It’s odd that in an era of personality-driven politics that we elect leaders with so little … personality. Charisma has given way to authority and competence in the leadership stakes.
Rarely does a conversation about Kevin Rudd end without some mention of the term “control freak”. I find that strangely comforting. As this week’s events have shown, politics attracts lots of people whom you wouldn’t want within cooee of the levers of power. The difference between Rudd’s campaign and those of Howard and Latham has been the coordination between the parliamentary leader and the party organisation. In stark contrast to the government, Labor was able to communicate a handful of clear messages through both paid advertising and Rudd’s daily appearances.
Are we ready for year after year of Kevin Rudd as the face of the Australian government? We will tire of Rudd’s earnestness pretty quickly. Even Alexander Downer could see the funny side of the Chaser team’s antics at APEC. Not our Kevin. It didn’t take long for journalists to push back against Rudd’s media managers, who apparently share their employer’s insistent ways. Rudd’s office seems to have smoothed those problems over. Some months ago, the 7.30 Report’s Clarke and Dawe scorched Rudd’s habit of reframing questions from the press gallery by asking his own question in reply. He dropped that tactic for a while, but seems to return to it under pressure.
Rudd will need to be in control to balance the interests of the coalition of voters that is moving towards Labor at this election. Blue-collar workers look set to abandon a government because of threats to living standards. Younger voters and white-collar professionals will be expecting a change of direction on such issues as climate change and civil liberties.
Rudd has made promising noises about taking advantage of wall-to-wall Labor Governments to reform Commonwealth-State relations. Historically, that has consisted of the states acquiescing to the demands of the feds. Rudd will enjoy exercising the power that Howard has centralised in the Office of the Prime Minister. Here is where the chickens come home to roost for a political party notionally committed to decentralised power that spends a decade in office centralising everything within reach. After a few years of Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership, Liberal Party members might even re-discover the purpose of liberalism.