Kevin Rudd’s humiliating defeat at Monday’s ballot may have resolved the leadership issue for the time being, but fallout from this bitter feud has caused irreparable damage to the Labor Party brand.
It might not have been an episode of celebrity Big Brother, to borrow Julia Gillard’s out-dated analogy, but this past week in politics has certainly made for some compelling reality television. Triggered by the release of Kevin Rudd’s tantrum blooper reel decrying the “dickheads at the embassy”, all semblance of the dignified restrained silence, which had characterised the Gillard/Rudd feud, collapsed in the most unedifying, disgraceful display of savage excoriation that Australian politics has ever seen. And it’s been nothing if not enthralling.
Culminating in Monday’s leadership tussle, the complete annihilation of Kevin Rudd has almost certainly buried the Kevenge movement beyond any hope of resurrection. The 71-31 vote was the biggest win for a Prime Minister and the lowest for a challenger ever recorded in a leadership ballot. It pitted personalities against opinion polls and presented Government ministers with an invidious choice: a “dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t” conundrum. In delivering Gillard an emphatic endorsement, the caucus voted against their best interests, against a swathe of opinion polls that categorically placed Rudd as ALP’s best chance against Abbott in a 2013 election. In fact, the Newspoll released hours before Monday’s vote placed Rudd as preferred Prime Minister to both Gillard and Abbott, with a 53% to their 28% and 34% respectively. This speaks volumes – the people that have worked with Rudd in the past don’t ever want to work with him again.
For spectators, this week has proved that there is something utterly riveting about watching two adults completely abandon all sense of decorum and descend into a vitriolic rampage of unbridled hatred on the nation’s most public stage. A fascinating implosion made ever so more enjoyable by the fact that, for many Australians, the Rudd v Gillard showdown was a victimless one. On the one hand, voters were fed an image of Rudd as a megalomaniacal micromanager with a particular panache for playing the role of the archetypal arsehole boss. Gillard, on the other hand, continues to flounder in her public perception as an uninspiring, uncharismatic leader with a streak of disloyalty so distasteful as to be widely labelled as “un-Australian”.
Therein lies the inescapable truth for Gillard: she has won the battle but is placed to imminently lose the war. The savagery of the past few weeks will continue to insidiously plague the credibility of her leadership. Her complicity in the total character assassination of Rudd by senior members of her Government has already been widely condemned as unbecoming of the Prime Ministerial office. In addition, Monday’s vote shows that nearly a third of her party doesn’t have confidence in her leadership. For Abbott, a more perfect turn of events is barely conceivable. The fusillade of insults lobbed between the Rudd and Gillard camps has produced a plethora of damning sound bites. The Liberal Party’s election campaign has basically written itself.