Thursday, 13 May 2010
Surely in everything that we’ve seen, the government has only two problems, Julia; one is Kevin and the other is Rudd. This is, we’ve got the wrong person running the country.
Alan Jones to Julia Gillard 2GB 3 March 2010
Abbott: If Rudd wins the election, he’ll last about three months.
Bolt: Only three?
Abbott: Maybe six.
There’s a cheap living to be made in Australian political commentary by taking whatever happens in the US or UK and slapping it onto the Australian political scene. Surprisingly the Australian press has been reticent drawing too much out from the UK election. Someone did note on last Sunday’s Insiders that it didn’t seem to matter how decrepit Labour was, it still didn’t necessarily translate to a victory for the right (so watch out Barry!).
But there was little made about the other two points about the UK election. Namely, that just because the media trump somebody as the New Messiah, like they did with Lib Dem leader, doesn’t necessarily mean that he will go anywhere with the public. And, of course, there is the other lesson that has been hanging around British politics for some time: replacing a formerly popular leader who became seen as lacking substance and obsessed with spin, by someone more real who more represents the true feeling of the party, may not make things better, but indeed much worse.
None of this, of course, applies in the slightest to Australian politics.
There’s at least one good thing about the rapid decline in Rudd’s popularity. It has made it easier for the media to justify what has been an ongoing, and bizarre, discussion about Gillard’s natural succession to the leadership after Rudd. On Insiders last weekend they were worried they were being a bit premature to talk about such things in Rudd’s first term – forgetting that they were talking about it even at the start of it when Rudd’s polling was sky high.
The media have been talking about Gillard taking over the leadership as though it would sort out Labor’s electoral problems. Of course, there has not been a single poll that backs that view. Maybe things have changed since the recent decline, but every poll this blogger has seen so far suggests that Rudd would do far better than Gillard in the electorate (and still when compared to Abbott for that matter). That may have changed, but given how long the media have been banging on about this theme, its clear electoral considerations don’t really have much to do with it.
The enthusiasm of some in the left for a Gillard leadership is understandable, as much as their refusal to actually look at what Gillard says or does. Her anti-union speeches before election were ignored just as her anti-union actions after have been. Instead the focus has been on her opposition to Workchoices, something that had little direct impact on the labour movement, rather than say, reinforcing Keating’s undermining of collective bargaining which actually does have an impact (including such ironic delights as banning strike action against things like Workchoices itself).
The enthusiasm of the right is more curious. Maybe this blogger’s wrong but Abbott and Bolt didn’t seem too worried about Labor’s electoral liability, Kevin Rudd, being quickly replaced after the election by the astute Gillard. In fact, by the laughs, it almost looks as though they might be looking forward to it. Part of the reason for the enthusiasm for Gillard might be just a convenient way to undermine what still looks to be Labor’s most popular possible leader. But it also might reflect their greater comfort with someone who seems to believe in something that they recognise, and can counter pose themselves to, rather than someone who infuriates the right and the media because he does the best he can to avoid standing for too much at all.
Rudd’s spirited performance on The 7.30 Report last night can perhaps be seen as a belated attempt to do what he should have done straight after Copenhagen, politically respond to it. But the central message was right, holding on to a stance where there is no international backing for it is impossible for any Australian politician, let alone one with no real backing at home either. Rudd is picking the right fights; against the states, Liberal ‘obstructionism’ and now the large mining companies. But the lack of base to this government means there’s a limit to how far they can be pursued with any confidence.
Rudd may not be on top form, but the real problem is the erosion of any real social base to the old political system than Rudd himself. In fact his rise was precisely because of his ability to adapt to it. In the first years that was helped by an international situation that for a while seemed to be heading in a new direction. But now that has gone, and Rudd has been struggling to adapt. Would Gillard do better? At the moment her strength in the party is precisely on her ability to exploit the need for the left, the right and the media to have the old game go on. But while she plays each side off, she seems to be caught up in it too. Maybe she can adapt as well, but at the moment the talking up of her chances looks more like nostalgia than anything else.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 13 May 2010.Filed under Political figures