Saturday, 25 February 2012

Rudd vs Gillard - Round Two

[Update 27/02/2012: The vote is over, and Gillard won, as expected. Good.]

Australians have to wait until Monday to know who will be leading their country. With the Labor party voting to decide between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the man she deposed in 2010, Kevin Rudd, there are at least three possibilities:

1. Gillard can inflict a humiliating defeat on Rudd such that he retreats to the back benches or resigns from politics altogether, and she continues to be PM until the next elections in 2013. I think this is most likely.

2. Rudd can pull off an upset victory and retake the crown. I think this is least likely.

3. The victory of either may be so slender that it wrecks the Labor government and brings on a mid-term poll, which then goes in favour of the Liberals. I think the odds are even on this.

Two very nice pieces of commentary among all the feverish reporting going on are this op-ed by Michelle Grattan of The Age on House leader Anthony Albanese's decision to support Rudd, and a somewhat last-minute kiss-and-tell by former Rudd speechwriter James Button. I have always had a lot of respect for Anthony Albanese, a man who habitually kept a low profile and quietly delivered results. Grattan's write-up makes clear that Albanese's support for what she considers to be the losing side (i.e., Rudd) is a sign of conscience and courage. His unhappiness with the way Rudd was deposed in 2010, together with opinion polls showing greater support for Labor under Rudd, have combined to swing his vote towards the former Prime Minister.

At the same time, James Button's lengthy exposé paints a rather unflattering, although by no means unbelievable, picture of Kevin Rudd. We've all heard the stories, and Button now brings them into graphic relief on the eve of the spill. He has to be congratulated on his timing.

Albanese's effort could blunt the tide against Rudd within the Labor caucus, just as Button's article could dampen public enthusiasm for Rudd a tiny fraction. However, it's the caucus vote that counts, and it's far from clear that Kevin Rudd is going to win. The other curious fact about the opinion polls is that while people prefer Rudd to Gillard by a significant margin, they're evenly split about a change in leadership. "What happened in 2010 was wrong, but two wrongs don't make a right, so just keep going" seems to sum up the popular mood.

[The Australian public is a bit strange that way. There was widespread outrage at the sacking of the Gough Whitlam government by governor-general John Kerr and the installation of Malcolm Fraser in power in 1975. Yet, when elections were held soon after, Malcolm Fraser was returned to power comfortably and Whitlam did not benefit from the popular outrage at his ouster.]

My take on all this:

- Kevin Rudd did some things right when he started, but he suffers from some serious and incorrigible personality defects. These traits of his severely damaged the government and Labor's prospects, and so he had to go. In retrospect, I agree with Gillard's decision to oust him in the interests of the party and the government.

- However, the way he was disposed of was unseemly, and contributed in no small measure to Gillard's subsequent unpopularity. I liked her a lot when she was Rudd's deputy, and would have supported her wholeheartedly for PM had she moved up to that role in due course, but the sudden coup put me off her, big time. I think Labor's PR around that was a disaster. It was a bit like Brutus having a strong case for doing Caesar in until Marc Antony came along and ruined everything.

- I would still like Gillard to keep her job, however she got it. All things considered, she's probably the best of the three (herself, Rudd and Tony Abbott).

- I like and respect Anthony Albanese even more than I did before. I would go so far as to say he's the only Labor party MP and minister I respect without reservations. I hope he stays in office regardless of who wins.

- I hope Tony Abbott doesn't end up becoming Prime Minister because of all this Labor infighting. That would be a disaster of unprecedented proportions for Australia.

Oh well, Monday isn't too far away.

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