Friday, 6 August 2010
OK, this is starting to get weird. Howard coming back and pretending the last election never happened is bad enough. At least referring back to Howard gives Abbott an appearance of stability that he otherwise doesn’t have. The return of Rudd has exactly the opposite effect for Labor.
No doubt it’s heart-warming for Labor supporters to see their two recent leaders come together against the common foe, especially for those in Labor who weren’t entirely convinced by the meme that Rudd was the cruellest and most hateful leader since Genghis Khan.
But Rudd wasn’t a political problem because he bore a grudge about his dumping. Nor was it a problem that he was badly treated, except among those who were never going to vote for Abbott anyway. The Rudd dumping was a problem because there was no political basis for it, other than the assertion of the power of politically bankrupt party power brokers. This left Gillard with an excruciating dilemma, no past record to run on and no program to put forward other than a couple of backflips that Rudd would have done anyway. This was why Rudd’s presence was an embarrassment. He reminded everyone of an act that was unprecedented but politically hollow, and the politically hollow government that did it.
The terms on which Rudd has returned only serves to reinforce that point. There has been no reaffirmation that the Gillard take-over was right. In fact, the complete opposite. In a very crafty speech yesterday, the main point Rudd made was that Labor was failing to deal with the threat from Abbott, precisely the reason that Gillard was supposed to have been brought in:
As a former Prime Minister of Australia I care about our country and I care about it deeply and I cannot for one stand idly by and watch Mr Abbott try to slide into office by default without any real scrutiny being applied, and then allow him to pull down everything our team has spent many years now building up for our country’s future.
Rudd’s claim that there has been no real scrutiny of Abbott is a fairly straight-forward indictment of Labor’s campaign. Those in the media who are faithfully following this narrative, no matter how contradictory and tortuous it might be, get caught up in all sorts of knots. Philip Coorey, explaining the logic of Rudd’s return, says:
Rudd … despite his many flaws, is brilliant at campaigning and staying on message. Yesterday he echoed Gillard’s attack lines but with greater cut-through.
Er, no. The whole reason why Rudd was supposed to have been dumped was because he wasn’t cutting through and staying on message, certainly not better than Gillard. Rudd’s return gets rid of the last remnants of any excuses behind his dumping.
It’s been fascinating watching the whole premise of the Gillard takeover roll itself up into a tiny little ball over the course of the campaign to end up with Rudd making his big return.
At the beginning it was supposed to be all about tapping into the concerns of ‘real’ Australia about such issues as asylum seekers and border protection that Rudd had been neglecting. How successfully this has worked is best shown by the fact that it is in those states where this was the hottest issue that have moved decisively to the Coalition during the campaign. Now border protection is hardly mentioned (except by the Liberals). Instead, Labor’s focus has gone back on the economy, which was implicitly vindicating the Rudd government. Yesterday, Rudd was only too happy to make it explicit:
But let me say this proudly and clearly – the fundamentals of the economy and the policy directions of our country are absolutely right
No lost way there. The economy will be something that Rudd will have no trouble going on about … and hospitals, and climate change, and all the other themes he wanted to push in the first place, and now can do all over again.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 6 August 2010.Filed under Tactics