Australians love the underdog – the plucky bloke who battles against the odds – especially if he comes back from personal tragedy.
But as the saying goes, Aussies want the mug to have a shot as well.
Yesterday Kevin Rudd was the punter who failed to fight. His credibility is now in tatters. And history has been shaped against him. Before the farce, Rudd was favourably viewed in the ‘what-if’ scenarios.
What if Rudd was leader? What if he returns? How much would Labor’s support lift?
But all that has changed. The speculation is now negative for Kevin.
The new question is this: how much have Kevin Rudd’s actions hurt Labor? Any drop in support will be anchored to him; any lift in the polls declared a sign of support for Gillard’s strong leadership in finally vanquishing him.
There can be no doubt that Kevin Rudd wanted to be Prime Minister again. He had the ability to stop the endless speculation months ago but was happy to add fuel to the fire. Certainly, a bloke like Simon Crean would not have strapped on a political suicide vest and detonated himself on national television if Rudd was not happy to hint he’d stump up and challenge.
There is also no question that Rudd was quite content to see Julia Gillard crash and burn, while he loomed as a saviour in the background. Rudd was longing for the ‘I told you so’ moment on September 15. It now seems that this personal vendetta trumped his ambition.
Squibbing out was not a good look, no matter how much Rudd tried to spin himself into some kind of word-keeping politician with integrity. He isn’t and in the process Rudd has burnt his supporters. They all look stupid.
Julia Gillard emerges stronger from the leadership fracas. She is like the knight that has finally slayed the dragon, although she really should thank Simon Crean for his actions. He took one for the team and deserves a political Victoria Cross. After his diversion, all Gillard really needed to do was stroll around the party room floor and bayonet the wounded.
While this may increase Gillard’s respect in the electorate, in a similar vein to Anna Bligh’s performance during the Queensland floods, it will not change Labor’s primary vote much, if at all.
I imagine that in the corner of Labor HQ there is a coloured sign, akin to a fire danger billboard. Between now and September the arrow will hover somewhere between utter catastrophe and electoral oblivion.
That is why Julia Gillard’s leadership will remain shaky. There will be no Rudd resurrection, but other dragons loom on the horizon. And considering the writing on the wall says it may well be a decade before Labor gets the Lodge again, desperation may drive forth a real challenger with more courage than Rudd.
The biggest winner of yesterday’s uncontested leadership ballot was Tony Abbott. He gets to keep Gillard and Swan as his main enemies – for the time being. And given that both remain deeply unpopular, that is a bonus he will enjoy, although Malcolm Turnbull may not be so cheery.