If it’s not about you PM, who is it about?
One of the more unusual comments of this election campaign was made by Julia Gillard on The 7.30 Report this week when the Prime Minister batted away questions about the personal repercussions of defeat on Saturday.
“Oh, this isn’t about me Kerry,” Gillard said. It was a funny remark, and an engagingly selfless one, as it’s hard to envisage anything more personal than serving yourself up to the judgment of the nation in a general election.
Most people who enter politics do not exit politics on their own terms. You can only begin to imagine what the sense of rejection must be like for past leaders, or even no-name backbenchers who have to grapple with the fact that the loss of their seat is effectively a signal from the community that they just don’t like them enough to make them their representative.
The election is obviously very much about Julia Gillard, in the same way it’s very much about Tony Abbott. The style, character and personality of both leaders count for everything in our increasingly presidential election campaigns. And defeat for either candidate means that their future leadership of the party will be revisited immediately after the poll.
With Labor battling to stay ahead in the polls, despite the precision of swing the Coalition requires to win a daunting 17 seats, the nightmare scenario for Labor is that the manner of Julia Gillard’s elevation may have had the effect of destroying not one but two leaders in the space of one brutal coup.
Rudd has obviously been destroyed politically by the events of June 24. Whatever veneer of goodwill has been fabricated through his presence at the campaign launch, or his sham meeting with Gillard a couple of Saturdays ago, completely fails to mask the reality that Caucus does not want him on the frontbench after the election, with many MPs still accusing him of treachery in relation to the leaks against the new Prime Minister.
But if Labor falls short on Saturday, the great irony will be that the manner in which Julia Gillard got the top job also prevented her from keeping it, with the voters’ distaste at the factionally-orchestrated leadership putsch clearly hurting Labor in the polls.
Labor Party figures fear that, in the event of a defeat, Gillard may feel so damaged or be seen as so damaged by the coup and its aftermath that she is no longer a viable leadership option. There is already some muted talk about whether Wayne Swan would be leader, or whether the party would shift immediately to a battle between the next generation, with the desperately ambitious Bill Shorten, a chief plotter of the Rudd coup, likely to battle it out for the leadership against former ACTU secretary Greg Combet.
The polls suggest there is nothing fanciful about this scenario. Should things get to this point, the party’s factional hacks can congratulate themselves not only on destroying the prime ministership of the guy who ended 11 years of conservative rule, but also cruelling the career of our first female prime minister and one of the best parliamentary performers of the modern era.
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