Self-absorbed and deluded – an update

Friday, 6 August 2010 

The Prime Minister launches his campaign ... er, no, wait.

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

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35 responses to “Self-absorbed and deluded – an update”

  1. dedalus on 6th August 2010 9:18 am

    Despite it seeming to show the rudd dumping being a mistake, it’s vital that the alp defends its good record on economic management. One of Latham’s big mistakes in 2004 was being defensive against the libs attack on alp’s economic credentials. It was only in the next cycle when Keating and then Rudd went on the front foot that the alp began to neutralise that argument. It boils down to this: it’s the economy, stupid.

  2. kymbos on 6th August 2010 10:02 am

    While I think you’re right that Rudd’s return highlights the hollowness of the rationale to dump him in the first place, I think you’re wrong in thinking it’s strategically flawed by Labor.

    I think we’ll see the polls turn around over the next two weeks and Labor returned by a narrow margin.

    People want to see Labor stop bickering internally, and Rudd coming back to the fold gives a semblance of unity. I don’t think people need much of a good reason to keep Abbott out. This will be enough.

  3. 1gmd on 6th August 2010 10:19 am

    I wrote to my local member on the night the of the short knives and pointed out that disunity was (political) death, I am afraid that Kevin’s return brings that factional disunity into stark relief, and he is know in full defence of his record and setting himself for return to leadership post the coming electoral disaster.

    Any voter with a sense of needing unifed and stable government would have to unfortunately be looking to the conservatives – with the Greens and Mr X keeping them on a leash

  4. Scott on 6th August 2010 10:23 am

    The paramount questions are what would the country be like under Gillard or Abbott Governments? I am so sick of the media telling us what is important and setting the narrative.

  5. Tweets that mention Self-absorbed and deluded – an update :The Piping Shrike -- on 6th August 2010 11:32 am

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  6. justmeint on 6th August 2010 2:11 pm

    Leave the dead to bury the dead, a very wise man once said……… Let’s get this election over and done with and begin moving Australia forward once again. Right now I feel it is stagnating in a cemetery somewhere.

  7. The Piping Shrike on 6th August 2010 4:53 pm

    On the polling effect, I think it partly depends what the Libs do. They are noticeably slow to react, with Abbott’s line that it will remind voters of the brutality not hitting the mark. Raising questions of what the dumping was for, would be better.

    I also think it depends on how much Gillard can control Rudd’s campaign. I think her position is weak. It’s now clear that when Gillard was talking about the ‘real’ Julia, she was actually doing the opposite – namely dumping the bits that distinguished her from Rudd and now just following what Rudd would have done anyway.

    This has given Rudd an opening, and allowed him to return on his terms.

    I think the problem with the economy debate is that Labor’s position really rests on the willingness to spend the surplus, so it just leaves Howard et al to say, who gave it to them?

  8. Sandra on 6th August 2010 6:06 pm

    One thing Mr Rudd’s statements should have done is put paid to the idea that the damaging leaks about Cabinet business were from anybody in or supporting the Labor party.
    Hook line & sinker, the idea of the leaking being a tit for tat between Labor factions etc, was swallowed and repeated by Australian journalists and commentators.
    As Linsday Tanner said,the leaking was probably not an important factor for ordinary Aussies. But playing it into “a house divided” not being able to govern for all, certainly benefitted the Liberal campaign.
    Forget personalities, please make the Parties, including the Nationals, show their policies. I am so disillusioned by the poor standards of the MSN.

  9. The Piping Shrike on 6th August 2010 6:34 pm

    The trouble is that the leaks didn’t start with Gillard. It seems pretty well established that Rudd was being leaked against such as on the ETS and poor internal polling. So the latest round may have come from a wider source than just the Labor party, but as said before, it wasn’t a pube that leaked the internal polling to Bolt.

    Interesting was The Australian editorial that bluntly said it was Rudd. Dunno, but as Aarons said last night, leaking and undermining against your own leader is pretty standard practice. More the problem now is that there is no political purpose behind it.

  10. Thomas Paine on 6th August 2010 8:27 pm

    Spot on with that analysis.

    There is a great opportunity here for Abbott if isn’t too thick. A desperate Gillard has left a large crack in her credibility.

    Abbott should be going on the theme… ‘Ms Gillard brutally despatch Kevin Rudd on the notion that the Government was losing its way. Yet Ms Gillard immediately lost her way on running a country, leading a party and conducting an election campaign.

    Ms Gillard sacked Kevin Rudd only to find the job is beyond her, and needs Rudd to hold her hand and save her from electoral defeat. Labor has gone from bad to worse, much worse.

    Ms Gillard has just shown the world that she is unable to be a leader of a party let alone be responsible for a entire country.

    and so on and so forth…the rhetoric angles are endless and painful.

    But I think Abbott Liberals are just as slow and think as Gillard on campaigning.

  11. dedalus on 6th August 2010 8:29 pm

    There’s no hard evidence to suggest the leaks came from the cabinet. If a minister doesn’t attend a meeting, for example, numerous people inside the public service would know that. Therefore a utegate-type leak from some bureaucrat would be quite feasible. That the media chooses to ignore this obvious possibility is understandable, but Oakes being so cute about his source is criminal, considering the consequences.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 6th August 2010 8:44 pm

    The Libs are slow on the up-take, especially Abbott, because his agenda was never about winning anyway. Hockey and Morrison haven’t been bad and generally come out with the right line fairly early. But you can see, if nothing spectacular is happening on the Labor side, the Liberal campaign just drifts along, going nowhere and waiting for the next Abbott gaffe.

    Oakes is just being a journo. It’s not as though the leaks themsleves are any big deal (so Gillard complained about the cost of handouts, hardly alone in Cabinet I’m sure). It’s more the instability it pointed to that was the damage.

  13. john Willoughby on 7th August 2010 9:16 am

    The ALP had the advantage of incumbency and threw it
    away. In any election it must be worth a few percentage
    points and no doubt it has been a factor in first term governments being given term two in the past.
    We are a bit like Poland without the plane crash although the guvvie does resemble a derailed train.
    Maybe the next debate should see Rudd and Turnbull go at it
    so the voters can see what should have been………..

  14. Michael on 7th August 2010 10:09 am

    The sad thing is that the politics is irrelevant. One Gillard/Rudd hug will send disenchanted Labor voters back into the polling booth putting Labor Number One. This country IS a soap opera.

  15. dedalus on 7th August 2010 11:25 am

    Isn’t it true that there’s something fundamentally wrong with 2 party systems? Largely the result of the marginal seat phenomenon, debate gets totally hijacked by spin and then it gets vicious and irrational as polling day approaches. A system based on a popular vote majority of the entire country would go a long way to overcoming this problem.

  16. The Piping Shrike on 7th August 2010 4:21 pm

    Hah! “We are a bit like Poland without the plane crash”

    Best summation of the campaign so far.

  17. Dino on 7th August 2010 4:58 pm

    It might have been complacency from the ride of high opinion poll which led Rudd or Labor to not strongly defend their economic achievement and admit to faults only where it’s due instead of letting the media and the Liberals attack them on this front as well as on the asylum seekers issues.

    Rudd’s failure to address the asylum seekers issue and find better way to control and manage the flow in a framework which does not demonise refugees and still be compassionate to them is a grave mistake. As the 4corner exposé on the people smuggler trade in Indonesia does raise legitmate question of tax payer money going to a fail policing attempt to stop the smugglers who are aided by corrupt officials. So the legitimate concern is then inflamed by the beat up of the issue to prey on the fear of the ignorant and racist part of the electorate and make it an election issue which it should not be.

    I question the motive of 4corner to have the program air at this time during the election though. I wonder how the refugee in the story was able to get to Tanjung Pinang easily to film his Aghan friends in the detention centre when the distance is almost double the boat trip from Jakarta to Christmas Island.

  18. The Piping Shrike on 7th August 2010 5:08 pm

    I’m not sure Labor voters going back to the fold is the issue with Rudd/Gillard. I think it there are simply those sick of the whole content-free soap opera.

    I see the marginal seat strategy as more about making a virtue of having nothing to say to their base. Anyway it isn’t working.

    I still find it hard to see the asylum seekers issue as anything more than political panic.

  19. Wil on 7th August 2010 8:21 pm

    Abbott reminds me of Latham, an accident waiting to explode; I have to give credit to him to work hard to keep it contained for this long, re-inventing himself as if has evolved in climate issue and so on, and portray himself as some authentic character when it is clear that he is trying so hard to wrestle the real Abbott down when he speaks. How Gillard and Rudd let the swing against them happen is beyond belief of the average punters.

  20. The Piping Shrike on 7th August 2010 8:46 pm

    But Abbott has two big advantages Latham did not. Firstly an opposing party that has legitimised his agenda. Secondly a perception of stability of the Howard government that he can hide behind.

  21. Dino on 7th August 2010 11:53 pm

    The Coalition provides the myth of loyalty and stability though, even Menzies was knifed in his first term of office and was forced to resign but the Coalition don’t acknowledge this fact. It’s always the Labor thuggery.

  22. Graeme on 8th August 2010 11:34 am

    The Curious-Mail image of Latham confronting Gillard near ‘sideshow alley’ at the Brisbane Ekka said it all… Even ‘Macca’ (admittedly ABC local radio’s most conservative programme) lampooned the cavalcade of former leaders. A right Haunted House ride.

  23. Graeme on 8th August 2010 12:38 pm

    Structurally, as Shrike says, there’s objectively little difference in the problems besetting each major party. Just taking the wraiths: for each carping Latham is a Hewson; for each fawning Hawke a Howard; for each deposed Rudd a Turnbull. (Indeed unless Whitlam has torn up his card, the Libs outscore Labor in having an ex-PM denouncing them).

    So wherein lies Gillard’s lack of authority? After she oozed it after the swift coup: she not Rudd had at least three-quarters of the caucus behind her, she strode around making decisions. Didn’t even need a few months in the job to earn gravitas apparently: just run to a small strategy election campaign.

    Of course this belied a certain desperation. Of course running as a new face patched on a shabby/patchy agenda was a contradiction and meant trading incumbency as a benefit to help an ailing govt over the line, for the ‘Fresh, New!’ quality of a re-minted leader.

    And of course the media lay in wait: death-riding a government is a greater sport than kicking a hollow opposition. (Though you would not have known that in week 1 of the campaign, when the boot was on Abbott’s butt).

    Something is missing in this; something else is needed to make sense of Gillard’s loss or lack of authority. After all, just as a campaigner – as someone capable of explaining policy in natural and human terms, she leaves Rudd, Abbott, Howard etc for dead.

    Something is going on about the interaction of gender and our expectations of institutions like national leadership. I don’t mean to play the gender card: heck Gillard benefited, at least initially, from the warmth/curiosity of being the first First Female. Nor do I mean a simple gender-electoral equation (of the ‘blokes like action-man Abbott whilst sheilas smell misogyny’.)

    It’s as if Gillard, for all her experience and familiarity lacks a presence, a voice. It’s subtle: for all the power the PMship confers, it isn’t autocratic. But it is as if she, in part because she is a she, can speak but not be heard or respected in an authoritative way. And the wraiths, the preening pollies of the recent (and long) past, are given the time to fill that void, as if their voices were somehow of higher status because they are deeper.

  24. adamite on 8th August 2010 6:26 pm

    Some short memories seem to be on display here. It was pretty clear to me and many others that, before he was replaced, Rudd was virtually impotent in terms of his public effectiveness. He was unable to cut through at all because any comments of substance he made were simply ignored and smothered with questions about his backflips and derogatory remarks about his personal style. The pending backflip on the miners tax would only have made this situation worse. There’s no evidence that incumbency would have overcome this basic problem, particularly with Abbot keyed up for a fullscale onslaught on ‘Lemon07′.

    Under those circumstances a circuit breaker was needed and Gillard seemed, at least initially, to improve things pollwise until Oakes’ leak gave the media licence to direct the same animus at her. It remains to be seen whether the situationis iredeemable for Labor, but its at least as arguable that Labor would have suffered a rout if Rudd had stayed on as leader. At the moment its still a line ball game.

  25. Judger on 9th August 2010 3:38 am

    The real reason for Rudd’s dumping was a bored press gallery, who were bored with all the policies that they didn’t read and couldn’t understand, and so they built up a leadership challenge, something that excites their feeble minds.

    The press gallery by pushing the Gillard challenge and their pathetic gossipy shallow cverage have finally proved themselves to be the terminally trivia obsessed morons they truly are. The soonest these idiots are thrown out by the internet etc the better. Oh and I see the Australians up to its usual biased pro coalition tricks.

  26. john Willoughby on 9th August 2010 11:11 am

    methinks that fatuous broadsheet known as the Oz is about to jump off the SS (no pun intended) Abbott.
    Mr Kelly seems to be setting a new course with todays summation of Umbuts launch
    “In truth, rarely has an opposition leader come to the brink of victory with so limited an agenda.”
    Should make for an interesting few weeks if the paper lives up to its masthead and stops being the ductus choledochus of the nation

  27. john on 9th August 2010 5:16 pm


    Rudd’s campaigning skills leave Gillard in the dust. Compare ‘moving forward’ to his press conference and LNL interview.

  28. The Piping Shrike on 9th August 2010 8:43 pm

    I think it’s difficult to speculate on what would have happened if Rudd had stayed, but a couple of things:

    1) his polls were starting to recover a bit when he was dumped, I think partly because his standing on the mining tax was not working well in some quarters, but nationally gave him a principle to stand on.

    2) I don’t belive the internal poll was credible, especially saying a 6-7% swing was on in SA. The professional polls were still putting Labor in a reasonably comfortable position to face the election (certainly Howard would have never made it to any of his elections and Keating would have been dumped before his 1993 victory).

    3) but finally Rudd’s problems were ultimately caused by the same problem Gillard has, the politically bankrupt power brokers of the party. He was more prepared to take them on (eventually) but still had lost his authority against them with the international agenda falling away.

    I too have noticed this in The Australian. I think some conservatives (real ones, not the ‘neo-cons’) would be uncomfortable with an Abbott victory.

  29. adamite on 10th August 2010 9:11 am

    ‘But Abbott has two big advantages Latham did not. Firstly an opposing party that has legitimised his agenda. Secondly a perception of stability of the Howard government that he can hide behind.’

    Interesting that, now the leaks have stopped, both these advantages seem to be
    beginning to unravel. Even for someone like Shanahan the Coalition agenda is manifestly shallow while the dubious advantage of the Howard legacy and his recent intervention in the election are nicely summarised by Ellis.(

    Similarly, while Abbot increasingly looks like a refugee from the media trying to hide his true agenda, Gillard seems to thrive on the exposure to public scrutiny, as was the case on Q&A last night.

  30. The Piping Shrike on 10th August 2010 4:38 pm

    I think the campaign is almost becalmed, both sides with nothing to say but wait for the other to stuff up. If it wasn’t for Rudd, that would more likely to be Abbott.

    I don’t think Gillard’s getting much scrutiny either because there’s little to scrutinise. It was a good performance on Q&A but the only questions that she answered with any clarity were about herself; religion, being a woman, her accent etc. They were supposed to be the ‘tough’ questions according to the press.

    Having said that Labor’s campaign is looking more stable than it was a week ago, but it could change easily enough on either side, I think.

  31. Michael on 10th August 2010 9:18 pm

    Andrew Robb, should the Coalition be elected, will have single-handedly changed Australian history. How so? By haranguing the Liberal party-room meeting to reject their current leader, and in doing so completely betraying every expectation he had nurtured in Malcolm Turnbull that he was behind him, he swung enough people behind Tony Abbott to see him elected leader of the Liberals, even if by only one vote

    That one vote for Abbott was very likely to have been amongst many more on Turnbull’s side if Robb hadn’t betrayed him.

    Because the election of Abbott saw the cancellation of the deal on an ETS, Rudd couldn’t go to Copenhagen with a pace-setting piece of legislation to present to, and quite possibly, embolden other national governments worldwide to introduce their own.

    With no ETS on the legislated books, when Rudd eventually was convinced to shelve it until the governments of the world will be forced to take action by the running out of the aegis of the Kyoto Protocol, his popularity fell away to the levels that saw him removed from the Prime Ministership by his own party.

    Now, we see a backwards-looking backwards-tracking Coalition within striking distance of claiming the government of this country. A claiming that will have been made through a three-years-in-Opposition campaign of lies, willful distortion of the facts pertaining to government policy, and a mocking dissertation of the failings of minister after minister that can only be ‘understood’ when seen to be fed by a vocabulary more pertinent to the ‘abilities’ of the relative shadow minister in each case. Can anyone really nominate one Coalition Shadow that objectively might be superior, in exactly the same role, as any government minister?

    And yet the Coalition are considered very likely to take government on the basis of having a ‘straight-talking’ leader who avoids answering any question popping out of the “too hard basket”, and when unable to avoid answering, offers comment that is at variance with any other given shadow minister addressing the same issue. An alternative PM and his Shadow Treasurer, two weeks from election day, who can’t even agree on what their total budget savings are???

    Here we are because Andrew Robb, back early from treatment for depression, decided to stab his leader in the back.

    The man is incompetent, as today’s press conference on alternative national broadband provision showed. He is untrustworthy as a member of the senior levels of his own party, just ask Malcolm Turnbull.

    It may well be that we find ourselves with Prime Minister Tony Abbott a fortnight from now because one man decided he didn’t really need his medication that day, as he steeled himself to look Malcolm Turnbull in the eye across the party room (or more likely avoid meeting his eyes) and say, in effect, “more fool you if you believed me for a minute”.

  32. john Willoughby on 10th August 2010 10:48 pm

    Andrew Robb is the bizzaro Malcolm Turnbull

  33. Pip on 11th August 2010 11:13 pm

    Regarding the leaks, nobody seems to want to pick up on the report in The Australian [same weekend as Downer’s spray about Rudd], that Julia Gillard’s bodyguard/junior adviser, [the one who attended the NSC meetings], Andrew Stark, was previously Alexander Downer’s bodyguard/adviser and was/is a Liberal Party member.

  34. The Piping Shrike on 11th August 2010 11:40 pm

    Yes, I picked that up. There was some follow on saying a bit more than that too. Forgotten because it took heat from the Rudd drama I guess.

    But then Labor was in a right state to have its head played with at that stage. Seems to have settled down now, unless Rudd says something on Sunday …

  35. Riccardo on 12th August 2010 5:49 pm

    Where are the ALP pollies who will ‘march into the valley of death’ with their leaders.

    Jeez, Rudd gets not even half a dozen bad opinion polls and they claim they need a new leader.

    Not the ones who followed Keating to 1993, clearly, or Howard to 1998 or through most of 2001.

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