Over the period 2007-10, Kevin Rudd irritated a lot of people in caucus through backflips and backdowns publicly, and in private snubbing and bawling-out and other forms of rudeness. People in caucus complained but ultimately did nothing. Only when this behaviour came to alarm a few union leaders was action taken against Rudd: they phoned members of caucus over the evening of 23 June 2010 and told them that they were to vote for Gillard, which they did. The lesson in sheer power terms was clear: powerful people step up and act while powerless people sit around and whinge.
In the first week of the election campaign, Tony Abbott's campaign to become Prime Minister stalled over his inability to sound convincing when talking about workplace relations (a mistake he has compounded this year, with his no-mark workplace relations policy that Eric Abetz all but disowned in a debate with Shorten at the National Press Club). Rudd leaked to Laurie Oakes and Labor people haven't forgiven him for that. In the period since, Rudd knew that the union leaders hadn't shifted: that's why he was belted last March and dodged the challenge earlier this year. It was still fair to regard those guys as the drivers of caucus.
The unions haven't rolled out a supportive campaign for the ALP like they did in 2007; this doesn't mean the ALP needs to trash the unions but they are entitled to wonder what they are getting in return for being lorded over. Now that the ALP's preselections for the coming election have all been settled, and there is nothing to lose, why not ignore the small number of union leaders who won't help you and can't touch you? After the election you can rebuild those fences if you need to.
As to Rudd's micromanaging/dithering style, its persistence is unclear from this angle (and do you reckon journos will pick it up this time? Fool me once, etc.). If this style has changed, it will be a value-add brought by latecomers to Team Rudd like Crean, Wong, and Shorten, rather than thick-and-thin loyalists like Chris Bowen or Bruce Hawker insisting that Rudd has "changed" in some undefinable way. If they don't win the election it doesn't matter; if they do, they had better work out some arrangement whereby Rudd's staff is imposed upon him or something, but then if they had done that after 2007 they would be in a different position today.
The idea that the micromanaging/dithering style is fixed in place is fascinating only to those who give Tony Abbott the benefit of the doubt. On and since Wednesday night we learned, again, that Abbott can't deal with foreseeable events. He was caught out when Gillard replaced Rudd in 2010. He was caught out when Gillard thrashed Rudd in March 2012. The Coalition look like the little pigs from the fable who built their houses from straw and sticks, unaware that the wolf could even do the huff-and-puff until the wreckage literally and undeniably lay strewn around them.
Abbott claims to have learned the lessons from Hewson's time in 1990-93, but I don't think he has: when Labor replaced Hawke with Keating in 1991 the Coalition's game changed, but their tactics never accommodated the new and fiercer opponent. Only last week the Coalition said that Rudd had been "assassinated" in 2010, a stupid line for a country where the practice is almost unknown. Rudd seems to have been de-assassinated in a way that simply isn't possible for John Newman or Donald Mackay.
Eventually, the Coalition will come up with a line of attack against Rudd. It will almost certainly involve a lot of crocodile tears about poor Julia Gillard. If Abbott really was "the best Opposition Leader ever", or even a good one, he would have shifted seamlessly to counter Rudd so that Labor appeared to flounder no matter who led them. Rudd has, as David Jackmanson points out as AusVotes2013, anticipated the Coalition attack and pretty much blunted it already.
Since Wednesday the Liberals held a US-style rally starring the prissy Bruce Billson and the repellent Sophie Mirabella (prediction: neither will be re-elected). They introduced John Howard, who became cranky in referring to Rudd - 2007 all over again. If you believe Howard embodied, or even led, an era in which Australia was comfortable and relaxed, then you should only wheel him out in public when he's feeling that way. Mr Comfortable and Relaxed was never convincing as an attack dog. The two Labor leaders who beat him (Hawke and Rudd) knew that a serene leaderlike pose was the best way to counter his attacks. Howard saw off three Labor leaders (Keating, Crean, and Latham) who made him look calm and avuncular by contrast, and another (Beazley) who was not so much calm as complacent. Cranky Howard is worse for the Liberals than no Howard at all. Cranky Howard looks like he is driving Abbott behind the scenes, as though Abbott isn't his own man - however true that is, it's a perception for which the Liberals can't afford to offer more support.
Since Wednesday night we learned that the consensus of the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery is not only meaningless, but actually works against telling us how we are governed. At the start of this month people like Barrie Cassidy confidently asserted that the Rudd challenge was really on, drawing on the full depth and breadth of their experience and credibility to make the Big Call. They simply assumed that their credibility had remained intact after three years of log-rolling and jabbering on this subject. Then they said that the steam was coming off any (imagined) Rudd challenge - at the very point when caucus members like Penny Wong and Bob Carr were actually telling Prime Minister Gillard that they would not be voting for her. This was worse than the usual dreary beat-up. What the press gallery reported was the direct opposite of what was happening.
There is quite the debate in journo circles about how far you go to protect your sources, and almost all journalists agree that it is better to tell your audience less than the full truth in order to protect your sources. In this case, however, we already know who the press gallery use as their pro-Rudd sources: any MP who quit or was sacked over the past three years (or overlooked, in the case of Doug "mind mah tea" Cameron). We know now that their sources have led to press gallery journalists reporting the opposite of the truth - insisting that there was a challenge when there wasn't, and vice versa - to the point where the press gallery consensus simply can no longer be trusted as a source of information about federal politics.
Pampered journos such as those in the press gallery go to industry events where they are regaled with tales of danger by other journalists who dodge writs from Sydney property developers, bullets from Mexican drug gangs or rocket-propelled grenades from Western Asian fundamentalists. They think they have something in common with those people, but they don't. Look at the English-language news outlets from North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Iran - note the skirting of major political issues within those jurisdictions, the simple recitation of government announcements and quotes without verification or context, lots of passive voice, and the assumption that the official PR-heavy activities of the great and good are all there is to 'politics'. That's the type of journalism with which Australian press gallery journalism is most closely aligned - not the derring-do, truth-at-all-costs work that attracts gullible people to fundraising dinners.
On Wednesday night Bob Carr claimed that a number of asylum-seekers who come to Australia by boat are "economic migrants" (like my Scottish forebears in the 1830s, presumably). It's clear that detention is an idea that has to be tried and failed before it will be abandoned. I don't know how many more people will have to be drowned at sea or banged up in the various detention centres before that will happen, in the same way that it wasn't clear that 43 is the number of Australian servicemen who had to die in Afghanistan (and may there be no more).
Mandatory offshore detention will work for Labor at this election because it is the middle ground between the do-nothing/laissez-faire option, and the creepy cruelty offered by Scott Morrison and the Coalition. Beyond that, it is a policy that can't work either to reduce the flow of asylum-seekers to Australia, or to process asylum claims in a more systematic way. Despite having failed, it cannot be abandoned straight away but abandoned it will be eventually; along with the high-minded criticism that it is cruel and inhumane and in breach of our international obligations, this policy will come to attract the contempt that is due to all impractical, pointless, expensive, window-dressing policy measures.
I miss Julia Gillard and I still think she could have turned it around and beaten Abbott, and
We haven't seen a policy wonk like her in the Prime Ministership since Deakin. Australian Labor is still playing catch-up since it failed to rethink its purpose to the extent that other social-democrat governments did in the 1930s and '40s, but Julia Gillard has brought them almost up to date. I'm fairly unsentimental when it comes to Labor as a delivery mechanism for policy outcomes, but I stand in awe of the sheer love in this piece, and with it the notion that progress is meant to be made, set back, reassessed and moved forward again, whether at the general political and policy level or at the lives of particular little girls and their family.
The appalling sexism that was piled onto Gillard particularly (but not only) toward the end of her Prime Ministership has brought sexism and gender issues into the centre of public debate like nothing else had, or perhaps ever could have. The scrutiny of the Gillard government's cuts to welfare payments for single parents is almost unprecedented for its breadth, prevalence and quality across both traditional and social media. The debate over sexism in the military is no longer a litany of isolated incidents as it was under previous governments, but a systematic one demanding to be addressed at the highest level. Serious analysis from a gender perspective has arrived at the centre of how we understand the national debate rather than being a perennial but fringe issue. Rudd's promise to increase the number of female ministers will only increase the applicability of gender analysis on government; expect more feminist breakdowns of the budget and other issues on which gender perspectives had touched only in passing.
Since Wednesday night much has changed, but much abides. The press gallery has failed the nation, its employers, and the politicians who sustain them; it has no future in its current form. The Coalition is left with, as the masterful Piping Shrike observes, "an unpopular leader ... with policies that the electorate doesn’t especially like", and too late to change either much. Labor wants to be both reformist and risk-averse: good luck with that, but then that seems to be what the country wants too. We are a have-your-cake-and-eat-it kind of people.