There’s a time to be high-minded in politics. It’s a couple of weeks after you’ve won, when you need to reassure the faithful that you didn’t sell out completely to get into government. Will Robert McClelland ever have the chance to make such a gesture?

The man who would be foreign minister has certainly rewarded John Howard’s patience.

His comments on the eve of the anniversary of the Bali bombings that Labor would “tactfully and successfully drive a regional abolitionist movement” and speak out “consistently” against the death penalty in Asia, be it for terrorists or Australian drug smugglers, have sparked off a good little media storm.

Kevin Rudd has given his frontbencher a rap across the knuckles. “I believe that the speech delivered last night was insensitive in terms of its timing,” he’s said. “I’ve indicated that to Mr McClelland this morning and he concurs with that judgement.”

And he’s offered a tabloid friendly quote. Rudd doesn’t believe terrorists should be executed. Instead, wants them to “rot in jail for the term of their natural lives, then one day be removed in a pine box”.

The Prime Minister’s patience has been rewarded, but the storm over McClelland’s remarks will only be short lived. Rudd’s come out strong – very strong – for a bloke who wears Rodd & Gunn shirts.

And the PM’s patience may have been rewarded with a Labor slip, but the more he delays an election the more he risks trying the patience of voters.

They’re not political junkies. They find campaigns trying. And they would’ve heard Labor’s main message of the day – that it’s three years since the last election and the PM should call another.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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