If there’s anything the demolition of Kevin Rudd should tell us, it is that media image is close to everything in politics.

As we consider the many factors in his demise, we should not discount the role his demeanour on the public stage played. What began as forgivable mannerisms became hateable traits as they became associated with his known personality flaws.

Yesterday, lips quivering, as he failed to hold back emotion, Rudd was human and likeable. It was a moment later, when he told himself off for “blubbering”, that I remembered why I wasn’t devastated he was leaving. That smile of his just seems so sickly or nerdy or fake or, I dunno, something just weird. There it was again when he played with the idea of still being PM while not being the party leader. Sickly smile, followed by a typically awkward quip. “Anything could happen here folks.”

Then came a reference to the “good burghers of Griffith,” which is of course exactly how the Labor voters in his Queensland electorate describe themselves every day.

Oh and that dorky wave of his. It’s really hard to copy. Try it. You have to hold your forearm still while swivelling your hand on its axis at 45 degrees from your waist. It is so unnatural.

I don’t think the ETS was the deciding factor in the polls. I think Rudd’s demise came about more gradually, as the electorate learnt more about his driven character and his cruelty to people on airplanes as well as his policy failings.

Suddenly all those strange affectations took on a new meaning. He was the “fair suck on the sauce bottle” and “in due season” Kevin Rudd, nothing like the knockabout Bob Hawke. Too much like that other round headed little man in glasses, John Howard.

Image is everything. I reckon John Howard lost the 2007 election the day he showed the world he couldn’t bowl a cricket ball. That was the moment Australians stopped listening to him. He simply became a joke.

I’m ashamed to be saying this. I know it is the equivalent of judging people by their hairstyle. I know that the achievements of the Rudd Government — and there are many — deserve more profound analysis than this. But the point is that when honeymoons end and we get to see what really makes our leaders tick, their media presence becomes all powerful.

The long lost Mark Latham alluded to some of this on Sky News this morning. He emerged from his obscurity to gloat in that amusingly vindictive way of his.

Amongst the rant about factions and the evils of various ALP insiders were some revealing snippets about the “transit lounge” nature of political party leadership and the role the media plays.

He pointed out that because Rudd had no factional base, his popularity, and therefore his media image, was everything. When that eroded his “contract with Labor” was over.

Latham told an anecdote about someone he’d met who actually liked Rudd. Latham said he’d told this person “the only reason why you like him is because you haven’t met him.” Ouch!

But increasingly we in the electorate have been meeting Rudd. And we’ve come to like less and less.

Latham also joked about the media’s fascination with Gillard. He said “the media wants some fresh blood that you can suck on later.”  It was an astute observation because already there are signs of the characteristics that will eventually undermine her as PM.

Last night on The 7.30 Report there were moments of her brilliance, matching the masterful performance of her acceptance speech. She was candid as she joked with Kerry O’Brien about it being a great day for red heads. She actually answered the odd question, although in too many cases she took way too long to do so.

But for too long she just droned, It was tiresome and mechanistic. She used the terrible phrase “the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd” four times, each one sounding more imperious than the last. It seemed for ever before she was able to call him plain old “Kevin.”

For a moment I thought she might take on the same affected manner Bill Hayden adopted after he became Governor General. But mercifully as the interview wore on, she relaxed into it and the humanness returned.

So I guess it’s inevitable that her propensity to avoid questions and to talk like a robot will catch up with her just like Rudd’s general nerdiness caught up with him.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey