The young and the Ruddless

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Provided he receives a “fair shake of the sauce bottle in caucus”, Kevin Rudd could win back the leadership of the ALP and the country, says Benjamin Thomas Jones.

The ALP leadership soap opera: ‘The Young and the Ruddless’

The soap opera that is the federal ALP leadership looks set to come to a dramatic climax with Prime Minister Gillard expected to call a leadership spill today.

Like a bitter couple in a loveless marriage, Gillard and Rudd have been trying, and failing, to keep up appearances for weeks and there is a sense of relief inside the frustrated government that divorce proceedings have finally been initiated. Gillard and Rudd had been engaged in an awkward Mexican standoff, with both sides unconvincingly maintaining they supported the other. In an extraordinary move, Rudd announced from Washington that he was resigning as Foreign Minister.

If this is a divorce, Rudd is certainly playing the part of the abused victim. In his resignation speech, he claimed:

The truth is I can only serve as foreign minister if I have the confidence of Prime Minister Gillard and her senior ministers.”

Gillard had not defended Rudd following attacks and charges of disloyalty from leading Labor figures, including former ALP leader Simon Crean.

Rudd commented on the matter:

“When challenged today on these attacks, Prime Minister Gillard chose not to repudiate them. I can only reluctantly conclude that she therefore shares these views.”

The former Prime Minister certainly gave the impression that, for the second time, the ‘faceless men’ of the ALP have driven him from a high office. The question, of course, is how caucus will respond.

Kevin Rudd is unpopular inside his own party. Treasurer Wayne Swan released a scathing statement claiming that Rudd was an egotist who did not share real Labor values, and that his Government colleagues were “…sick of Kevin Rudd driving the vote down by sabotaging policy announcements and undermining our substantial economic successes.”

Yet, however unpopular Rudd is with the ALP, he is by far the most popular Labor politician with the public. Polls have repeatedly confirmed him as preferred Prime Minister. Despite every effort, Gillard has failed to put the Government in an election winning position; indeed, far from it, as Federal Labor is facing annihilation along the lines of the Keneally NSW Government in 2011. A poll from June last year suggested Labor would gain a 13 point first preference increase – an election winning improvement – if Rudd replaces Gillard.

These statistics must be playing on the minds of nervous Labor back-benchers in marginal seats. Two days ago Corangamite MP Darren Cheeseman broke ranks and called for the Prime Minister to stand down insisting “…there’s no doubt about it, Julia Gillard can’t take the party forward.”

In his resignation speech as Foreign Minister, Rudd trumpeted this theme claiming:

“There is one overriding question for my colleagues and that is who is best placed to defeat Tony Abbott.”

For his part, the Opposition Leader stated:

“Kevin Rudd has confirmed two things — that the faceless men are running the Labor Party and that the instability at the top of this Government is damaging our country.”

It is notoriously difficult to gauge the numbers in Labor’s divided caucus. Of the 103 members, it seems neither Rudd nor Gillard have a clear majority. The Prime Minister appears to have more supporters, but the undecided MPs could see either camp over the line. Sportsbet.com.au is giving Ms Gillard short odds at $1.33, with twice as much money currently placed on her.

It is, of course, possible that Rudd will simply retire to the back bench or even quit politics — however, being so close to regaining the top job, it is hard to believe he won’t challenge. Provided he receives a fair shake of the sauce bottle in caucus, there is every likelihood he could win back the leadership of the ALP and the country. We have had Prime Ministers serve two separate terms before, but never in circumstances quite like this. A truly unique story in the history of Australian politics will unfold over the next few days.

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