Labor faces tough battle against the Rudd rift

Labor faces tough battle against the Rudd rift

Updated February 24, 2012 16:05:28

In my book The Party Thieves, I wrote that the leaks against the Gillard Government during the 2010 election campaign “was the greatest act of political bastardry in a generation”.

I had no way of knowing who was behind them. But that’s not the point.

What matters is that so many senior government ministers genuinely believe that Kevin Rudd was responsible.

Yet until now, few people have understood the depth of hatred and resentment that such a belief can spawn.

The ministers believe he sabotaged his own party at the height of an election campaign, surely the most heinous of political crimes.

Yet still some senior political journalists speculate that Rudd can again lead the Labor Party. Such conjecture defies logic. Rudd critics in the party will see to it that never happens. There are enough of them to achieve that, no question, even if in the end Julia Gillard is no longer a viable leader.

And when the ministers, after 20 months of repressed anger, finally tell it as they really believe it to be, they are accused of “dirty, demeaning and destructive behaviour”.

Journalists who really believe that can hardly ever again demand honesty and candour of politicians.

“Tell us what you really think, but don’t offend me!”

Kevin Rudd has clearly lost the trust and confidence of the overwhelming majority of the caucus. That is why he – and his family – is going over the head of the parliamentary party and appealing to the people to rise up and phone their local member.

As Jon Faine put it on 774:

“He is asking people to harangue backbenchers because he himself is making no progress with them.”

Now, of course, Rudd retaliates, as he is entitled to do.

Gillard’s failings, as he sees them, are exposed. Attention is placed on Gillard’s ordinary performance during the election campaign.

But Gillard supporters nevertheless are entitled to judge that the leaks were the difference between a minority and a majority government. And of course they were. Overnight, Labor lost five points in most polls, a huge hit to take at such a critical time. Several seats were lost as a result. Sure, Gillard’s own mistakes cost seats as well, but they were mistakes, not deliberate sabotage. And had the leaks not happened, she would have achieved majority government despite the self-inflicted wounds.

How different it might have been if there hadn’t been an enemy within. Gillard would have headed up a majority government and assumed the authority, credibility and confidence that comes with that.

With no independents or minor parties to deal with, the deadly line, “There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,” would have been air brushed away with little relevance.

And some wonder why, in the most testing, ugly and personally vindictive political climate that many of us have seen, the gasket finally blew?

Consider the seniority of the ministers who this week lined up Rudd: Wayne Swan, Craig Emerson, Stephen Conroy, Tony Burke, Nicola Roxon, and Simon Crean, with Stephen Smith, Penny Wong, Bill Shorten and Peter Garrett weighing in as well, though in a more circumspect way.

Right there is the future of the Labor Party, for better or worse, for a decade or more.

However, because the big artillery was brought out, it will be difficult for Labor to regroup and present a united front. Even if Gillard gets twice Rudd’s vote, as she surely will, he can still make plenty of mischief from the backbench, albeit without any chance of a successful comeback.

The Government’s only hope; the slimmest of hopes; is that Gillard emerges from the conflict with an image of toughness and strength, staring down a destabilising opponent.

Then, with clear air, the Government sells a competent budget and gets a boost from the tax cuts and pension increases in June. Then the polls start to rise; that has its own momentum and Tony Abbott suddenly comes under some pressure of his own.

That’s the lonely straw in the wind.

The true mentality at work in the Government was exposed in this leadership contest.

They bellow about who is best equipped to beat Tony Abbott.

Can you believe that? They are in government, but it’s all about some Opposition Leader.

Truly pathetic.

Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of ABC programs Insiders and Offsiders. View his full profile here.

Topics:alp, gillard-julia, rudd-kevin, government-and-politics, federal-government

First posted February 24, 2012 15:58:43

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