26 February 2012

Lateralist Musings - The Labor Leadership Tussle

It's both easy and tempting to describe the struggle for power between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as a selfish farce that will do little more than further damage the already sullied Labor brand. There is certainly a chance that this might happen. But there is an alternative.

Personally, I think it's high time that some of the truths about Rudd's time in the top job are made more widely known. It seems hard to argue with the notion that his leadership style was chaotic and unproductive, and that he was possessed of a particularly nasty combination of ruthlessness and arrogance that made him virtually impossible to work for. In contrast, it seems that Gillard enjoys the support and respect of the overwhelming majority of her colleagues, which, in the cut-throat world of professional politics, is no easy task. And I think it's an especially noteworthy achievement given just how deficient the Government's polling numbers have been of late.

Although the media seems happy to continue to propagate the same tired myth that Gillard "knifed" Rudd, it finally seems as though there are a few slightly more conscientious commentators who are now questioning the rather tired "wisdom" of this overly simplistic version of events. Now, in reality, a different picture emerges. Rudd was not toppled by a vicious and power-crazed woman; he was dragged down by his own incompetence and his ego. His colleagues could not work for him, because he would not work with them. And in his place, a more measured figure was given the chance to steady the ship. With the benefit of hindsight, the Government did itself no favours by using the "Government had lost its way" line. All this did was obscure Rudd's failings, and make it easy more observers to spread the blame far more evenly throughout the Labor Government than it deserved to be spread. It still has not fully recovered from the damage it did to itself by failing to overtly outline the failings of its former leader.

But unlike most, I do believe that it can recover. Ultimately, I think Gillard is going to win this ballot by some distance. Rudd may try to mount another challenge in the future, but I think that this is unlikely, as I think that every time he does, he is only going to make himself look more and more foolish. In contrast, I think Gillard is going to emerge from this debacle looking better than when she went into it. This is of Rudd's making, not hers. His pathetic belief in his own importance has finally freed those in the know to speak their minds about him. The more addled he looks in the mind of the public, the more legitimate Gillard's leadership becomes.

The only curious point is Rudd's bafflingly enduring popularity with the public. Given that those who've worked with him - that is, those who actually know what the man was like - think that he was a nutter, it is a little odd that a sizeable portion of the public seem to prefer to believe in his media image than in the pathetic reality he tried (and continues to try) so hard to obscure. I think on one level that it is easy to deduce from this a simple failing in basic common sense in the minds of public, but I think that's so simple as to be simplistic. In truth, it would be far more satisfying (and productive) if we saw the cause of this disturbing incongruity as a failing of our media to present to us the facts, but who have instead chosen to keep offering us the same lazy fallacies again and again.

So why have they done it? Well, it's hard not to come back to the whole sexism thing. So much the criticism I hear of Gillard either takes the form of misogyny, or has misogyny at its core. Yes, she has low polling numbers, but honestly, why should we care? Elections are held when elections are held. It honestly makes as much sense to call for an "ELECTION NOW" as it does to call for the moron making such a request to be charged with treason. Better to ignore the lunatic fringe, and try and discern the issues, methinks. If only the media could bring itself to adopt so reasonable a position.

Personally, I like Gillard. I think she is a pretty ordinary public politician at times, but in reality, that ought not matter. By rights, as a citizen with half a brain, I should care more about what she does, than how she looks or sounds when she does it. And in this regard, she's got it all over Rudd, and any other potential Prime Minister.

Keating is right when he talks about Labor needing a clearer and more purposeful narrative. Ironically, Rudd's petulance might actually end up providing it. Gillard is going to beat him on Monday. That will mean she has beaten him twice. Abbott will carp, as Abbott does, but deep down, he'll know that her position in the party - and in the minds of the public - is now more legitimate than it once was. Happily, he probably knows that he can only try and make so much mileage out the popular preference for Rudd, because after all, the public greatly prefers Turnbull to himself. Not that these polls matter, mind you. Given that the majority of them don't actually consider voting preference, a sizeable number of people indicating a preference wouldn't ever actually vote for that person anyway.

Labor has been trying for an awfully long time to wreck itself. At least now, it's doing so with the gloves off. The fight is ugly, real and important. Hopefully, it can finally be resolved. Because if it can channel this anger and venom into fighting the real enemy - those idiots on the other side of the chamber - then I can promise you this; Abbott is actually going to have something to worry about.