IT MAY come to nought, but the mutterers in the ALP aren’t just muttering now, they’re talking panic stations — and more seem prepared to back words with actions. Under Julia Gillard, Labor is certain to be slaughtered at an election. But if Kevin Rudd were reinstalled, would it make any difference?
The short answer, of course, is no. But Labor may be stupid enough to try its luck.
We haven’t had a video clip for a while, so I’ve found a beauty tonight; it even features a
ranga redhead: given the political shitfight of the century seems about to explode into reality, I think something a little lighthearted to get us underway is probably a good thing.
Is it bye-bye birdie for Julia Gillard? Maybe. But if it is, there will be yet another signature on the Labor Party’s death warrant, that document which already bears so many of its own autographs.
Regular readers know my belief that when the ALP is cornered, it does something, and right now it is cornered. Trapped. And destined to be slain in an ugly ritual kill at the hands of voters on September 14.
Since the 2010 election, Labor under Gillard hasn’t led after preferences in a single Newspoll; since her breaking of her carbon tax promise in early 2011, the polls have been virtually unanimous in their indication of impending doom for the ALP.
Until now, Gillard’s leadership has seemed immune from challenge; none of the so-called third party challengers — Smith, Crean, Shorten, Combet or even Martin “Ma’arn Ferson” Ferguson — have made any real attempt to organise or attract support among Labor MPs.
But the poor polls have kept coming: the closest Gillard has come to the Liberals in voting intention was in the immediate aftermath of her shameful “misogyny” speech; even then, the ALP’s poll numbers improved only as far as modest defeat, and even then, they quickly fell to where they had been for 18 months — in decimation territory.
And with the 14 September election date now just 13 weeks away, even Labor’s citadel in Victoria stands to be raided by victorious conservatives as up to 8 of the ALP’s 22 seats (of 37) in the Garden State seem destined to be snatched by Liberal Party candidates.
In the past few days, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has been campaigning for Darren Cheeseman — holder of Corangamite, the most marginal electorate in Australia — and for Richard Marles, holder of the adjacent seat of Corio which, on paper, is a safe Labor seat but is regarded as vulnerable following Ford’s announcement that it will quit Australia and shut its operations in Geelong.
Rudd has been received in both electorates like a rock star; apparently this has caused previously staunch Gillard adherents, like Bill Shorten, to waver.
It all brings up what should be two unthinkable questions: will Labor turn, at the eleventh hour, to the man it not just dispensed with, but brutalised? And what will happen if it does?
The voting public largely does not know Kevin Rudd; they know only what he has opted to show them, and that is far removed from what he is really like.
His colleagues, of course, know exactly what he is like; which is why they gave him the Labor leadership in 2006, expecting John Howard to win a fifth election — and to destroy Rudd as a viable-seeming leader in the process.
Of course, Howard didn’t win, and Rudd — for two and a half years — led a shambolic and ego-driven government that promised much, but delivered very little.
It was under Rudd — who proclaimed himself an “economic conservative” — that the tax/borrow/spend model this government has become synonymous with was first deployed. The effect of this so far is $275 billion in debt the country didn’t owe six years ago: a figure rising quickly.
It was Rudd — beholden to compassion babblers, chardonnay drunks and mindless do-gooders — who dismantled the Howard government’s “Pacific Solution” to stop the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals. This led directly to the current reality that sees thousands of people arriving by sea each year, hundreds more drowning in the process, and a government unable to control the situation.
It was Rudd, grandstanding on the world stage and attempting to curry favour for support as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, who first took the government down the path of an emissions trading scheme; the issue — which had already killed off one Liberal leader, and would soon claim another — was one of the pretexts later given by Gillard as proof of a “good government” which had “lost its way.”
(As an aside, here’s a reminder of Labor losing its way under Gillard).
And it was Rudd — supposedly to “spread the benefits of the boom” — who first attempted to introduce a mining tax; the measure was nonetheless implemented under Gillard by the common Treasurer in the equation, Wayne Swan, and has proven to raise so little money as to merit its abolition.
The point is that as far as policy is concerned, the Gillard government’s problems were the Rudd government’s problems — the only difference is that Rudd’s policies have had three years longer to mature into the stinking failures they have become.
Tony Abbott and his colleagues will have little trouble sheeting the ultimate responsibility for them home to Rudd should the politics require it.
When Rudd resurfaced 18 months after he was dumped to launch a leadership challenge, the bulk of his colleagues acted to destroy him; the talk of an egomaniac who was abusive, arrogant, possessed of an explosive temper and who was completely contemptuous of his colleagues was, if anything, an understatement.
This had been what they expected the public to see after Rudd won in 2007; when it didn’t automatically surface, his colleagues elected to air the dirty laundry themselves. I did say that the public didn’t really know Rudd, and they don’t. But his colleagues do, and it’s still an important point we will return to a little later.
And the election Rudd won in 2007 was fuelled, in no particular order, by three factors: a 12-year-old government and the “It’s time” factor; a $13 million media campaign by the unions against the Howard government’s WorkChoices laws; and a sloganeering, jingoistic campaign run by Rudd himself. Remember the “Education Revolution?”
The first two factors are not available for Rudd and his smarm to exploit in 2013, and as far as the slogans and jingoism are concerned, a cynical voting public will quickly see through them a second time.
It is inarguable that Gillard’s management of the politics of government has been truly woeful; some point the finger for this at her imported spin doctor from the UK, former adviser to Tony Blair’s Labour government John McTernan.
But whilst McTernan has added no tangible value to Gillard’s government, to do so would be unfair to him.
Gillard exhibits no political acumen at all, and — whilst there are plenty of staffers and advisers who are known to have been behind numerous individual events that have transpired, the buck has to stop somewhere.
And her idea of “policy” is grandiose spending programs that sound good and attract expressions of support across the political divide, but which are not only unfunded but designed to sabotage the Liberal Party’s management of the federal budget many years after Labor leaves office.
It’s clear something has to happen, and it will: a change of government.
Many in Labor think Rudd would provide a circuit breaker to all of this; that he will reclaim the Prime Ministership in a blaze of adulation and glory, skip off to an election, and bury the evil Liberal Party and its nasty leader, the dreaded Abbott, in an avalanche.
The reality is likely to be different, and would run something like this.
By whatever the means (and God alone knows when it comes to the Labor Party), Rudd becomes leader and Prime Minister again at the end of June.
This is likely to be accompanied (or rapidly followed) by an announcement that the 14 September election is being brought forward to 3 August: Rudd will need to get to the polls as soon as possible to capitalise on any honeymoon effect his resurgence generates.
And he will need to get to the polls quickly simply because it’s the only way he will be able to stop a mass resignation of his ministers; in such a circumstance, don’t be surprised to see several of them follow Martin Ferguson’s lead and retire “for personal and family reasons.”
There will be an immediate — and steep — spike in Labor’s opinion poll numbers; this is the period in which the Liberal Party will need to hold its nerve. The numbers will be illusory, and any temptation to enact a leadership coup of its own, restoring Malcolm Turnbull to lead the Liberals to the election, would be the greatest error of judgement possible.
The Liberal Party campaign is likely to be fought on the economy, government waste, debts and deficits, and stopping the boats — the same themes it will use against Gillard of she survives to the election.
As the campaign wears on — and as Rudd is held to account for the political and policy failures of six years of Labor government, any poll lead will dwindle, and disappear, and reappear in the Coalition column.
2013 will be a difficult election for Labor, whoever leads it. I just wonder whether Kevin Rudd’s infamous glass jaw might finally break in public if exposed to the right blows from the right angle in a relentless Liberal Party onslaught.
Either way, in attacking Rudd head-on, the blame for all of the political and policy failures of the full six years of Labor government will be dumped in Rudd’s lap.
By the time Rudd makes it to polling day, there will be no honeymoon, no euphoria, no excitement, and no prospect of re-election. Rudd will have been killed off by Abbott, and all Labor will have to offer the country on election night will be bitter recriminations and infighting.
I personally think Rudd will lose just as badly as Gillard would; rock star receptions and hypothetical polls on popularity are well and good, but when people are voting based on reality and not pretend scenarios, the reality is almost invariably different.
It needs to be remembered that much of Rudd’s rock star-like image has been deliberately crafted by the man himself; there is little spontaneity about it, and I suspect his “popularity” runs in a pretty shallow pool in the electorate when all is said and done.
Even so, if Rudd were to win the election (and it’s a huge “if”), the likelihood of his colleagues simply removing him from the Prime Ministership again — probably straight away — is overwhelming.
We can go through the numbers and the seats and the issues pertaining to each, but I don’t see the point.
Waving “bye-bye” to Birdie, from a purely political perspective, would be a destructive action indeed for Julia Gillard’s colleagues, even though they don’t have so many more palatable choices.
As a final thought, readers should consider the NSW Labor government that was annihilated at the ballot box in March 2011.
A little over a year out from the election it, too, engineered a leadership change; it chose an extremely intelligent (drop-dead gorgeous) woman who was well-liked in the electorate, and who carried none of the political or electoral baggage of her predecessors.
Kristina Keneally lost in a modern Labor massacre. There is no reason to think a confected, tarnished, damaged and conceited egomaniac like Kevin Rudd — who boasts none of Keneally’s very real personal appeal — would do any better.
Australians want a change of government. They are tangibly fed up with the whole post-2007 experiment with Labor, which was arguably predicated on a lie in the first place.
And they want stable, competent government: something a further leadership change — even to Rudd — would simply underline Labor’s utter incapability of providing.