Those of you who follow cricket will have noticed that we’re obviously a nation that puts a lot of store on careful, planned, and well-thought-out transfers of power.
And if, by any chance, you follow Australian politics, you’ll have noticed the same thing with the defenestration of Julia Gillard as our prime minister.
Where do I start in accounting for this?
With Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, who waged a vicious, relentless, no-holds-barred, unprincipled campaign against the legitimacy of a minority government, and the authority of the prime minister in that government, despite having sought to be anointed as the head of a minority government himself?
With the media in general, and Rupert Murdoch’s minions in particular, who waged a similar campaign, laying siege to Prime Minister Gillard and the Labor government from day one — finding fault with every policy, exaggerating every shortcoming, boosting Kevin Rudd and his treacherous supporters at every opportunity?
With Kevin Rudd, who never accepted his colleagues’ rejection of him, who never stopped sabotaging and conspiring against Gillard’s leadership, who was prepared to see the government brought down rather than abandon his insatiable ambitions?
With Julia Gillard, who was the victim of a vicious, outrageous, rolling misogynistic campaign by shock-jocks and many men around the country, who had to negotiate a hung parliament for three years, who had to battle against an opposition that tried to create a continuous sense of crisis and the leader she’d supplanted who did everything he could to create one — and yet managed to enact a series of major reforms in the classic Labor tradition?
With the country itself, which despaired of the way that national politics had descended into personal vituperation and empty sloganeering — instigated and pursued by the opposition — but which refused to give Gillard the credit she deserved?
It’s true, of course, that none of the above could have had the effect it did if Gillard had not demonstrated serious flaws of her own. Her judgement was sometimes wrong, and she often had difficulty in communicating the essence of her policies crisply and well. Although she was a superb negotiator, she was not a deep thinker, and was sometimes superficial and wrong-headed in her political actions. But if former Australian prime ministers were to be judged by those standards, they wouldn’t last long in anyone’s estimation. Gough Whitlam had spectacularly bad judgement (the highlight of which was his personal appointment as governor-general of a dreadful individual and class traitor who went on to dismiss him and his government). Paul Keating could never resist an opportunity to put his foot in his mouth. And the most recent Liberal prime minister, John Howard, made a series of tremendous mistakes, culminating in his attack on workplace security that ultimately cost him power and his own seat. Howard was wrong about key issues (such as the invasion of Iraq), and at one stage abandoned all political principles to save his own neck. His reputation does not appear to have suffered, despite all these egregious faults.
In the end, the opinion polls despatched Julia Gillard and seemed to validate the various campaigns against her leadership. Labor was facing a wipe-out at the general election, and it was too much to expect the parliamentary party to walk willingly into this nightmare.
When the left-of-centre Melbourne Age editorialised for Gillard to step aside last Saturday, the jig was clearly up. That didn’t stop it, of course, from behaving mendaciously when it got what it wanted: it greeted Rudd’s re-ascendancy with the front-page headline, ‘Rudd’s Revenge’. How that’s for having your cake and eating it, too? With bad-faith behaviour like this, the Age deserves to disappear beneath the waters of Port Phillip Bay.
Speaking purely for myself, I would have far preferred Labor to have campaigned with Julia Gillard at its head, and to lose honourably. That way, the government would have maintained its integrity, the party would have demonstrated its loyalty, and Kevin Rudd would have been despatched forever.
I say this, believing the party under Kevin Rudd’s leadership will lose far fewer seats at the election than it would have. Tony Abbott is a deeply unpopular leader of the opposition (deservedly so, in my opinion), and if Rudd’s re-emergence leads to Labor being competitive in opinion polls, it may even force the Liberals to consider their own form of emergency surgery. Come on down, Malcolm Turnbull.
Ultimately, I don’t believe that bad behaviour should be rewarded, and I don’t believe that Rudd redux would behave any better than he did the first time around. If Kevin Rudd were to win (which I still think is highly unlikely), he would become Australia’s Tony Blair, appealing to the public above his party, and traducing Labor values in the process. And we all know how that ended.