The Kevin12 bandwagon is rolling, and the man holding the reins is cracking the whip.
This is going to be a leadership ballot unlike any other in the modern Labor Party; indeed, it wil be one of the remarkable internal battles of any political party in Australian history.
Internal struggles characterise any large organisation, particularly one that has the power to form government on the floor of the House of Representatives. What is atypical about the current struggle is the open publicity in which it is being carried out, and the open hatreds it is revealing at the core of the Australian Labor Party.
Kevin Rudd’s speech today declaring his intention to content the leadership ballot was a further example of his assured and commanding performance in front of the TV cameras.
He looked composed, in control of himself, and very prime ministerial. He had some good lines — perhaps some of the best Labor has mounted — about the fate that will befall Australia should Tony Abbott form government. That didn’t stop him hitting out at a range of other opponents, including Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Simon Crean, the Greens and the factions. He pledged further internal reform of the Labor Party. He defended his record and openly discussed key decisions made during his administration, such as the decision to delay the implementation of the CPRS.
Rudd discussed some of his errors in office, and promised to finish the job he was elected to do. He made repeated reference to his popular election as the leader of the party in 2007, and argued that he is more popular and trustworthy with voters than Julia Gillard. His bombshell confirming that Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard convinced him to delay the CPRS is a further damaging admission for Gillard, but also for Rudd himself, revealing as it does more information about the chaos and disunity inside his own government.
All in all, Rudd’s media conference today will be a timely reminder to his colleagues — if any were required — of what a strong stump speaker Kevin Rudd can be. But stump speeches are not enough to win a caucus ballot. That requires the numbers, pure and simple. Without them, he cannot win on Monday. Does he have them? We will find out.
Nothing in Rudd’s demeanour and performance makes Labor’s dilemma any less agonising. Assuming Gillard does win on Monday, it’s hard to see how her government can recover any kind of public legitimacy. While promising to return to the backbench should he lose, and to not try again to tear down Gillard, Rudd was less than convincing in his statements that he would not destabilise the government. Should Gillard win on Monday, Rudd’s presence on the backbench, with a dissatisfied rump of supporters, will remain a destabilising force in the party for the remainder of the term of this government.
A Rudd victory will leave the party similarly crippled by the wounds inflicted in the past few days. Much of the cabinet will have to be reshuffled, and voters will be asked to support what amounts to a brand new government and executive: the fourth such incarnation of Labor rule in barely more than four years in office. And, given that Rudd has openly assailed the faceless men and the factions, it has to be assumed that the factional machinations against him and his key supporters will continue.
There are many levers with which to exert power in the Labor party, including through seat preselections and on the executive of the party administration. Having declared war on his own party structure, Rudd can expect total opposition from some quarters for the duration of his time in public life.
For Labor’s true believers, the nightmare continues.
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