The Lemming Syndrome: Kev, Jules And Australian Labour – OpEd


Australia’s Labour party does not want to win the next federal election. It is genetic. The left find incumbency tiring, troublesome, limiting, problematic. Suicidal policies hell bent in wiping their presence off the electoral map is, however, something they do thrive on. In its various incarnations, the Rudd-Gillard years are ones of traumatic self-abuse and flagellation. When an autopsy is done on the legacy of this period, the scars will be so deep they will warrant an entry into a book of masochistic mysticism.

The pressure on the Gillard government is rising with volcanic intensity. As the prime minister has shown herself to be the perfect problem for every solution, she is sitting pretty for the slaughter, a clumsy lamb heading to the sacrifice. She, after all, kept Rudd in the fold, giving him the perfect safe haven in the form of the foreign affairs portfolio to regroup for a counterattack. She accepts interviews she need not give. She speaks when she does not have too. In politics, tactical silences have their value. Blunders do not.

When it was revealed that the prime minister knew about moves to draft a speech two weeks prior to the ambush of Rudd, she could have remain stony faced to the suggestions, maintaining a wall of silence. As she decided to confront the speculations directly, her tactics then should have been to come clean. If one is going to stab a person in the back, to bleed him before single-brain cell party factions, power brokers and pundits, at least be brave about it – admit that it was necessary. The refusal to back her own positions at stages makes her seem provisional, situational, a scant breeze. It is also perfect material for the likes of Andrew Bolt, who is noting her mendacious exploits with a vulture’s enthusiasm for carrion. Tragic is the day when Bolt hits his mark.

Rudd, in stark contrast, refuses to give certain interviews and refuses to say there is a ‘war’ of contention against Gillard. And why should he? His is a battle of contrition, an under-the-radar assault against an unelected usurper. He knows there are those in the Labour caucus who despise him and would rather have a sex change than see him returned as leader. But there are also those who are terrified that the next election will give them marching orders to political oblivion.

As the suicidal rites are being written for this less than progressive party, the farcical aspect of the show is becoming more pronounced. A video has been leaked showing Rudd the bully, Rudd the brute at work, scolding officials and alleging incompetence. Gillard denies all knowledge of it (standard issue there); Rudd counters that the material could only have been seen on two locked computers in the prime ministerial office. The retort is that Gillard’s staff could not have accessed the recording on those computers, as they were returned to the Prime Minister & Cabinet as surplus requirements.

The Australian (Feb 20) has noted that ‘in a room next to Mr Rudd’s prime ministerial office was a small video production unit with two Mac computers used for video-editing that were not linked to the main office network.’ Oh, Brutus… Colourful language spices the haranguing display. But this simply shows something we all have been told – Rudd is not a pleasant man to work for, a workaholic who demands that all his subordinates take the same hooch.

Those who have worked with and under Rudd note his obsession with process, with running up the hours, and his inability to come to clear decisions when it matters. He can map the options but he is unsure which ones to take with conviction. His means of working shows the confusion identified so well by the British Labour politician Denis Healy: an academic can argue to a conclusion; a politician must argue to a solution. Had he understood this difference, he would not have found a leadership challenge take place at all.

The ‘camp’, if one can call it that, of unbalanced Gillard supporters are promising an act of bloody vengeance if Rudd makes a challenge and succeeds. Some even promise jihad. (Historical tact or accuracy is not their strong suit.) It is, however, far better to declare a holy war from a position of strength – the incumbent is always the better one to launch a religiously sanctified purge. But politics is not Gillard’s strong point, a drawback, one would think, in a prime minister.

The farce, then, is set to continue. The country is effectively leaderless, marred by the simultaneous contest of two contenders. A Roman consul arrangement is perhaps in order – a shared power agreement between the two officials that will douse the fire of disagreement in the name of the popular good. But that, in this context, would simply be a recipe for murder.

Binoy Kampmark

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: [email protected]

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