It’s a time-honoured Tory theme, trotted out in every election since the 1890s. The Labor Party seems moderate and respectable – but, actually, it’s a Trojan horse through which Fabian socialism, flouridisation and the black helicopters of the United Nations will emerge into the public arena.

An old drum, yes – but the Liberals and their media waterboys are giving it a good banging.

In The Australian yesterday, Malcolm Colless explained that, while Rudd “knows the need for discipline” and “isn’t afraid to get the stick out when necessary”, these estimable sadomasochistic proclivities might still prove insufficient to “keep the Left under control.”

Howard himself made the same argument, though in less leatherclad terms. Rudd, he said, would give way to “leftist tendencies in relation to national identity”, paving the way for a return to “political correctness”. Yet Howard can scarcely run a scare campaign against political correctness at the same time as he bigs up his own reconciliation plans.

The old “union-dominance” riff seems, at first glance, more promising. But there’s less here than meets the eye, too. Yes, a Rudd cabinet might contain some ex-union officials but a bunch of Arthur Scargills they’re not. Can you remember anyone senior in the Labor Party today gracing a picket line or talking of class war? No? Neither can anyone else.

Which leaves Julia Gillard. She was, don’t you know, once an activist with a group called Socialist Forum, which means (according to the usual News Ltd gang) that she’s secretly working to construct the Canberra Gulag. Of course, even Piers Akerman acknowledges (albeit with barely concealed regret) that Socialist Forum was not a “prohibited group”. (Indeed, he might recall that, until Howard’s new security laws, Australia didn’t actually keep sinister lists banning people from joining political parties.)

Nor was it particularly radical. As Bernie Taft, one of the ex-communists who founded it, recalls in his memoirs, the Socialist Forum fought its most bitter struggles against Bill Hartley and other figures on the Labor Left, rather than the Labor Right. Which is why the attempts to paint the impeccably social democratic Socialist Forum as secret and sinister have become increasingly silly.

“The Sunday Herald Sun has gained access to the forum’s archive”, wrote one breathless scribe, which sounds tremendously exciting when we learn that “gaining access” means less breaching a titanium fortress and more going into the Melbourne University library.

The oddest thing about the Right’s efforts to transform Kevin Rudd from churchy Charlie to Bolshevik Bogey is that some people on the Left have been secretly convinced. The ALP can’t really be as conservative as it seems, they argue. Rudd’s me-tooism is just a cunning ploy and, once in power, he will reveal his real reform agenda. No. He won’t.

Social democrat leaders usually make grand promises and then fail to deliver them. Rudd, on the other hand, has promised very little. He’s repeatedly described himself as an economic conservative; he’s quite clearly a social conservative, too. The quintessential sheep in sheep’s clothing, in other words. But what about those around him? Surely Peter Garrett is just biding his time before re-emerging as a passionate conservationist?

Dwight Macdonald used to say about politics: “The mask molds the face. You become what you do and say; you don’t become what your reservations are.”

Doubtless Garrett secretly harbours reservations about Labor’s environmental credentials, but he’s now fully and publicly committed to them. In an ALP government, Garrett will be the minister talking about economic responsibility, not the rockstar organizing benefit concerts for forest protests.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And the Labor Party is as depressingly right-wing as it claims to be.