There’s nothing Julia can do about Kevin
There was much laughter and teasing from the Labor side about the decision of the Queensland Liberal National Party to install a leader who wasn’t even in the Parliament. Federal Labor has its own leader in exile, except he’s inside the Caucus.
His name is Kevin, he’s from Queensland, and he’s here to do anything other than help Julia Gillard as she grapples with the horrors of minority government and seeks a difficult second term.
Julia Gillard has her work cut out for her. She’s up against not one but two alternative prime ministers, Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. Tony Abbott is currently unassailable. Kevin Rudd is simply uncontrollable.
For all the misgivings which some Liberals have about Abbott’s judgment and conduct, best evidenced by his attendance with the “Bob Brown’s Bitch” brigade at that absurd climate rally, no-one inside the Coalition Party Room has the numbers to wrest the leadership from him. He has built his leadership around attacking first Rudd and now Gillard over their climate change policies. It has been a successful strategy. Most Liberal MPs would not go back to a pro-ETS leader in Malcolm Turnbull, or a candidate such as Joe Hockey who took no position on the issue.
While Abbott entrenches himself further as leader, Julia Gillard finds herself under siege from a man who has no numbers at all within the Caucus. If a ballot were called for the Labor leadership tomorrow Rudd would be lucky to get two votes. On paper, the idea of his making a comeback as the leader of the ALP is laughable.
What Rudd is doing instead is positioning himself as the people’s choice candidate for the prime ministership. His star turn on Q and A last Monday was the most flamboyant demonstration of his media strategy. Rudd is determined to do as much media as he can. He is using his role as foreign minister to sound prime ministerial. On Monday night he showed an almost gleeful willingness to discuss the events leading up to his demise as leader. He was very clever with his words. Technically, he didn’t talk about Cabinet discussions, rather discussions involving members of Cabinet. He didn’t identify those members of Cabinet. He didn’t have to. It was already in the public domain that Julia Gillard – she of the carbon tax – had argued along with Wayne Swan early last year that Rudd should drop the emissions trading scheme. Rudd’s coquettish conduct on Q and A had the effect of pointing the finger directly at the woman who pinched his job, but in a way which let Rudd say that he was simply answering questions from the crowd, not naming names or being disloyal.
Rudd has had a fair bit of practice at this stuff – they’re the same tactics he used to position himself against Kim Beazley in 2005 and 2006. Rudd never did anything so overt or treacherous that Beazley could have pinged him for disloyalty. He simply made sure that everyone in Caucus and the media knew that he held Beazley’s judgment in the lowest regard, and that if there was a change he would want to be part of it, or to lead it.
This time, Caucus isn’t rallying behind Rudd. But Rudd doesn’t care. He takes heart from his solid standing in those preferred leader polls which must drive Gillard mad. He delights in the fact that he gets stopped in the street and lauded on Twitter as a good man done wrong by the party. “Kevin11 has a good ring to it”, someone tweeted on Monday night during Q and A, and the ABC ran the quip on screen. If Gillard were watching she would probably have chucked something at the telly. Rudd on the other hand was totally revelling in it.
Rudd knows he can get away with all this, and probably even more, because there is no way Gillard can discipline him. If she punted him from the foreign ministry he would go berserk and would most likely withdraw his support for the government, forcing a fresh election. He has already become something of a martyr, particularly in his home state of Queensland. His comments about factional thugs on Q and A were all about reminding the voters about the injustice he believes he suffered.
And this is why Kevin Rudd is a nightmare for Julia Gillard. She’s in the middle of trying to make a very tough argument to the Australian people about why we need a carbon tax and how that carbon tax is going to work. She’s got her predecessor out there reminding people that barely a year ago she wanted the ETS shelved indefinitely. That little broadside from Rudd was damaging and there will be more to come. And there is nothing the prime minister can do to stop it, because Rudd is motivated by something which goes beyond politics. It’s his personal sense that what happened to him last year was disgusting, and everyone who was involved in it should be forced to pay.
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