxon, Simon Crean, Tony Burke — have uttered a syllable in public by way of reconciliation.
Instead, a new line of spin has become apparent: ALP members and ministers appear to be queuing up to compare their leader’s 40-vote party room win with the one-vote margin Tony Abbott achieved in his successful challenge to Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal Party in 2009.
That’s the first point, right there: Abbott won as a challenger.
But secondly, there has only ever been three successful daylight assassinations of sitting Prime Ministers from within their own party since Federation: Billy McMahon over John Gorton in 1971, Paul Keating over Bob Hawke in 1991, and Gillard over Rudd in 2010.
Yet on opposition benches — and by both sides of politics — such leadership coups are monotonously regular.
Indeed, Labor did it three times in three years between 2003 and 2006.
And third, like him or not, Tony Abbott — with his one-vote win — has subsequently reinvigorated the Coalition’s political prospects; for the only time in the modern era, he erased a first-term government’s majority at an election; he has held the Coalition in a consistent election-winning position for 18 months; and he has the political and tactical smarts Gillard so obviously lacks.
Pull on a Liberal leadership ballot now and Abbott would win in a canter, and the Labor Party knows it.
It’s fair to say the ALP is terrified of Tony Abbott.
And it is fair to discount what they have to say about him on this measure.
I think that this government will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis; its penchant for self-inflicted mistakes to date is such that nobody could expect anything less.
I also think that when the polls return to the overwhelmingly negative position for Labor that they consistently recorded prior to any hint of Rudd’s return, that the mutterers in the ALP will again begin to mutter.
It is very clear that the Labor Party will never again embrace Rudd as its leader; hence the appropriate epitaph written for him at the outset of this article.
But it is equally clear, even now, that if things do not improve for Gillard in the next three to six months, and if she and her government continue on their gaffe-prone path, at some point she will find herself tapped on the shoulder, with most probably Stephen Smith lined up to take the leadership, and to attempt to salvage some dignity for his party at the election that even now is appearing as a bump on the horizon.
Provided an early election, by virtue of whatever of the various possible triggers exist, isn’t forced on the ALP in the meantime.
I could say more, but as lengthy as this article has been from the necessity to cover the ground, I think that will suffice.
But I will add one more point — the caveat I alluded to early in this article about the career of Kevin Rudd.
Margaret Thatcher once said (of the “wets” in her cabinet) that it was “better to have them with you, even though they try to drag you down…than to have them on the back benches, where they are free to make as much mischief as they like.”
If Julia Gillard and her colleagues really are serious about unity, reconciliation and the rest of the blather they have spouted this afternoon, then Gillard should as a matter of course offer Kevin Rudd his job back as minister for Foreign Affairs.
It would lock him in, given his undertakings today; it would give some substance to the rhetoric about unity and healing; and it would put a readily terminable Rudd on a very, very short leash indeed.
It won’t happen.
What do you think about today’s events?