A showdown now seems inevitable: Kevin “the Comeback Kid” Rudd versus Julia “strong confidence of my colleagues” Gillard. After weeks of leadership rumblings, it became clear on the weekend that a full scale leadership battle had broken out.

Will Kevin Rudd challenge? Does he have the numbers? Will Gillard call his bluff and sack him?

Michelle Grattan in The Age evoked images of war when writing about the events of the weekend:

“Labor’s leadership battle is moving inexorably towards a confrontation after an extraordinary weekend of open warfare between the forces of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and aspirant Kevin Rudd.

Labor’s right faction is calling on Gillard to challenge Rudd, since current numbers indicate she would win.

A heavily edited video of Kevin Rudd — shot during his time as PM while he attempted to record a Chinese New Year speech, showing him swearing and frustrated — was released anonymously on YouTube over the weekend.

After the release of the video, Rudd gave a last-minute interview to Sky News before jetting off to Mexico for a G20 conference. He used the opportunity to tell his colleagues how much he’s changed — Rudd’s domineering leadership style was widely criticised when he was PM:

“The bottom line is, I think you do learn. And what I’ve tried to learn from all of that is, do less in a given working day rather than try to do everything. I think that’s an important principle for everybody. I think it’s also important to delegate more and be sort of happy and contented about that. And on top of that, most importantly, consult more broadly as well.

You speak to my colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs or in my own office or elsewhere, other foreign ministerial colleagues, they’ll give you a judgement as to whether things have changed or not. I’m just telling you what I’ve reflected on, and I hope I’m a bit better for it. But I don’t think I could claim to be Mother Teresa at this stage mate.”

The video will help Rudd, says Peter Hartcher in The Sydney Morning Herald:

“The video helped bring the leadership contest out of the shadows and into the open. It was such an obvious attempt to harm Rudd that it outraged some of his supporters in the Labor caucus.”

At least one of his old colleagues is openly backing him. Darren Cheeseman, the Labor MP of Coorangamite, the country’s most marginal seat, called for Gillard’s resignation. “Kevin is the right person to lead Australia,” said Cheeseman, noting that Rudd was the most popular politician in the country. “There’s just so much feedback out there from my community, including long-time Labor supporters, that they’re not going to vote for Labor while she’s the Prime Minister.”

But others are not so positive. Labor MP Steve Gibbons also chimed in with his opinion of the leadership squabble in this tweet sent yesterday: “Only a psychopath with a giant ego would line up again after being comprehensively rejected by the overwhelming majority of colleagues.”

Rudd had a “chaotic and deeply offensive style of leadership”, said Gibbons in a statement released yesterday:

“Federal Labor cannot afford to adopt the strategies of the NSW branch of the party in regularly changing leaders just because the going gets a bit rough.

Being in government especially under the current circumstance is extremely difficult and no place for prima donnas who have had their chance.”

Independent Andrew Wilkie also spoke publicly about the leadership squabbles, saying that he and Rudd had spoken for 90 minutes last November and covered the issue of a leadership change, and that he would find it easier to work with Rudd.

Labor has to deal with this ASAP, argues Dennis Shanahan in The Australian:

“Julia Gillard is impotent as Prime Minister, government ministers are distracted and business and consumer uncertainty is damaging a fragile recovery.”

Gillard needs to call a challenge, says Katherine Murphy in The Age:

“What I see is this: Julia Gillard should come back to Canberra for the parliamentary sitting week at the end of February and spill the leadership. She should ask her colleagues, with humility and courage, to give her her job back. She should seek what she’s lacked from the moment she deposed Rudd in June 2010: just cause. The Prime Minister should seek a mandate to be the prime minister.”

This can’t be seen as another coup, writes Laura Tingle in the Australian Financial Review:

“With hostilities between the supporters of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd finally emerging over the weekend, the anger in the ALP is not just about mutual accusations of bastardy, but about how events are both crippling the government and damaging Labor’s standing with voters even further.

The only way a switch back to Kevin Rudd will work for Labor electorally is if it can be portrayed as not just another back-room coup, but as a move taken in deference to the will of voters. If a change occurs and it looks like the ALP is ­panicking once again, the gamble will not work.”

The Herald Sun‘s Andrew Bolt offers up a list of things Rudd can do to help win the next election. For example: defer the carbon tax, cut spending, scrap the media inquiry and reopen Nauru:

“Sure, there’s much more I want done, but this is stuff Rudd could do and still claim to be Labor.

I can’t promise it will win him an election win, and I can be sure it would ease my growing alarm.”

It’s the public service that fears Rudd leadership the most, writes David Marr in The Sydney Morning Herald:

“With the polls in his favour and Labor fearful for its future, it seems the only hurdle to Rudd’s return to office is the old suspicion of Canberra, the verdict of those who have lived and worked with him, who know a man the public never sees.”

But it’s ultimately a pointless debate since Labor is doomed to lose, says Chris Kenny in The Australian:

“Arguing over whether Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd should lead the ALP to the next election is a bit like debating whether Thelma or Louise should be in the driver’s seat — when the car is going over the cliff anyway.”

Meanwhile, the Queensland election campaign kicked off over the weekend. Premier Anna Bligh is unimpressed that the federal Labor leadership battle is already clouding her campaign. “I don’t care how they resolve it, I just want it resolved,” said Bligh. “The sooner this is resolved one way or the other, the better.”

Peter Fray

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