Kevin 2.0 could be better. Or it could be even KRuddier.
As key moments go, it ranked with Gough Whitlam’s dramatic dismissal speech branding Malcolm Fraser “Kerr’s cur’’ or the latter’s lip-quivering concession on election night, 1983.
It was June 24, 2010. Before a huge media throng, a teary Kevin Rudd, his composure failing, his bewildered family staring awkwardly forward, detailed his achievements one by one. Long silences exacerbated the tension.
It was excruciating.
Yet in its sheer spin and wordiness, it was pure Kevin07.
Even at the moment of its demise, his prime ministership would not bend.
Examples of its dysfunction were by then legion. Advice had flowed in column yards suggesting everything from getting more sleep, and doing less travel, to the standard less talk, more action.
It had all fallen on deaf ears - the PM’s response, a reflexive resort to bravado. “Get used to it’‘, he’d say.
The Rudd show which had started with an uber-popular leader, a clear reform mandate, and a huge reserve of goodwill, had turned toxic.
Rudd was his own worst enemy and came to be loathed by many of his own ministers whom he routinely ignored.
Senior public servants were abused. Caucus, which no longer selected the frontbench team, was relegated to spectator status. Cabinet was sidelined.
The whole notion of collective decision-making upon which our system of governance is based was effectively by-passed.
And yet no-one in Caucus or the executive spoke up.
Rudd took personal control and it all went out of control.
Reviews, commissioned in their tens in lieu of decisions, piled up.
The great moral challenge of climate change was suddenly deemed inconvenient.
An aggressive GFC spend to stave off recession costing more than $52 billion worked well but was quickly tagged by its signature failure, the pink batts debacle.
His personal credibility shredded on climate change, Rudd then muscled up on “greedy’’ miners first announcing, then completely failing to explain or sell a resources super-profits tax. Precisely because of his climate change betrayal, he could not back down in the fight with the miners, but neither could he win it.
The axe fell.
Yet now, with Labor’s stocks at rock-bottom, and showing no signs of recovery, some MPs are thinking the previously unthinkable: A return to the former leader.
Could Kevin 2.0 be better than Kevin07? Yes. Would he be better? Who knows. Entrenched opponents say he may even be worse, viewing his revival as sweet vindication.
Caucus colleagues say his first hurdle must be a “credible’’ promise to swear-off vendettas and bury the hatchet with enemies including Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard.
The Australian National University’s Michael Platow says the real challenge for Kevin 2.0 is to fundamentally change his leadership style in order to bring people along with him.
“What you need to do is to get people to follow you,’’ Professor Platow says.
“In this case the followers are not the voters so much as his colleagues in the party room.
“So what he needs to do is to develop a shared sense of `us’ and if he had a style that was all about `me’, then I would predict ahead of time, and I think it may well have been true in reality, that he will fail because leadership is not about `me’, leadership is about us.
“What he would need to do is create a shared sense that we’re in this together, I’m the leader, but what I’m doing is embodying who we are’.
“That’s very antithetical to a view that says `well I’m separate, everything comes through me, I make the decisions, and you guys are just kind of, nothing’.’‘
But can leaders change core things about themselves?
“Yes, I believe anybody can, if I didn’t believe that, then all of clinical psychology would be out the door,’’ Platow says.
“So yes he can but it requires first a recognition that something he’s done in the past wasn’t successful.’‘
That recognition is clearly possible but real, fundamental change might be a bridge too far.
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