01/02/2012 - 11:23

Rudd on the outer with Labor, electorate

01/02/2012 - 11:23


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Don’t hold your breath waiting for Kevin Rudd to make a comeback.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Kevin Rudd to make a comeback.

LAST week’s column focused upon several insightful observations by one-time Labor leader, Mark Latham, who highlighted the increasingly parlous state of the party he once led.

The nub of his case was that Labor was at a point where its once huge membership now approaches zero and that it had become extremely difficult to find rank-and-file unionists in Labor’s ranks.

“Never forget the key number: 12 trade unionists per electorate,” Latham wrote.

“Everything else is Labor-inspired spin to convince the media that the party is still a legitimate grassroots force.”

Astounding statements like that show Latham to be the most insightful analyst of Labor affairs, and someone whose not scared to say it as it is.

He’s also insightful about Labor’s ongoing and increasingly bitter leadership imbroglio that’s effectively developed into undeclared ministerial warfare between Julia Gillard and her backers and her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, and his dogged band of loyalists.

Here are several Latham observations about this protracted struggle for The Lodge.

• Gillard’s pre-Christmas cabinet reshuffle was an exercise in bungling because she left Mr Rudd in place while demoting Kim Carr, who’d helped her to become PM.

“If you are going to punish people for doing the wrong thing, your number one candidate – the bloke sitting in the spotlight – is Kevin Rudd,” Latham remarked.

• Mr Rudd is most unlikely to regain the prime ministership mid-term because it could set off a series of [cabinet and other] resignations leading to the need for a general election.

“It [Rudd’s re-emergence as PM] is fraught with political difficulties that almost rule it out,” Latham claimed.

• There is, however, an outside chance that Mr Rudd could engineer a last-minute 1983 Hawke-Hayden-style switchover on the eve of election 2013 if the Liberals appear set to win.

Latham said Labor’s 1983 leadership switch occurred so quickly it concertinaed a ‘honeymoon boost’ into a general election campaign, thereby minimising the chances of internal party warfare.

He’s the only commentator to have made such observations about the nature and timing of a possible Rudd-inspired counter-coup; namely, that Mr Rudd may not move early, but instead wait for a later, even last minute Bob Hawke-style move when he deposed Bill Hayden.

Now, I’m certainly no fan of Julia Gillard, primarily because she’s a European-style big spender, ever-higher taxation promoter, ardent and thoughtless centralist, and card-carrying ally of the Greens, who are determined to totally de-industrialise and thereby pauperise Australia through their hatred of CO2.

Furthermore, she deceived voters at the 2010 election by claiming she wouldn’t impose the burden of a CO2 tax upon Australia’s economy then promptly did so to rescue her political neck by ensuring a Labor-Greens alliance emerged.

Unlike the late former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, who insisted on Living in Truth, Ms Gillard preferred Graham Richardson’s whatever-it-takes approach.

Personal hyper-ambition thus preceded telling the truth, and, worse still, came ahead of Australia’s national interest. She’s thus demeaned the position of prime minister and is unworthy of occupying that high office.

What must also be said, however, is that, unlike Bob Hawke, Ms Gillard didn’t conspire to topple a party leader.

The fact that she got the job is solely Mr Rudd’s fault, since he was one of those who former Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, warned of in his 1972 memoirs – namely “aggressive, assertive, philosophical, way-out people”.

Now, although Latham has argued that Mr Rudd deserved removal from cabinet, Ms Gillard had the tricky task of having to guess if a demoted Mr Rudd would leave parliament in a huff, thereby bringing on a by-election for his Griffith seat, which Labor would almost certainly lose.

It’s likely that Ms Gillard, ever the incompetent leftist, already realises she’s likely to be tapped on the shoulder before the 2013 election and be asked to make way for another.

The big question is who Labor’s factional bosses will decide this ‘other’ should be, and who the other will have as deputy, because Ms Gillard’s deputy, Wayne Swan, has also reached his use-by date.

If the factional chiefs follow on from Labor’s general approach the next leader will almost certainly be a male and his deputy a female.

Remember, Kim Beazley had Jenny Macklin as deputy, and she’d held that post under Latham and his predecessor, Simon Crean.

Balancing of the sexes will continue.

My hunch is that, although Ms Macklin could make a comeback it’s more likely the next deputy will be either new Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, or new Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Both were promoted in the Gillard reshuffle.

But who’ll become leader? 

Who’ll receive the task of seeking to retain power for Labor from opposition over 2013-16, while being regarded as a credible challenger to a coalition government to hopefully make it a one termer?

Two names are emerging – neither of them Kevin Rudd.

The first is another Gillard promoted frontbencher, Bill Shorten, and the second, Western Australian Stephen Smith.

Since the deputy will almost certainly be a woman there’s no second prize for either.

Mr Smith’s major disadvantage is that he’s a Western Australian.

Mr Shorten is a Victorian with an already formidable network of backers and potential backers across eastern Australia’s union-based power centres.

It would be surprising if the beginnings of a Smith-Shorten rivalry aren’t already in place.

The beauty of this four-way line-up from Ms Gillard’s stand point is that it firstly locks Mr Rudd out and, secondly, all four will be indebted to her for remaining ministers, with three – Shorten, Roxon and Plibersek – promoted to within reach of the party’s leadership or deputy leadership.

That means Ms Gillard retains grateful colleagues in high political places when she’s ready to bow-out from Canberra, with all four being open to suggestions for either a United Nations post, which predecessor Mr Rudd, once sought, or an ambassadorship or the High Commissioner’s spot in London.

The name of the game isn’t to only win or ensure victory for one’s party, but to also be so placed that a prestigious post-Canberra career is more or less assured.

Although Latham was only remarking about a Rudd challenge, not other likely party leadership contenders, I’m confident he’d probably be inclined to views similar to those I’ve outlined above.

I’ve never believed Mr Rudd will pull-off a comeback simply because he’s been so arrogant, vain, incompetent, and was uncivil to so many of his party colleagues while PM. 

He’s had his chance and blew it by behaving foolishly, not prime ministerially.

Colleagues simply found him unbearable.

Interestingly, the man he ejected from The Lodge, John Howard, put it best when saying that Mr Rudd’s support and popularity during 2007-2010 were certainly broad, but never ever very deep.

Although Mr Rudd hasn’t yet realised it, he no longer has broad-based backing, and what little he has remains wafer thin on the ground, across both the electorate and among federal parliamentary colleagues.

And it’s the latter that’s pivotal, especially when there are others who’d also love to become PM.



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