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A Richo addition to the Rudd watching and waiting game MICHELLE GRATTAN

Graham Richardson's claims should help boost his own TV stocks.

Graham Richardson's claims should help boost his own TV stocks.

FORMER Labor heavyweight Graham Richardson's naming, with maximum fanfare, of a couple of Rudd spruikers prompted one senior (non-Rudd) man to observe yesterday: "This is Graham's renaissance. He's rebuilding himself into a larger-than-life media figure."

Richardson has his own TV program on Sky now, called Richo (of course). He knows the value of political spice. And because of who he is more to the point, who he was in his glory days any spice he dishes up has a lot of zing.

The one-time powerbroker who is determined to be an influence wielder through his public commentary told viewers on Wednesday night that former Labor minister Alan Griffin was "leading the push" for Kevin Rudd. "He's doing a lot of the telephoning, a lot of the ringing around. He's a very clever operator, this bloke, no fool," Richardson said, adding that West Australian senator Mark Bishop was part of the action.

And so the hare was out and running, yet again, just like when a Coalition senator recently claimed a Labor senator and Rudd had talked about leadership in a phone conversation.

Julia Gillard, trying to keep attention on yesterday's jobs forum, was forced to field questions about Richardson's contribution. So was Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who suggested that if the two "are involved then they should just pull their head in". Rudd was about in Melbourne, but carefully silent on Richo.

Often, media interventions in leadership stories involve deliberately planted bombs designed to destabilise. There is no evidence that was the case this week. Then again, the apparent revival of Rudd is rather different from your usual leadership battle.

Griffin, veterans affairs minister in 2007-10 and a Victorian left-winger expected to leave Parliament at the next election, is well known as a Rudd backer. Always a Rudd supporter, he was late on board for the 2006 challenge to Kim Beazley, because he was concerned about the closeness to the election.

Bishop is a Rudd supporter, but less of a player he has, though, been publicly critical of the government over its handling of asylum seeker policy, suggesting it should swallow its pride and send people to Nauru.

Obviously Griffin, Bishop and others in the Rudd camp have conversations with their colleagues about leadership considering Labor's primary vote is well below 30 per cent, what else would you expect?

As far as one can tell, however, there is not presently any concerted "ringing around" to garner support for Rudd. Rather, the strategy of the former PM and his backers is to let the polls do their damage, until Labor MPs come to the conclusion that there has to be a change and Rudd is seen as the only option.

The personally strategy of Rudd who is driven these days by the desire for vindication as much as by rational ambition is the one he always adopts. He is omnipresent. In current circumstances, this serves several purposes. It keeps him in the public's mind (useful for those surveys of preferred Labor leader) it sucks attention from Gillard and, when he is received as a rock star in MPs' electorates, it shows caucus members how popular he is, and how useful he could be to helping a lot of them hold their seats.

The Rudd camp doesn't want any blow-up of the leadership in the short term. Not only would it be better to have the carbon tax through Parliament, the mining tax squared away and the offshore processing legislation off the table, but the caucus needs longer to mull over the prospect of Rudd Mark II.

Once the ball is rolling in these things, however, timing potentially becomes a product of events. That's why caucus sources can't rule out a crisis before Christmas, though most people believe Gillard will survive into next year.

For the PM, the Rudd factor is disrupting positives and worsening negatives. The shadow of Rudd intensifies the risks she faces in difficult situations.

Next week the legislation to validate the Malaysia solution is due to come to a vote in the House of Representatives. The bill would be doomed in the Senate but Gillard is anxious for a tactical victory over Tony Abbott by getting it through the House. Both government and opposition are desperately working on West Australian National Tony Crook, who could provide the crucial crossbench vote. If Gillard, who took time from the tax summit to meet Crook on Wednesday, fails to land him, or any of the other three crossbench votes she needs, caucus criticism of her handling of the asylum seeker issue will increase.

While the Ruddites believe caucus members need a while to accept the notion of reinstalling the man so casually dispatched, Gillard's supporters hope time can work in her favour. With key legislation through, the outlook could be brighter, they argue. But ultimately, almost everything depends on the polls, which are usually the scourge of any leader under pressure. It's like trying to run up an escalator that's coming down.

Richardson, who modestly declared he knew "a little bit about plotting", had some advice for those seeking change: "Look at history, now is not your time." They indeed agree the irony is that incidents like this week's "outing" make it harder to control things.

All of which is good for Richo. People will be listening to him for that "insider gossip" that Gillard dismissed yesterday. That is just what the budding TV host intends.


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