Conservatives for Kevin
“Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” Such was the proverb employed by my late mother whenever she suspected a colorful new acquaintance was providing an alarming insight into the after-school activities of one of her children.
And just like that the parent-friendly, studious, non-smoking, non-drinking personas so carefully cultivated by my siblings and me would be exposed.
With behind the scenes jostling now under way in earnest ahead of today’s ALP leadership ballot, the identity of those extending the hand of friendship to Kevin Rudd has also been something of a revelation.
There are of course the predictable foot soldiers including colleague Kim Carr and the completely unremarkable encouragement of wife Therese Rein and daughter Jessica. But did anyone seriously expect less than a public display of unwavering loyalty from his own family?
Far more telling is the sudden outpouring of support for Rudd among conservative voters – the very people once baying for the former-PM-turned-former-Foreign-Minister’s blood.
The numbers may be on Gillard’s side when calculating the all-important caucus votes, but across the ideological divide, support for her not-so-quietly seething rival is palpable.
Throughout social media this week several of the Coalition’s most outspoken supporters have managed to find kind words for Team Rudd. Ardent fans of Abbott swooned over Rein’s gushing tribute to her husband. Staunch Liberal voters suddenly spoke of Rudd’s prime ministership in glowing terms. Conservative commentators dutifully echoed the words of Doug Cameron without a hint of malice. And devout Opposition supporters tut-tutted at those nasty Government ministers saying such mean things about one of their own.
He may not be popular in his own party, but his one-time enemies can’t get enough of the guy. And that, of all the slurs flung his way in recent days, might just be the most damning characterisation of all.
What does it say about Rudd that the very people hoping against hope for a Coalition victory at the next election are openly barracking for him?
Fanning the flames of leadership instability is expected of an Opposition so it is unsurprising they spent much of last year mentioning Rudd’s name at every available opportunity. But trying to unnerve Gillard and further undermine an already struggling government is a very different game to openly playing favourites only days out from a spill that is no longer merely hypothetical. If everyone is so convinced Rudd poses a bigger threat at the ballot box than Gillard why would Abbott supporters be so seemingly sympathetic to his plight?
No, the real inspiration for the recent love-in is not Rudd at all. It’s Gillard.
Talking up her nemesis to make her look untenable has become the strategy of choice for her detractors. Maybe they genuinely believe Rudd is the lesser of two evils. Maybe they’re still fuming at the unceremonious manner in which he was ousted from the top job. Maybe they are harder on Gillard because she’s a woman. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re more scared of her than they are of Rudd.
Despite the barrage of polls suggesting he is a far more popular figure among voters than Gillard, could he in fact be perceived an easier target to topple? It wouldn’t be the first time Abbott claimed his scalp.
Caught in a spiral of self-destruction reminiscent of Kurt Cobain, many within the ALP have succumbed to a culture of panic and in-fighting in which the painstakingly orchestrated martyrdom of Rudd has been allowed to gain traction.
But for those removed from the unsightly mess – namely the Liberal Party’s cheer squad – it is easier to survey the future with a cool detachment. Through those eyes the outcome of a Rudd resuscitation must seem inevitable: a brief honeymoon interrupted by a rapid flatline in both the polls and party-room morale.
If first-hand accounts of the widespread dysfunction and chaos Rudd brought about during his first reign are to be believed then the task of negotiating a minority government in a toxic political environment is surely beyond him.
Australia’s favourite punching bag she may well be, but it would seem Gillard has earned the begrudging respect of at least a few of her political foes. They’ll never admit it – but they don’t have to. Rudd’s unlikely new circle of “friends” has already told us all we need to know.
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