This has been a highly revealing couple of days.

A mistake being made by the media on Rudd’s “nothing more we can do” statement is to say that it was just a slip. It is not, it goes to the core of what Rudd’s government is about. However, the lack of support from his Ministers and the partial climbdown by Swan to put petrol GST up for review shows that he has not yet laid the grounds for it.

On Insiders, comparisons were made with other slip ups by recent PMs, but probably the closest was Fraser’s “life was not meant to be easy”. He made it early in his government and summed up the clamp down on wages and government spending Fraser tried to impose but, to the frustration of conservatives like Howard, did not have the political authority to do.

Rudd’s comment sums up his agenda, the lowering of expectations about what governments can do, an up-front admission that formed the basis of his anti-politics attack on Howard last year and a necessity with the end of the old politics. Now Rudd himself has got caught by an anti-politics attack from the other side over petrol excise and, judging by the reluctance of those close to him like Tanner to take it further, Rudd does not yet have the authority to push the message through to its conclusion.

However, setting down new limits to government is unlikely to be something that Rudd can easily give up on. It certainly doesn’t mean, for example, that pushing for higher petrol prices to meet the demands of the climate change agenda will now be abandoned as The Australian suggests. In fact, the climate agenda will give Rudd the political authority to counter such populism that he so far lacks.

For Nelson, this looks like a gamble that has paid off and it should ease the immediate pressure on his leadership. Again the media is wrong to claim, as Paul Kelly did yesterday, that the key leadership tension is between Nelson and Turnbull. The real issue is between the old Liberal leadership and Turnbull. Nelson’s leadership is a sign that it couldn’t get resolved straight after the election when Abbott had to back off to stop Turnbull getting up. But the old leadership clearly remains concerned that Nelson is doing almost as much damage as Turnbull possibly could to their core base, what has become the primary concern of the Liberal leadership since the Rudd ascendency. In fact the more the threat of Turnbull wanes (as it has been since the Budget) the less reason the leadership has for Nelson. Hence, we have now, after Abbott and Bishop, Hockey elbowing his way into a rare Nelson success.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 26 May 2008.

Filed under Tactics

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