A Labor cauldron of rumour and power

Labor MPs are now having the deep think they should have had in March. And you have to wonder whether Julia Gillard has a tipping point.

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With the Rudd speculation building to a new frenzy, Julia Gillard must be contemplating how history will regard her.

It’s still being assumed she would refuse to stand aside regardless of evidence or entreaties. That would mean a change of leader would involve blasting her out. But you have to wonder whether she would have some tipping point.

ABC journalist Barrie Cassidy reported on Sunday that key figures in the ALP had now decided that Gillard should be approached to step down, although it was not clear when or by whom.

If Gillard hangs on, she will take all the blame for a huge defeat.

A large loss would be seen as primarily due to her failure and bad judgment. Little of the responsibility would be sheeted home to Kevin Rudd’s destabilisation. He would be remembered by many for what might have been.

Gillard is substantially driven by her loathing of Rudd but she may also think that to give into pressure and stand aside would be seen as a sign of weakness and a blow for women’s leadership.

If she takes the party to a massive loss, however, it will be said of the first female PM that she put pride and her own stubbornness ahead of the ALP’s interests, leaving a rump in opposition and no chance of Labor coming back soon, even if an Abbott government fumbled.

Polling in half a dozen seats in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, reported by Fairfax Media at the weekend reinforced the message that Rudd would lift Labor’s vote.

By how much is anyone’s guess. Such polls – this one said he’d attract nearly 7 per cent more votes on a two-party basis – can’t be translated in some mathematical way.

Even his supporters don’t think he could win. And once the Liberals got going on him, he mightn’t look as good as he does in prospect.

If Gillard stood aside for Rudd, and there was still a rout, he would share the blame with her (who created the mess in the first place).

If he did relatively well, she would retrieve some credit for putting the party first (although criticism for not doing it earlier).

Workplace Relations minister Bill Shorten is now at the centre of the cauldron of rumour and power play. If Shorten moved, the gesture itself would be decisive.

But to have been disloyal to Rudd and then, exactly three years later to be disloyal to the woman he helped install is a bad look, even if it might be in the interests of the party and himself (in terms of the number of seats for a likely future opposition leader to inherit).

Shorten told the Seven Network: “I support Julia Gillard. I have and I continue to do so. What Australians want is Labor to carry the argument up to the Coalition”.

The obvious question to Shorten is: Who’s best placed to do that, Bill?

If the latest push by the Rudd forces succeeded, the new PM would have to decide whether to bring forward the September 14 election date Gillard has set, leave it as it is or delay it a month or so (the election must be held by late November).

An earlier date would let Rudd ride the honeymoon; a slightly later one would give him more time to sell his own product. Keeping September 14 would mean minimal disturbance to preparations already made.

A later date would prolong uncertainty, run into some problems of particular Saturdays and probably be counter-productive. The difference between August and September 14 is pretty small – there are arguments both ways.

A Rudd return would capitalise on the strong reservations there are in the community about Tony Abbott. Rudd can deliver the anti-Abbott lines well.

But he would have to run on more than attacking Abbott (who would have for use great character assessments of Rudd from his Labor enemies).

You can bet Rudd has policies in the filing cabinet. But he would need to be convincing on how he would – to borrow a Gillard phrase from just after she knocked off her predecessor – get Labor “back on track”.

The most obvious issue currently is, what would he do about the boats? He says Abbott can’t stop them – could he? If not, what then?

Labor MPs are having the deep think they should have had in March, when a leadership push turned into farce. In the present fevered atmosphere, it’s impossible to tell how it will all end. Usually when things get to this state, something happens – then again, in March nothing did.

Parliament is up this week before the final fortnight sitting. For the caucus, each day will be full of pain.

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article here.