Why is Labor’s favourite son backing the pretender?
The existential threat to Julia Gillard’s prime ministership has now passed but the price in political terms will be colossal.
To the extent that a path out of the woods exists at all, it will be narrow, precarious and often hard to discern.
For an error-prone minority government, that’s a big ask. The depth of the problem is exemplified by the dilemma of its chief attack-dog and most effective advocate, Labor’s favourite son, Anthony Albanese.
An obviously vexed Mr Albanese used a dramatic Saturday morning press conference to reveal his preference for the ex-PM - Kevin Rudd, that is - over the existing one.
It was a big moment because although friendly with Kevin Rudd, his support for Julia Gillard made a lot more political sense.
Both sides wanted his imprimatur.
In what was widely seen as a dignified performance ‘Albo’ avoided the rancour indulged in by colleagues, which won him plaudits from across the party and beyond. People spoke of his contribution’s unifying potential.
Even Ms Gillard praised him explaining that she had rejected his resignation as Manager of Government Business because he was too important.
Yet in all the praise, the inconsistency of his position went unnoticed - his decision to back the pretender made no sense either in principle or in strategy.
His chief argument was the view that the coup of June 2010 was wrong.
That is certainly arguable but it raises the question as to why he agreed to serve in Julia Gillard’s Cabinet and accepted the pivotal role as her chief parliamentary tactician and manager of negotiations in the minority parliament.
For the 2010 change to suddenly be a deal-breaker seems perverse. After all, a cabinet minister’s job is to support the government and to maintain maximum internal cohesion.
Publicly abandoning one’s prime minister rather fails that test - especially for a minister who is positioned as the tip of the Government’s spear in parliament.
Strategically, it also makes no sense. The best outcome for the whole Government is to deliver the PM as much prestige as is available.
In other words, if Ms Gillard was going to win anyway, why back a doomed leadership bid which has wreaked havoc on the party, and from which the task of rebuilding trust has been made steeper?
It will take all of Mr Albanese’s considerable wit to prosecute that case yet he has just handed the Opposition a huge stick with which to belt him.
Every time Tony Abbott attacks Ms Gillard now branding her untrustworthy, incompetent, and illegitimate, it will be Albo who leads her defence - a man Mr Abbott and everyone else now knows wanted the PM replaced also.
The fact that the Government’s most rational member has himself become so flummoxed is a mark of just how deep in the woods the Labor Party really is.
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