Rudd’s last stand
Today Kevin Rudd is set to fight for his political life, and the chances are he will lose.
How did this happen? How does a man who was the most popular Prime Minister since Bob Hawke just eight months ago, now face the humiliation of being deposed by his colleagues before the end of his first term?
Last night’s factional execution gives as much of an insight into how Kevin Rudd rose to power as it does this political disaster he now finds himself in. The problem was this: he was never really an Australian Labor Party leader in the true sense of the word.
Despite being put where he was by ALP factions (especially the NSW right) Rudd came to leader free of the baggage of the tribalism of the ALP’s factions. His rise marked a break from a party that would often place factional loyalty ahead of talent and, ultimately, the good of the electorate.
Rudd was in the party but not of it like his colleagues.
Kevin Rudd gave this ALP a new face and a new lease on life. It was Kevin Rudd who got the ALP out of the federal political badlands, and led them to an historic and well fought victory over John Howard.
But the popularity with the voters wasn’t matched by popularity in his party, and importantly, not enough support among those factions.
When the popularity tanked so did Rudd in the party’s eyes, and he had nobody to turn to. It’s gone from the cupboard being bare to cannibalism in about two minutes.
Rudd didn’t hold back on this point last night:
“It’s become apparent to me in the course of the last period of time, the last several weeks, that a number of factional leaders within the Labor Party no longer support my leadership . . . I was not elected by factional leaders of the Australian Labor Party to do a job, they may be seeking to do a job on me, that’s a separate matter.”
It’s true that they want to do a job on him now, but it was those faceless men who put him where he was. And now he’s seen as expendable with a good plan B to fall back on.
Last night the factional leaders of the Victorian and NSW right who led the charge tried to convince Rudd to stand down honourably, but Rudd is vowing to go down a fighter.
He probably showed more genuine spirit and determination in last night’s press conference than he has in the last six months.
He said that he would not let the party lurch to the right on asylum seekers and would fight to for an ETS.
Rudd may be making a stand now but he’s making it too late.
To use Rudd’s own examples, this is the same man who in recent months has both back tracked on asylum seekers and all but dumped an ETS.
Rudd’s failings aren’t just ones of policy, and there are many, but it is his style that so failed to endear him to his colleagues. Combine that with a lack of factional support and plunging popularity and he’s toast.
It is the worst case scenario for the Labor Party for Rudd to win a tight vote today. It would leave a destabilised party with an unpopular leader and Gillard, presumably, on the back bench. It’s unlikely but stranger things have happened.
But if Gillard gets up she will not only be Australia’s first female Prime Minister but every bit that classic ALP leader. It’s a massive gamble that could lead them to another historic victory or lead them back to badlands for a generation.
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