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It seems inevitable that sometime soon there will be a leadership challenge to Julia Gillard by Kevin Rudd. It’s been brewing for months as Gillard has lurched from one botched situation to another. In the last week it’s come to a head. Something has to happen now, and sometime in the next month I think. It should too, if only to get it out of the way and to enable the government – whoever that is – to get on with the job of governing. For my part I hope that’s Rudd.
I’m not especially fond of Gillard, but I have some respect for her personal qualities. She’s clearly a strong character, and without the scrutiny of press and media is said to be very personable and sincere. She’s a smart woman too, and in many ways she’s a good operator. What she isn’t though is a leader, not if you define leadership as being someone who will take hard decisions and communicate a vision for the future. Unfortunately at key moments she has failed the small tests set her, preferring to act on the flawed advice from her support staff – staff whose main concern is her political wellbeing, rather than the good of the nation.
Perhaps her biggest failure as Prime Minister has been her inability to sell to the Australian public the great narrative of the Australian economy – robust still, a success story in a world where great nations are failing and many of the strongest have become weak. As I speak we are either the wealthiest, or second wealthiest country in the world, depending on what you read. While there are challenges, we are still well ahead of our traditional partners. None of this is by accident. We are resilient because of good economic management, years of it from Keating through Costello, but also by Rudd during the GFC, when he acted decisively and with intelligence. Few of the people know of this, because no-one has told them – least of all the government. Instead they have allowed the opposition to manage the agenda and control the conversation. How this is even vaguely permissible I don’t know, but the lack of a firm hand at the tiller has wrought a huge cost.
For all that there are two main reasons I think Gillard should be usurped. In the first place is her supreme lack of judgement. She has no nose for prevailing conditions, and so on a regular basis does just the wrong thing. I wonder if it is a lack of confidence in her own judgement which sees her instead defer to the faceless advisors who live in high, windowless towers with no contact with the public. I imagine they think they are being clever, but the public sees through such charades – they’re not as callow as these minions believe. Still these mistakes continue, most recently the shoddy mishandling of Andrew Wilkie to the ridiculous decision to appear on Four Corners last week. Just dumb really, made worse by an evasive performance on screen when something more candid might have touched some sympathy in the public. She has a tin ear Gillard, and makes these mistakes again and again. It’s hard to have confidence in someone like that.
The second lament is that I’m pretty certain that Gillard is a person without deep belief. She has often admitted as a virtue her pragmatic qualities, but that pragmatism is also a vice. As leader of a Labour party in government she is also the inheritor of a tradition, much of which has been disregarded or even trashed during her reign. It’s a bitter reality for the die hard Labour followers, and is also the source of great disappointment in the more moderate liberals (of which I count myself as one) who have leaned traditionally to the left of the divide, and to Labour. That’s changed. Changeable policies based on political pragmatism rather than ideology has seen many – if not most – of those moderate liberals shift their support to the Greens. I suspect that if you looked deep into Gillard’s eyes you would see little of real meaning. She’s an able Lieutenant, but no leader. That’s tough for her, but it’s tougher still for the party she leads, for she is leading them into a wilderness from which they may not return.
To me it’s a no-brainer: Gillard has to go. I think given a level-playing field this would be obvious to every Labor parliamentarian. What prevents them from seeing it is a persistent animosity towards Kevin Rudd through large swathes of the party. They resent him, they fear him, they dislike him. To which I ask: would you rather be out of power with a leader you like, or in power with a leader you dislike? No doubt many fear personal scores will be settled if he gets back in, but the reality is that it’s all pretty childish. With Gillard as leader Labor have about a 5% chance of winning the election; with Rudd it’s 50:50, and it improves if the Libs keep Abbott as leader (Turnbull is a much better candidate).
Rudd is the only viable alternative to Gillard. I don’t like him especially myself, and I was bitter towards him when he was rolled because he’d lost his bottle (and would have survived had he kept it). He’s smart though, the smartest option on either side of the political fence. He has beliefs, even passions, which he swept us all up in during the first 12 months of his rule. I hear the criticisms that he wouldn’t delegate, that he was a tough task-master, even that he was a bastard. Well I’m not going to say who cares, but I might say grow up. Politicians can be awfully petulant: there’s a sense of entitlement that comes with the office which occasionally makes them churlish schoolchildren. If Rudd becomes leader I hope he holds true to his promise of having learned from his mistakes. We don’t need recriminations or dysfunction. We need a clear direction and a strong voice. As Australians we need someone to believe in. Above all we need someone to turn the tide of negativity that Abbott and his cronies spout day in, day out. Gillard is defenceless to it; Rudd is clever enough to turn it back on Abbott and smart enough to confound him.
I’m by no means certain of Rudd, but I’m hopeful. Gillard is gone, and has been for a while. Time to accept that. And to all those hypocrites accusing Rudd of disloyalty, best you first remove your knife from his back. It has to happen, and happen soon. With Gillard the Labor party is doomed; with Rudd they have a chance.