The latest story to feed this week’s leadership speculation feast and add to the rising sense of momentum behind Kevin Rudd was splashed across The Sydney Morning Herald this morning, as the paper reported that loyal Kim Carr enforcer Senator Gavin Marshall had ratcheted up his support of Rudd, preparing a petition to corral the required 35 signatures needed to force a spill motion when federal parliament resumes next week.

But sources close to the federal Labor caucus have questioned the wisdom behind media reports claiming the “Victorian Left” has unanimously rounded behind Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, pointing instead to a fluid situation in which MPs are still wavering. Jagajaga’s Jenny Macklin and Ballarat’s Catherine King stand in the way of unanimous Left support for the Foreign Minister and the positions of others are not at all clear.

A source close to Families Minister Macklin said she “unequivocally” supported the leader owing to her position inside Cabinet, while King maintains her own regional fiefdom and notionally sits outside the Carr axis anyway owing to her past in the fringes of the Pledge Left (officially reunited with the Socialist Left in 2009).

That leaves Carr, Marshall, retiring numbers man Alan Griffin, Harry Jenkins, Laura Smyth and Maria Vamvakinou all notionally supporting Rudd from the Left south of the Murray. But a senior Victorian source told Crikey each MP had different motivations and should not be forced through a distorted factional lens.

“The position among the national Left caucus reflects the diversity that they have as a group. The idea that people are voting on strict factional lines doesn’t reflect reality,” the source said.

There are some historical reasons why the major poles of Left influence in Victoria — comprising Griffin and the humiliated Carr — might support Gillard’s rolling. Griffin’s clique remembers Gillard’s treachery in imposing herself on the Victorian branch and battling with Franz Timmerman, Lindsay Tanner and Gaye Yuille in the 1990s before cutting a preselection deal with the Right, while Carr is still smarting after his recent ejection from Cabinet (even though, in 2010, he organised numbers for Gillard).

In the current context, Rudd is preferred simply because he could elevate the party’s primary vote to over 30%.

The confusion over caucus support was illustrated in The Weekend Australian, which published a graphic with members spread over three columns (Undecided/Gillard/Rudd). In Victoria Darren Cheeseman appeared in both the Gillard column only hours before calling on the Prime Minister to resign. Cheeseman was previously a strong Gillard acolyte but is also loyal backer of Carr’s view of the world.

Of Rudd supporters on the broad Victorian Right, two SDA-aligned MPs, Chisholm’s Anna Burke (consistently ignored in front bench promotion decisions) and Holt’s Anthony Byrne (Rudd’s former flatmate and parliamentary secretary) have unsurprisingly fallen in behind their friend, a move that also reflects both MPs’ estrangement from Labor Unity circles dominated by Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy.

Of the non-Ruddites, Simon Crean has popped up to remind the public of his svelte leadership skills as a “faction of one”, while Mark Dreyfus, Richard Marles, Rob Mitchell, Michael Danby all support Bill Shorten’s official diktat issued last night on Q&A. Brendan O’Connor continues to support Gillard from the soft left, as does Nicola Roxon from a position of cabinet solidarity.

A curio surrounds Martin Ferguson’s pro-Rudd position — a supporter of Gillard in the late 1990s but over the last decade clashing over “personality issues” and suffering the indignity of having some of his energy programs moved to a new “independent” authority at the behest of the Greens.

One erroneous media figment that continues to crop up is the idea that Gillard somehow maintains an alliance with the “Victorian Left”. Gillard was expelled from the SL in 1997 as she prepared to do a deal with the Right to snag preselection in Lalor. Every since, she has maintained an unofficial alliance with Michael O’Connor, and after the 2010 leadership spill emerged as the handmaiden of the NSW Right.

“It would be like Greg Williams claiming loyalty to Victoria after moving to the Swans,” a senior Left source noted this morning, recalling the champion centerman’s controversial $120,000 defection from Geelong to Sydney in 1985 to follow coach Tommy Hafey to Harbourside glory.

Also of interest was NSW general secretary Sam Dastyari’s humorous pronouncements to “support the leader” given the NSW Right’s notorious revolving door policy at state level. Dastyari is, in fact, unable to enforce solidarity in a fluid caucus.

Meanwhile, an “anyone but Rudd” alignment continues to gather pace as soundings growing louder for the inoffensive but uninspiring Stephen Smith.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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