It’s official: Kevin Rudd is our Prime Minister again. According to the polls, he will be a more popular PM than Julia Gillard was. Probably not popular enough to defeat Tony Abbott at the next election, whenever that will be, but popular enough to save a few Labor seats. That’s what the polls say at least.
And as the polls decreed, the ALP organisers acted, and eventually convinced 57 MPs to join them and oust Julia Gillard as leader of the parliamentary Labor party. It’s been cast both as an act of revenge by a brooding Kevin Rudd and as a desperate last minute salvage job by a party in freefall.
The media have had lots of time to prepare their narratives on this. In fact, for the last year the press gallery has talked of little else. Gossip, speculation and wink-wink unnamed sources are standing in for political journalism. They’re not winning any Walkleys for their work and they don’t deserve to.
“If you vote for the Labor Party in 2013, who knows who you’ll get.” This point, made by Tony Abbott in his cheery post-spill presser, is fair enough. The thing is, in the current media environment, Abbott is hardly immune to questions about his own leadership. Talk of a Rudd-Turnbull showdown is already getting airtime.
There are now plenty of smug “we told you so” stories on the return of Rudd doing the rounds, written by journos who have been spoiling for a spill. Political journalists shouldn’t be prophets, or in this case, architects of self-fulfilling prophecies. The job of the press gallery is to scrutinise those in power, not to record who is walking in and out of a particular minister’s office.
NM hasn’t covered the spill speculations with such enthusiasm. Our focus is on policy, not horse-race journalism, and the surfeit of quick-draw commentary on the leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party vindicates this. Gillard is gone, yes, but leadership has become an obssession for the press gallery. As our National Affairs correspondent Ben Eltham writes today, this speaks to deep fissures in our democracy.
If we are concerned about the processes that lie behind the appointment of prime ministers, then let’s take a longer view. When Gillard was appointed PM in 2010 it was the result of manouevres by Labor’s faceless men. Gillard, a Left heavyweight, became PM thanks to the muscle of the Right. Faceless men like David Feeney continued to play a role, as the Batman pre-selection debacle shows.
We asked in 2012: “Are we seriously to believe that Gillard will be implementing her own agenda with the hard men of the Right behind her? Was Gillard elected on her own terms?” Gillard is a gifted woman whose achievements are worth celebrating. She has been the target of atrocious sexism. But she is up to her ears in Labor’s inglorious factional processes. She’s no martyr to them.
It wasn’t the factions who restored Rudd to the prime ministership last night. Many argue that Rudd is the only Labor leader who has been prepared to override the factions, and certainly his supporters last night could not be classified along factional lines. Rusted-on Gillard supporters changed teams, flouting factional allegiances to save their own seats.
Both the ALP and the press gallery have for too long been mesmerised by poll data and leadership speculation. As we measure Julia Gillard’s legacy, one marked by genuine achievements, we will also be measuring the cost of this fascination. The current indications of the polls are that the ALP powerbrokers will have plenty of time to reflect during their long stint in opposition.
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