When factional bosses rule, it’s easy enough to predict the outcome of internal Labor Party ballots. When the normal alliances break down, as appears to have happened in Canberra today, the guessing game gets difficult.

The suggestion by Kevin Rudd to Kim Beazley that he would like to be leader, and the acceptance of that challenge by calling a Caucus ballot on Monday for all positions, follows a splintering within Labor’s dominant right wing. The NSW right is now divided and there are those in Victoria who have not forgiven Mr Beazley for not supporting Simon Crean during his pre-selection troubles.

For good measure the solidarity of the left does not exist when it comes to choosing between Deputy Leader, Jenny Macklin, and the dream ticket pretender Julia Gillard. No wonder then that some of the old party hard-heads of my acquaintance were wary about making an instant prediction of Monday’s outcome.

Certain things are clear. Kevin Rudd is not well liked by his peers — but this is not a popularity contest. The assessment his colleagues will be making over the weekend is which man gives them the best chance of first holding on to their own seat at the next election and then getting themselves a cushy job in government after it.

Despite the succession of opinion polls showing that Mr Beazley’s personal standing is low, this is not an easy question to answer. As I wrote earlier in the week, there is a growing realisation in the Caucus that if Labor is not doing as well in the opinion polls as might be expected, it is because the two main weapons in Labor’s attack on the Howard Government — criticism of the Australian involvement in the Iraq war and the related scandal of AWB — have not registered with the Australian people. Yet it is Mr Rudd who has been at the forefront of the attack on the government on these issues. With this track record, would he really be an effective Leader?

Peter Fray

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