Feb 27, 2012

And the winner is … Smith, Shorten or Crean

Kevin Rudd hasn’t merely lost a vote on Labor's leadership, he has failed to establish himself as the looming replacement for Julia Gillard.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

So who is the winner from this morning’s unedifying events? Kevin Rudd hasn’t merely lost, he has failed to establish himself as the looming replacement for Julia Gillard. The result isn’t a humiliation for the former prime minister, but it’s getting close. The remorseless assault on his reputation launched by the Gillard camp has damaged him greatly, and possibly terminally. He now goes to the backbench knowing his base for any further bids for the leadership is small and his opponents are prepared to do pretty much anything to stop him. And Gillard? There's an old Cold War propaganda story about Pravda covering a two-man race between a Soviet and an American athlete; when the American wins, Pravda reports that the Soviet athlete came second and the American second last. That’s Gillard: she has clobbered Rudd, but she’s only come second last. Today’s polls confirm how much she is distrusted and disliked by the electorate, in a way no amount of invocation of tough decisions or complaints of destabilisation (or laments about misogynist journalists) will repair. But her problems run much deeper than polling. Her regular misjudgments have led her into this mess; indeed, they’re the reason there was even a contest. And for all the talk that Gillard has had her reputation enhanced by the events of the last week, try telling voters that. All they'll see is a leader adept at internal politicking, accomplished in the sort of dark arts that got her the top job in the first place (and which, it shouldn’t be forgotten, got Rudd the top job as well). But the real dark arts needed by Gillard are the sort that involve a satanic ritual that could somehow transfer Rudd’s popularity into her. The only winner in Labor is one of Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten or, just maybe, Simon ("safe pair of hands") Crean, who will emerge to replace Gillard later in the year, probably in a contest with a damaged Rudd, after Gillard’s political car-wreck of a prime ministership is brought to an end by party powerbrokers. Today’s vote gives that person time to position themselves for life-post-Gillard, in a way that, had this contest not been brought on so early in the year, would likely have prevented them from doing so against Rudd. It gives the factional bosses time to arrange a succession. The anyone-but-Rudd camp has benefited greatly from events moving more rapidly than anyone expected. In the interim, there’ll be much talk of how Gillard and her advisers plan to launch a recovery -- specifically by focusing on economic management. That, you’ll recall, was Plan A, before the leadership issue blew up. Now it’s Plan B, with no evidence that the skill and smarts to implement it have yet arrived when they were so manifestly missing hitherto. And not when voters regard Gillard with such cold disdain, and when they’ve had their hopes raised by the leadership contest of an escape from the two least-popular leaders of recent memory, Gillard and Abbott. Whether the Gillard camp seriously believes this stuff about Rudd being the source of all of the government’s problem isn’t clear. But they’ve acted as if it’s true, pulverising Rudd with what, in the olden days before last Wednesday, were known as cabinet leaks but which are now a sort of water cannon aimed at Rudd and his supporters. If they've succeeded in terminally damaging Rudd, at least Gillard’s wrecking crew can console themselves in opposition with the thought that they brought Rudd down with them, along with what’s left of the party. It’s pro forma to insist that Tony Abbott has significantly benefited. But there isn't a whole lot more to be gained for the opposition leader: he’s already in a strong position and he already has Gillard’s measure, despite being even less liked than her. This perpetuates the status quo, which is fine for him but doesn’t really change much. Indeed, despite his strong position, some independents still talk about wanting to deal with Malcolm Turnbull to help form a Coalition government. The spectacle that Labor has made of itself lately can only encourage the sense that anyone who can bring an end to the Gillard-Abbott era would be welcome. So today marks, to yet again steal a much-stolen phrase, the end of the beginning. For those sick of leadership speculation, the coming months will doubtless continue the slow burn of frustration. But blame Labor: today is a pit stop on the journey to the end Gillard's prime ministership, as if the party decided to pause on its way and try to end the chances of Rudd as well, the one MP in the party who on current form can prevent a wipeout come the next election.

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233 thoughts on “And the winner is … Smith, Shorten or Crean

  1. David Hand

    Julia’s chances of surviving to the next election depend on running a half decent administration for the rest of her term. Her claim of “getting things done” is true when it comes to Bob Brown’s policy platform but is not so compelling when it comes to what the electorate expects.

    This time next year shae can only hope that the $23 per tonne carbon tax is not wreaking havoc in Australian manufacturing otherwise more questions will be asked.

    It’s her missteps that made her vulnerable to a challenge and it could easily happen again.

  2. Andrew Clark


    Now we have had the great storm in the tea cup. How about some consideration about who were the winners and loosers in the media beat up. To much to ask ?

    If that to much how about a list of how media can regain its terminal loss of faith between now and next election.


  3. Brad Sprigg

    Personally I think the only winner is Albo. He timed his announcement of support for Rudd at the perfect time to get maximum play in the press, and came out of it looking like he had class an conviction. He also did it in such a way to appear above the venom being thrown by each side, and in such a way that he has not damaged his position too much with the current leader, but stood far enough away that if things go to hell, he can be seen as opposing the other guy during the last spill. Could he possibly position as a future leader?

  4. Socratease

    @Brad Sprigg: Could [Albanese] possibly position as a future leader?

    How does he now sit with the pre-selection standover men of the Labor machine?

  5. Lord Barry Bonkton

    Bernard , what about the other winner ? Habib , won the court case against the Sydney Shock Jocks to the tune of $176 ,000 + claiming he was on a pension when he wasn’t .

  6. nerk

    I think you’ve got it exactly backwards David. Gillard’s problem is that she’s *only* been good at getting things done. A chronic failure of spin. The biggest stuff-ups have all been when she’s been trying to play the empty populism game like Abbott (eg Malaysia).

    There’s a saying – never wrestle with a pig – you both get filthy and the pig loves it.

  7. Filth Dimension

    Does Tony Abbott have anything to offer? His speech is embarrassing in its desperation and shallowness.

  8. Socratease

    The only winner in Labor is one of Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten or, just maybe, Simon (“safe pair of hands”) Crean,

    Leave Crean off the list. They should create the position of Anesthetist-General for him, so good is his ability to put an entire room to sleep.

  9. Michael de Angelos

    Could someone in the Coalition please tell Tony Abbott that the party chooses the PM and not the people.

  10. Lloyd McDonald

    Considering how badly everyone was predicting the party was suffering from this, the latest Newspoll gives some hope that now the Kevin07 threat has been neutered Gillard may indeed get some clear air to sell her achievements which have been considerable.

    The fact that Abbott has been going backwards so precipitously makes me think the narrative may well change.

    Julia has been really impressive this week, I wouldn’t be writing her off so savagely bernard. You are starting to channel Michelle Grattan I think of all the media commentators she’s been quite appalling the last 2 weeks.

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