Here Labor goes again. It’s about a year before the election, or maybe even less if John Howard’s feeling malevolent. They should be riding high in the polls on a wave of dissatisfaction about WorkChoices, interest rates and Iraq, the latter of which disasters has just carried their American equivalent to a comprehensive victory in the midterm election. And yet they’re stuck with a leader who simply cannot land a decent punch on a man who’s had their measure for over a decade.
The solution being promoted by several malcontents in the Party? Kevin Rudd. Why don’t they just save everyone a whole lot of money and effort and just concede the next election already?
They did this last time, of course. Simon Crean wasn’t getting anywhere, so they dumped him for Mark Latham. Who didn’t have much of a profile or senior shadow ministerial experience, and was primarily famous for breaking a taxi driver’s arm. And guess what? The electorate was just as scared of him as any cabbie. So in 2004, the Liberals didn’t have to create a bogeyman on board the Tampa, or throwing children overboard. They found one on Labor’s frontbench.
Terrified, Labor retreated to Kim Beazley, a man whose only positive quality was that people knew who he was – but only because they’d opted not to elect him twice previously. A decision they evidently don’t have much interest in changing next time around. In a truly timid leadership decision, they essentially elected to hope the Coalition would self-destruct, or run Costello, or most likely both. And guess what? The man who beat Beazley twice decided he had a three-peat in him, and no-one seriously believes he won’t do it.
So. Kevin Rudd. I hope I make the extent of my scepticism perfectly clear when I say that he’s no Mark Latham. I’d always thought, possibly foolishly, that the electorate might have warmed to the flawed Fury from Werriwa, if he’d had substantially more time and better health. There was a period six months before the election when he was creaming Howard like Beazley never could. But now the ALP desperadoes want to try and beat John Howard, the battlers’ friend, with a guy who comes over like the guy who was just a little bit too keen about being a school prefect.
We had guys like Kevin Rudd at my school. Sure, they did well in the HSC, but they never won a popularity contest. And I went to a school for nerds. Other educational institutions would have flushed Rudd’s head repeatedly down a toilet.
Admittedly, Rudd has intellectual talent like no-one in the ALP since Gareth Evans. (And knows it.) If politics was a pure meritocracy, he’d have been Foreign Minister for years already. I’d probably back someone that smart to figure out how to make the electorate like him, given a few years to take the know-it-all edge off him. But not now. Not with only a year. No way.
Labor’s made its bed, and now it must lie in it. That bed is Beazley. And it means that after the next election they’ll have to dust themselves off after an incredible fifth straight loss to John Howard, and then make either Rudd or Gillard leader. I have enormous faith in the competence of either of them – though I’d prefer Gillard, for the relative lack of smugness if nothing else. But they need time to win over the electorate.
So all I want to hear at this point is Kevin Rudd saying he won’t contest the leadership before the election. Heck, he can say it in Mandarin for all I care. But he needs to learn that his ability to do that isn’t going to win him any votes. And until he does, they may as well stick with Kim Beazley. With his steady hand on the helm, they will highly likely go nowhere. But as the last election showed Labor, it’s possible to do even worse than go nowhere.