Gillard: media darling (sort of)

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

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17 responses to “Gillard: media darling (sort of)”

  1. Cavitation on 13th May 2010 10:20 am

    Know your place. The essence of the class system. Here in Australia we thought we had avoided the worst excesses of the British class system by adopting meritocracy and accepting American style “get rich” social mobility. But no, it’s still all around us. It is the basis of our traditional political processes for the last century or so. The inferior classes voted and supported Labor while the superior people supported the Liberal party, which was the natural party for government. The natural Liberal supremacy was interspersed by brief periods of Labor rule whenever the ruling elites lost their way or unfortunate events intervened to loosen their hold on power, but the natural turn of events eventually restored the proper order of things.

    But Rudd does not play by these rules. He has broken with the traditional underdog role of the Labor party. He does whatever works, and behaves as though he is entitled to be in charge. That is why commentators show such fury. He does not know his place. He usurps the middle ground. His opponents find themselves adopting the outsider position in debates and being forced to champion extremist policies and short-term solutions, because this is the only option left for them. Rudd is transforming the Labor party to be the natural party in government. The opinionistas dislike change. They want him gone, so that the natural order of things can be restored.

    So let’s see what happens. The old order is eroding. Some new model will take its place. Rudd may well be its vanguard.

  2. James on 13th May 2010 12:59 pm

    I read an apt comment from a Canadian writer last year, who described the media as critics “who haven’t even been elected as dog catchers”.

    I thought Rudd’s response about the ETS on the 7.30 Report last night was heartfelt and true. It actually improved my respect for him. I think it’s harsh how journalists mob him about his character and integrity. The country would have been better served if they had been more direct and cutting with Howard about his character and integrity.

  3. DM on 13th May 2010 1:29 pm

    The loose social base of the Labor Party in the past hasn’t been of much help to keep the party in power which is why it has decided to become a party of pragmatism. This comes from the insight that the only social base that really matters is the one you get on election day.

    You are spot on about Julia! Once again the media in this country is creating bubbles for its on convenience that it will burst in time according to its own convenience.

    Kevin Rudd is infuriating the media commentariat because he talks to them on his own terms rather than theirs.

  4. Mr Denmore on 13th May 2010 1:53 pm

    I don’t think the Right’s enthusiasm for Julia means signals anything other than their need to speculate on leadership instability and their wish to see Rudd go.

    The loathsome and mincing Alan Jones is a pox on the body politic, and his audience all has one foot in the grave. The idea that mean-spirited, bigoted self-funded retirees would warm to Julia is just ridiculous.

    I agree with others here, that Rudd’s supposed “Latham moment” (according to the putrid Murdoch press) on the 7.30 Report is what he needs to do more of. Walking away from fights hasn’t helped him.

  5. Jackson Featherston on 13th May 2010 6:18 pm

    The purported selection of Julia Gillard as the pin-up of the right-wing shockjocks and their Party supporters is a sham that would be seen through very quickly should she ever take on the role. Recall the rabid attacks on her prior to the election, the ads which stripped her character apart, the attack on her as “not really womanly enough” (i.e. didn’t stay in the kitchen where she belonged). These would all reappear so promptly we wouldn’t have time to draw breath. The sole purpose of the purported praise for Julia Gillard is to try to wedge the leadership of the Labour Party.

  6. Edirol on 13th May 2010 9:43 pm

    Cavitation: you are dead right – Rudd acts like he is entitled to be in charge and was doing so prior to the election (to the fury of Dolly Downer). I dont recall another Labor leader doing this – it’s just as much their right as anyone elses. Grab it I say!

    Rudd acted like a toff prior to the election and out toffed the toffs – Australians are just dumb hard wired to recognise upper class twats as having a birth right to power. It’s pure class emnity at play. Rudd does not know his place, and it swayed Mr & Mrs Stringbag into thinking ‘oh, it must be his turn now’ as he looked and sounded every bit of what they expect political leadership to look like – born to rule, plain vanilla, white, male, anglo saxon.

    BTW – Latham frustrated me by presenting like he knew all along he really didn’t belong – it looked a lot to me like ‘I am a westy schoolboy debater, and thank you sirs for the privelidge of allowing me to attend your private school debate today’. He needed to man up and assume the position (he manned up a bit too much though). He never really seemed to be convinced within himself that it was ‘his’. I understand it deeply as I too come from the same socio-economic background and feel that creeping class dissonance frequenting rows 1,2 or 3 on a plane or sitting in Qantas Club sipping a G&T when I really belong out in Hungry Jacks. (And I scretly liked that handshake on Little Johnny – it was a ‘f*ck you’ Western Sydney style that would have had Little Johnny’s freckle tightening apace).

    But I digress, I was fired off by Cavitations insightful remarks….

    On Gillard – another aspect to consider in orienting her into the pole position is that the MSM, the Libs, the Right et al will ‘get off’ on attacking her as she is a woman. It will be disgusting and ugly if it is to come to pass. A libertarians wet dream – knock off that show pony phony Rudd and literally and metophorically abuse Gillard.

    TPS – this is a great blog.

  7. Ricc on 14th May 2010 2:01 pm

    Full marks to both TPS post and Cavitations response. Both Excellent.

    It will be funny indeed if Alan Jones has been saying sweet things about Gillard. She should record them and play them back every time she gets attacked (after she gets the job)

    And it strikes me that Rudd Gillard Tanner, probably Wong are playing the same game anyway, only no-one else chooses to see it.

    If Gillard could only scream to the union movement to get lost any louder!

  8. Ricc on 14th May 2010 2:03 pm

    And doesn’t Hockey look a fish out of water!

  9. Roy on 14th May 2010 2:16 pm

    Cavitation: It may well be the English “Class” aversion thing with Rudd, but I’ve got an itch that leans more to it being like the American “Intellect” thing.

    A lot of Americans felt more comfortable with home-spun Reagan and village idiot Bush than with Gore and Obama.

    I suspect that many Australians would feel less challenged by our “Forrest Gump on a bike” opposition leader.

  10. Invig on 16th May 2010 12:50 pm

    You people truly have no idea.

    You forget that the media have to interact with all these politicians, and it is their personal impact that creates these perceptions.

    Which the public eventually come around to agreeing with. Noting that the Insiders ‘public opinion’ section is always a reflection of what (bugger me sideways) the media have been saying. So, the media acting as the proxy for personal interaction between politicians and the public, which becomes a dominant consideration, all things being equal.

    The UK experience is noteworthy for a number of things: Brown’s poor communication style, a chaotic election system, the MP rorts and a huge economic problem. This left the contest wide open to speculation. No one was sure what would happen.

    Australia is entirely different on all counts (except the first, I would hazard).

    Now, Mr Shrike, I have a question for you. Do you have anything that should be disclosed re. grants or other career advancement that might be assisted by endorsing Rudd so completely, and on such a flimsy premise?

    And your audience. From where do they hail? Rudd’s personal office? This is all a little too uniform and emphatic to be believed…

  11. The Piping Shrike on 17th May 2010 4:01 pm

    All I am saying is that the real problem is not Rudd, but the conditions in which he is operating. The idea that the replacement of Rudd will see Labor’s problems go away, may be comforting to some but is simply not true. Removing Rudd will no more solve Labor’s problems than removing Abbott will solve the Liberals’.

    The role of the media tends to be exaggerated, in my view. In fact I think the media is getting caught up in some of the same problems of the political class and becoming increasingly detached; seen in how it grappled with the decline of Howard and the sustained popularity of Rudd – and now we have it enthusiastic over Gillard, shared by the left and right but not, as far as I have seen in polling, by anyone else. There is a post on the detachment of the media that I want to write if I get the time but you know how it is, the pace has been insane in the PM’s office lately!

  12. Invig on 17th May 2010 4:19 pm

    The debates have been swirling back and forth over Rudd’s entire term, with Liberal instability/vulnerability only recently on the mend.

    I think that if someone like Gillard had of been there, you would have seen her able to capture the zeitgeist so much more strongly. Then she could have put pressure on the likes of Fielding (who has basically sold his vote to numerous industry players), or worked with the Greens.

    Leadership is less about numbers than about how those opposing you feel. How emotionally costly their opposition is. Gillard could have gotten a couple of Libs crossing the floor.

    Rudd has squandered his opportunities. He is left with a purely numbers-based disadvantage because he has shown absolutely ZERO leadership.

    And on the media, it is similar to bloggers in that we have sway when there is a power vacuum. As there is right now. America has seen that vacuum be filled recently (the last month) by Obama getting some balls. And frick me if they aren’t all suddenly less relevant!

    PS There’s your poll evidence. Right on time, given the normal percolation delay from the Canberra media to the general public.

    PPS I said that your readers work for the PM, not you. I said that YOU may be in receipt of grants or other largesse. It is not beyond doubt.

  13. The Piping Shrike on 18th May 2010 8:16 am

    So the poll evidence says that no matter how people have turned off Rudd they still like Gillard less and the Gillard ‘challenge’ is a media confection. Isn’t that the point?

  14. Invig on 18th May 2010 9:25 am

    Mr Rudd’s standing as preferred prime minister stands at 45 per cent, down from his level of 57 per cent in February.

    Support for his deputy jumped from 32 per cent to 40 per cent in the same period.

    As I stated, the media do instigate these political ‘memes’ as a result of the entire population of Australia not having the opportunity to be a part of political machinations. And from those numbers, it looks like a shift in numbers is starting to happen, although I believe that Gillard has her own policy difficulties (pushed by a Murdoch media campaign – which is also justified).

    The fact is that Rudds approval used to be around 70%, and has dropped to 45% in, what, 6 weeks? While Julia’s has gone up?

    I mean, if 70% of people were pro-Rudd, it will take time for them to change their opinion. Not forgetting that EVERYONE expects Rudd to contest the next election – since this is HIS ‘examination’ – which he still has time to pull off. So I would suggest that the public will not take Gillard seriously until after the election.

  15. Invig on 18th May 2010 9:39 am

    Anyway, you made a bunch of unsubstantiated claims about the ‘cheap living’ of the media “taking whatever happens in the US or UK and slapping it onto the Australian political scene”

    This is blatant rubbish.

    Also note your appraisal of Rudd’s 7.30 report performance as ‘spirited’. Listen to one of the ‘cheap media’ giving their – much more persuasive in my view – interpretation of events (with the BENEFIT OF KNOWING THE MAN).

    “What I was was struck by wasn’t the temper or passion, it was the absolute lack of argument. This stupid idea that we stayed up for 3 days and 3 nights completely misses the point that up until the change of opposition leadership, the government was arguing that you had to have an ETS before Copenhagen, and that whatever happened at Copenhagen, it would be fine. He was completely unable to answer that particular point that Kerry O’Brien put to him very sharply. I thought it was the sound of hollowness rather than temper.”
    That chick from the AFR

  16. Invig on 18th May 2010 9:42 am

    Laura Tingle.

  17. Invig on 18th May 2010 10:24 am

    “The opposition is ineffective and hides away, licking their wounds after an election defeat. There are few dissenters and many, many well wishers. Politics couldn’t get any easier. The demands of public office are a milk run and the PM flits about as a national celebrity. Rudd enjoyed this period in the aftermath of his 2007 election win.”
    Jack the Insider

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