'Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground downWhat is Kevin Rudd up to? He has realised the guerrilla-campaign of opposition-within-government is a lonely place to be (with only the likes of Joel Fitzgibbon for company, true loneliness would be the better option). Rudd has learned the lesson that Malcolm Turnbull learnt and applied within his party: that if you're a team player your shortcomings will be covered up, while your light can outshine lesser lights even when yours is dimmed and theirs is at full wattage. Over the past two days or so Rudd has done what nobody expected him to do: join the team, fight for the team, rule out taking over the team.
And he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around ...
- Elvis Costello Man out of time
Prime Minister Gillard invested a lot in keeping the Australian-manufactured vehicle industry going, in terms of personal credibility and in terms of money: public money, billions of dollars of it, which was ringfenced against budget cuts. When Ford announced that they would cease manufacturing in this country Gillard made an appropriate but impersonal statement, and has committed to greater job retraining and placement services than other redundant workers get.
She reiterated in her calm, lawyerly way that the whole idea of throwing money at the vehicle industry was about the workers, and that they remained her focus after they had ceased to matter to Ford management. Visiting Geelong today, Rudd said it punchier and better. He's not trying to one-up the Prime Minister, he is compensating for what everyone agrees is one of her weaknesses (in areas other than education or disability care, it would seem): an ability to get to the point, stick to it and hammer it home, so that you don't forget who owns this issue and who you need to vote for if you think it's important too.
I think Kevin Rudd has had his go, and have been strongly critical of him over three years now. I remain unconvinced that his ability to manage people and information has improved one bit and nobody takes any word of oily old-school Ruddsters like Hawker to the contrary. Of course Rudd talks about great-power rivalry; all ex-PMs do that, but not even the most addled nostalgist is talking about SHOCK FRASER/KEATING LEADERSHIP TILT SHOCK. Now that Rudd's on the team, doing the right thing, it's incumbent upon critics to identify and support constructive behaviour: well done, Mr Rudd.
"Gillard-haters"* like Drag0nista and Leigh Sales are clearly upset. They'd be fine if Rudd was undermining Gillard; they'd be fine if Rudd went to ground, and rendered himself politically inert. Both fit the Abbott's-inevitable-Gillard's-doomed Narrative. Because he's done neither, they play word games with him: do you rule out ... are you leaving the door open for ... Rudd knew in 2007 that playing along with such bullshit is worth nothing in terms of votes. Abbott knows it now, and plays journos like trout on the rare occasions that a) they actually confront him and b) he doesn't walk away.
The only thing to do when confronted with that is to shirtfront the interviewer for asking pissant questions, which is what Rudd did this week and what the Prime Minister should do more often.
It doesn't matter if you trash a broadcast media interviewer, they'll still beg to have you back: they have no choice. Only those seeking to hustle their way out of obscurity believe otherwise, but the big guns know you don't cop that from a journo. The journo isn't eliciting information of value by the ruling in/ruling out thing. What they are doing is getting the jollies and the sensation of power that a child gets when offering food to a puppy and then jerking it away at the last minute, laughing, and then offering the morsel again. Old dogs know you can take a bit of skin off the cherub without being put down, and improve the relationship quite considerably over the long term.
Rudd is one politician who has certainly lost a lot of power, but the broadcasters/MSM have lost more power than he has. Nobody who doesn't know suck-up-spit-down Sales personally is going to feel for her after being outmanoeuvered by someone The Narrative regards as a political corpse.
Fitzgibbon looks like a prize fuckwit for courting publicity at his party's expense, and even those of us with no love for the ALP as an organisation see this clearly. To be fair, however, this is also true of the entire, almost entirely worthless Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery. Yet again the media turned their back on the market that will maintain or kill their jobs in order to pursue a nobody: the unspeakable in pursuit of the implausible.
God forbid that anything at all should hang upon sad-sacks Alan Griffin and Daryl Melham for tossing in the towel. Once again, Rudd has left his so-called supporters within caucus in the cold. He's done it before - pretty much every time he ran for the leadership, except 2006 and after '07 when he had enough largesse to distribute to friend and foe alike - but every time he ran and lost his supporters wondered why they bothered.
I remember when Daryl Melham's career ended, sometime in the '90s after an interview with Kerry O'Brien. The Liberals have been targeting his seat for twenty years, one of the longest courtships in Australian politics. If they win no other seat, let Banks be the crown-of-thorns for Loughnane-Abbott. Griffin has gone from newbie to burnt-out husk without any intervening achievement, a bit like most careers in politics or political journalism really.
The Murdoch journos can't believe the Labor leadership thing really is over. The basic facts of Australian politics are clearly different to what they told us, what they demanded we pay them to tell us: Julia Gillard was Prime Minister was Prime Minister in June 2010, she was Prime Minister was Prime Minister in June 2011, she was Prime Minister was Prime Minister in June 2012, she is Prime Minister was Prime Minister in June 2013, and no amount of increasingly strident Narrative is convincing that she won't be Prime Minister was Prime Minister in June 2014, or '15.
Having Rudd as leader in this election was essential to the Liberal psyche.
The Liberals who survived the 2007 election mostly accepted the people's decision, and began casting about for a post-Howard future. They thought Costello would lead them there and they were wrong. There was a hard core of people like Bronwyn Bishop who simply refused, Tea Party style, to accept that an actual majority of actual Australian voters elected a Labor government. They thought that Rudd had swindled them, and every time he backed down and watered down the positions with which he beat Howard he fed that perception. Nelson was their compromise candidate: nobody wanted Abbott after his performance at the election yet they were afraid Turnbull would rush them into some strange future of a republic, education, hi-tech and fine arts, of the sort that Keating had tried to foist onto Labor.
Turnbull got up when Nelson could go on no longer and he assuaged the most basic fears of the organised Liberal Right, directed from beyond Canberra. When Turnbull failed too they put Abbott in, as they wanted all along because they could control him as he presented a face to the press gallery that it found appealing (and the public will swallow whatever the press gallery feeds them, apparently).
Abbott needs to face Rudd and beat him. Only then can the Howard continuum be restored and maintained. That's why Abbott looked crestfallen when Gillard trounced Rudd last year, and why the Liberals didn't laugh when Rudd refused to challenge earlier this year (the key union bosses remained behind Gillard; had they shifted, they'd have told their people in caucus to vote for Rudd, and Rudd would now be PM. Rudd knew they hadn't shifted and wasn't obliged to commit political suicide).
The role of the press gallery and their broadcast media colleagues in leadership transitions over the past seven years is an anachronism, a homage to an image of the press and its role within Parliament that no longer applies. The parties' relationship to the media in leadership transitions used to be intimate: they would watch collaborators gather and disperse. They could point to evidence contradicting those who would "play down leadership tensions".
Now their position can be likened to [another analogy that compares grown journalists to children!] the schoolyard bullying tactic whereby taller children take the property of a smaller child and throw it back and forth above the owner's feebly grasping hands. The difference is, though, that the child whose property is being used as a plaything knows what's going on; after seven long years, no press gallery journalist - no newbie with fresh perspective, no old hand who's seen it all - none of them have twigged to the way leadership challenges actually happen.
Seven years. Six leadership changes in that time. Two elections, and another coming up. None of them have twigged to the way leadership challenges actually happen.
Now that you understand the difference between how leadership challenges actually work, and how they are reported by the press gallery and others in the broadcast media (or if you will, MSM), you can see the level of self-delusion from this tribune of the Conventional Wisdom:
That could have been written at any point in the last three years, and would have been no more valid then than it is now. It's not even informative, failing as journalism at every level other than the ovine everyone else is doing it. Looking to the caucus to find out what's going on with the leadership is like looking for Lasseter's Reef in the carpark of the Rooty Hill RSL: it just ain't there.
Leadership changes have been carefully managed affairs for the past seven years: in that time Labor has changed leaders twice, the Liberals three times, and in every case the fix has been in long before the press gallery even got wind of it. Even the Greens notified the MSM only after the Brown-Milne-WhishWilson deal was done.
That journalist is wasting her time running the same non-story she's run for three years, the same non-story the press gallery ran about Howard and Costello before that. You can be a veteran press gallery journalist in this country with a resume consisting of nothing but bullshit.
No amount of MSM wishin'-and-hopin'- that the realities of the past seven years might be different this time will make it so. Party leadership changes are just not decided in Canberra. Pollies will wring their hands over a dud leader but won't move without being told by people who put and keep them there - people who aren't in Canberra and who rarely talk to journos anyway. This is one of the many changes that affects the way that the broadcast media does its job which has nothing whatsoever to do with the dreaded Internet.
The ABC's Mark Colvin insisted at the Sydney Writers' Festival that journalists were the victim of an imaginary construct called "the 24 hour news cycle", and on Twitter this week he claimed that it explains this. It doesn't. Neither Morrison nor Fitzgibbon had anything new or interesting to say and only the most skittish and idiotic sheep would contend otherwise.
The press gallery in Canberra doesn't operate on anything like a "24 hour news cycle". The one exception to that was the night of 23-24 June 2010, a leadership transition brought on by people who cared nothing for the comfortable routines of traditional media.
The fact that Prime Minister Gillard is the first occupant of that office since McMahon who has not courted the media before securing it explains why she gets unrelentingly negative coverage, and why her policy-lite opponent is excused for not facing up to economic and social realities of the nation he would govern. The press gallery is denying us the information we need to make a decision other than that which would bring about a government that they - and their construction of 'we' - would want.
It is perfectly appropriate to laugh at the sheer effrontery of journalists caught off-guard when a press release is issued at 4.30pm on a Friday. Have you ever had something crop up at work when you thought a day was nearing its end? I have, so have most people, and journalists should keep that in mind when they chew up airtime/space with their bellyaching.
If a government is truly gone you don't need to get as shrieky as the broadcast media is (and some of the more gullible bloggers are) now. Look at the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger coverage of the doomed Howard federal government - or even the she's-quite-nice-really coverage of NSW's Kenneally government in 2011, a government that actually did die of shame. If you really do believe the polls and the backroom consultants who insist it's all over then the absence of such coverage about Gillard is suspicious.
Rudd is courting the same audience that he courted in 2006: the lumpen public (nobody you know, just those randoms 'in the field' of a poll); and the heads of the ALP's most powerful unions, whom he won over in '06 and lost in '10 and clearly hopes to win again. By neither sulking nor abasing himself, he is doing what they have told him is necessary and unavoidable: those who fight for Labor when their prospects seem darkest have a future, while those who simply jeer or walk away might not be welcomed back.
Maybe Rudd will feint again between now and September and glory in the title of the only Federal Labor MP north of Sussex Street. Maybe he'll turn on Gillard again when Abbott is having a dead-cat bounce. Drag0nista is right when she uses Rudd's words that a leopard never changes its spots - that may be so, but a leopard can be de-clawed and -fanged, and boxed into a small enclosure. I've seen it happen and so have most Australians, assuming their experiences of leopards is similar to mine.
The point here is that none of the Conventional Wisdom surfers and Narrative-mongers predicted Rudd would support the leader who replaced him. It might well be fleeting, and to some it's infuriating, but you can't deny it's happened or that it might recur. Having thus failed your analysis of what might happen in a new light is pretty much moot. You just can't trust the press gallery (like other essentially conservative people who exist in a matrix of cliches) to differentiate a passing fad from a structural shift, and report it to you.
Those yet-unreleased Liberal policies would want to be real doozies, instantly and firmly embraced by a grateful nation that truly believes Abbott and Hockey and their support acts really can and will deliver Australia from what ails it under Rudd and Gillard. Yep, click your ruby-red slippers together and believe, believe, believe.
* News Ltd columnist Miranda Devine used to claim that anyone who criticised the Howard government for any reason was a "Howard hater". In that sense, Drag0nista can be said to be a "Gillard hater". When I wrote that I thought I was being terribly wry. Oh well.