It’s on. Finally a political contest that’s worth paying attention to: Beazley v Rudd. Is this the end for the old warhorse who was a minister in the Hawke Government more than 20 years ago. Yes. And I’m not saying that because I can see anyone being desperate to jump on board the Rudd Express, either. Beazley’s challenger is highly competent, but also highly irritating. He doesn’t even have Mark Latham’s charisma or popular appeal, and that’s saying something. But with their current leader simply unable to get the electorate onside, suddenly Rudd’s looking like a good option. Yes, even with that haircut.
Now, I don’t know whether Rudd has the numbers, of course. (Kevin, why won’t you call?) But I can’t imagine that someone who seems extremely cautious and ambitious would have asked to challenge Beazley unless he did. And that’s the key bit of information here. Sometimes leaders declare a ballot to shore up their leadership, as Simon Crean did when Beazley was sniffing around. (It didn’t work.) But of course Beazley wouldn’t do anything as decisive as that. No, this has come about because Rudd asked this morning. So you can bet Rudd’s pretty confident – a challenge like that is generally a bullet you only get to fire once.
But even if Rudd doesn’t topple the big guy, does anyone other than Kim Beazley really think he can beat John Howard? He hasn’t been able to land a punch on the PM since the 1998 campaign. Even with the groundswell of resentment towards WorkChoices, the war in Iraq and the government’s inaction on global warming, which must have the PM more concerned than he’s been since the Latham landslide, Beazley’s nowhere to be seen. The only big headlines he’s gotten in the past few months are for confusing Rove McManus and Karl Rove. And if – sorry, when – Beazley loses again, surely that will finally end his political career.
This is why I particularly liked Phillip Coorey’s article on Wednesday about Beazley’s parallel universe, where he has John Howard on the run. He is constantly referring to all this experience he has, and how he can use it to beat John Howard but where is it? He couldn’t even make hay out of AWB, a farcical scandal where Australia simultaneously funded Saddam Hussein’s regime and invaded it. How much more of a free kick does the guy need?
In light of the Latham experiment, it would be madness to dump Beazley now. (I thought they should have gone with Gillard after the last election, but as ever, they didn’t listen to my considerable wisdom.) Mark Latham never had a chance to establish himself. And if Kevin Rudd wins the leadership challenge, he’ll probably have a rough time winning over the electorate. But I reckon they should do it anyway. If Rudd loses, he’ll get another shot unless he goes as badly off the rails as Latham did. And at this point, I reckon just about everyone will recognise the one overwhelming thing that Rudd has in his favour – he’s not Kim Beazley.
Sure, his haircut might be unelectable. But some new blood at this point is surely preferable to watching a limping Beazley fall short yet again.
Beazley was Deputy PM for a year before John Howard defeated Paul Keating. Based on his performance since the 1998 election (where he won the popular vote, but largely because of GST), he’s lucky he ever got that close.
As the man himself would say, it’s time we finally bid farewell to Labor’s long-serving Opposition Leader, Ron Weazley.
Photo: Chris Lane