Unions shift on Gillard” screamed the front-page of The Australian Financial Review. Someone walking past the newsstand would be forgiven for thinking that union leaders were backing away from the Prime Minister en masse in favour of Kevin Rudd (or another Labor leadership aspirant).

But no — as the story itself makes clear, this hasn’t happened at all. Last week, several union leaders — including Joe de Bruyn, Michael O’Connor, Tony Sheldon and Charlie Donnelly — got together for a meeting. The topic of federal Labor’s fortunes was raised. De Bruyn, O’Connor, Sheldon and Donnelly all re-affirmed their support for Gillard — although two said there is a “real prospect” she may be replaced. In other words, they stated the bleeding obvious — as Joel Fitzgibbon did on Q&A on Monday when he said that political leaders who are unpopular are unlikely to survive for long.

The Fin’s yarn followed a curious piece yesterday by The Sydney Morning Herald’s Lenore Taylor — a well-connected press gallery veteran who usually prefers policy analysis over political manoeuvrings. Her story, headlined “Gillard stuck in rut as Rudd battle looms large again”, stated: “Labor sources say Kevin Rudd’s support has grown significantly since he won only 31 of the 102 caucus votes when he challenged Julia Gillard in February, and it will increase further if Labor’s primary vote remains stuck in the low 30 per cent range recorded in most published polls.”

On Monday, in a lengthy featureThe Australian’s Peter Van Onselen described the Gillard-Rudd showdown as “increasingly inevitable”. So when will it occur? Perhaps next month, Van Onselen suggests. Or maybe the final sitting weeks of parliament in late November. Van Onselen’s piece did contain one eye-catching detail: that union boss Paul Howes and ALP secretary Sam Dastiyari are no longer actively supporting Gillard. Given PVO is close mates with Howes, this is a significant claim.

But the key question remains. Is a challenge on? Is anything actually happening? Gillard may well step down — or be rolled — before the next election. But all available evidence suggests the latest round of leadership speculation is just that: speculation. — Matthew Knott