Socialism is an “arcane, 19th-century” doctrine, Kevin Rudd correctly told The Age last week.

“It’s critical that when we say to the Australian people that we want to construct an alternative vision for Australia, that they know the values for which we stand,” he said. “Socialism isn’t one of them.”

The religious affairs programmers at the ABC, however, seem to have heard something different.

Kruddy’s got some good stuff to say about religion in politics. Back in May he talked about his beliefs and the relevance of religion to day to day debate to the Compass program.

It was a good story and they repeated it last night – and flagged the news with an alert that said “Kevin Rudd is a member of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship. He calls himself a Christian Socialist, a movement with deep roots in the ALP.”

Whoops! Is the new Labor leader trying to be too many things to too many people?

We’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Here’s what seems to be the crucial par from Compass:

I come from a long history of people who have spoken about the relevance of their faith to their political beliefs, on our side of politics going back. I mean here in Queensland Andrew Fisher was the Labor Prime Minister from this State. Andrew Fisher was a Christian Socialist. He taught Presbyterian Sunday School. He in turn came out of the stable of Keir Hardie who was himself a Presbyterian Sunday School teacher who founded the British Labour Party in the 1890’s and was the first British Labour member of parliament. There’s a long tradition associated with this; currently called the Christian Socialist Movement. And it’s a worldwide network of people. The fact that you don’t often hear from us in this country, well it’s open for others to answer. I’m a relatively recent arrival. But I think, I think given what’s happening on the political right in this country, what’s happening on the political right in America, it’s important that people on the centre-left of politics begin to argue a different perspective from within the Christian tradition.

Host Geraldine Doogue goes on to verbal him when she asks: “How do you reconcile your duties as a faithful Christian Socialist with your duties as a public servant? Is there ever a clash there? Particularly in matters of social issues.”

Last week, when Rudd and his deputy turned up at Gillard’s old school, he was pretty unambiguous:

Journo: Have you moved to remove the Socialist clause in the ALP Constitution?

Rudd: Well… I made some remarks yesterday in Melbourne about my views about whether I’m a socialist or not… I am a committed social democrat… who believes in equality of opportunity…

Journo: Will you be raising the socialist agenda at the national conference next year … change to the constitution?

Rudd: I have no plans of doing so. I have already indicated where I stand… in terms of the question of my own beliefs…

There’s a lot to be said for the work that “third way” politicians like Bill Clinton have tried to do. And there are a lot of negatives attached, too. That shameless spinmeister Tony Blair has taken full advantage of every ambiguity third way politics offers to such an extent that he’s terminally tainted the brand.

Rudd is an intelligent and capable politician, but he faces ruthless opponents.

He’s going to have to be careful that they don’t successfully start a conversation about a fork in his tongue that drowns out his talk about the fork in the road.

Peter Fray

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