On one level, it was farcical. Indeed it was beyond farcical if that’s possible. Most of yesterday it seemed like Gillard’s hours as prime minister were numbered – one journalist said that only a miracle could save her. Why even Simon Crean, her most loyal supporter, deserted her. He did so publicly. Not for Simon the cloak of anonymity in which the Rudd backers have wrapped themselves.
This was very brave of him. The journalists swooned in unison. At last, a name we can use, you could imagine them crying out. They had a real story, unlike most of the stuff they had been reporting on the Labor leadership.
Crean wasn’t just another anonymous Labor backbencher telling anyone who would listen – off the record of course – that Gillard was a disaster. Crean mattered. Crean was a wise and experienced and loyal Labor man. If Crean was deserting Gillard, that mattered.
Trouble was that Crean’s announcement that he wanted Kevin Rudd as prime minister was so ham-fisted, so riddled with inconsistencies, so devoid of any sense really, that his bravery was overwhelmed by his foolishness.
And those dopey Rudd supporters, they started collecting a petition to force a vote on Gillard before they made sure that Kevin Rudd was up for it, that he would stand. For some reason, they figured Rudd surely couldn’t leave them in the lurch after all they had done for him.
Crean hadn’t talked to Rudd either. He just assumed that Rudd would do the right thing now that he, Simon, had deserted Gillard.
Crean was prepared to do this, he said, despite those truly awful things he said about Rudd a year ago. And despite his continuing doubts about Rudd, he was ready to serve as Rudd’s deputy prime minister. For the good of the party of course.
Beyond farcical is right.
But on another level, this day probably marked the end of the line for a truly remarkable politician. It is now surely the end of Kevin Rudd’s prime ministerial dreams.
The Gillard government is almost certainly doomed. Gillard might be a fighter. She is certainly tough. But she is politically inept and lacks the bravery that goes with a politician of strong convictions. Gillard is tough but timid.
But for Kevin Rudd, the most he can hope for now is that he will be seen in history as a prime minister unjustly removed from office for a leader who didn’t deliver, a leader who ended up leading Labor to a massive defeat.
For all Rudd’s narcissism and apparent self-belief, Rudd is not a brave politician. Indeed, he’s that awful combination, politically speaking of course, of narcissism and chronic self-doubt. When it came to it yesterday, he lacked the courage to stand up and be counted. Instead, he left his supporters hanging, twisting in the wind, some of them, their careers ruined, surely wondering how it was that they thought Rudd would feel obligated to them, and would appreciate what they had done for him.
It seems that when his supporters couldn’t absolutely guarantee that he had the numbers, Rudd simply abandoned them there with their petitions, a bunch of political operators who have twice shown themselves to be unable to count.
Given all this, surely not even Rudd can believe he has even the remotest chance now of ever being prime minister again.
As for the journalists yesterday, they were mostly in shock. Virtually none of them predicted the outcome. Many got it wrong. Some had run the leadership story with a sort of dogged relentlessness for weeks if not months and most of them, in the end, got it wrong.
Here’s a quote from a senior journalist:
“All the carefully planted stories to destabilise Julia Gillard and her followers, all the preening, all the smirking at the knowledge that the polls showed him (Rudd) as the people's champion . . . all of it came to nothing.’’
This is another way of saying that Rudd and his supporters used journalists and that journalists allowed themselves to be used. You have to wonder what some journalists will do now that Kevin Rudd’s ability to make life hell for Julia Gillard is severely diminished.