Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stared down an attempt to resolve Labor’s ongoing leadership woes after former PM Kevin Rudd declined to contest a leadership spill sparked by Simon Crean’s defection.

The surprise intervention by Crean to request that the Prime Minister call a spill appeared to take the Rudd camp by surprise and left Rudd’s allies no time to muster the numbers to defeat the Prime Minister; Crean himself failed to bring sufficient numbers to Rudd as putative deputy leader to make up the difference between Rudd’s core support and the 51 votes needed to defeat the Prime Minister.

Rudd’s decision was based, he said, on a determination to keep his word not to challenge the Prime Minister or accept a return to the leadership unless drafted by an overwhelming majority of his colleagues.

In asking the Prime Minister to bring on a spill, Crean stated he had not consulted with Rudd — and the evidence of that was clear in Rudd’s response.

Crean has been sacked from his cabinet position and now joins Rudd on the backbench.

Chief Rudd spruiker Joel Fitzgibbon, who has been described as a “freelancer on a suicide mission” by Rudd camp sources, has said he would be “considering his position” as Chief Whip.

With Rudd declining to contest, Crean’s effort appears to have failed: the incessant speculation over Julia Gillard’s leadership may quiet for a time, but it is likely to eventually resume, with the media having demonstrated they are prepared to continue running leadership stories until parties respond.

The result is the overshadowing of what was a historic day in Parliament: the apology to the victims of forced adoptions in the Great Hall, where both Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott made heartfelt, resonant speeches about the issue before hundreds of mothers and children torn apart by forced adoption policies.

This may well go down as “Crean’s gambit”, an attempt to short-circuit Labor’s leadership difficulties, incited by a media obsessed with leadership stories. Julia Gillard remains as Prime Minister, but Labor’s poor position in the polls — and a febrile media — also remain.