It is astounding that something like 30 per cent of voters according to the latest opinion polls are still prepared to vote Labor. That’s millions of people. Add the million or so people who will vote Green and who give their second preferences to Labor, and that adds up to more than 40 per cent of the electorate.
This is despite the fact that almost every minute of every day, most political journalists and commentators behave as if they are enthusiastic spectators at a blood sport, giving the thumbs up or thumbs down to the bloodied and desperate and clueless combatants in the war between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd in the Labor caucus.
These millions of people will vote Labor despite the fact that, by any human measure, Rudd should by now be politically dead and buried having been executed and humiliated not once but three times by his colleagues. Yet he is again an increasingly likely replacement for Julia Gillard – Rudd, risen from the dead, the spoiler and seeker for revenge, unwavering in his determination to bring Gillard down.
They will vote Labor despite the fact that Gillard has proven to be a disappointment, a prime minister who is politically inept and politically timid yet, at the same time, possessed of great determination, resilience and political ruthlessness. She is, like most people, a bundle of contradictions.
But prime ministers have to somehow resolve those contradictions and articulate a story about themselves and the government they lead which inevitably is manufactured to a certain extent but nevertheless is 'real’. Gillard has been unable to do that. The 'real Julia Gillard', the one she promised to be during the 2010 campaign, has never materialised.
Surely no one now doubts that Gillard has endured attacks on her that in their ferocity and language have been far beyond anything endured by other prime ministers and that she has been the subject of these attacks basically because she is a woman.
It is simply not a fair equivalence to say that John Howard, for instance, had some pretty awful things said about him. None had to do with his gender and the point about sexism and misogyny is that, in a sense, it’s like racism – it renders its victims powerless.
They are subjected to attacks – which are really expressions of prejudice – not because of what they do or believe, but because they are women or black, something they can’t change even if they wanted to.
For Joe Hockey to say that the fact that Gillard once called him a fat man was somehow the same as the sexism to which Gillard has been subjected is more than silly. It shows that Hockey doesn’t really understand the nature of sexism and misogyny.
Gillard has been subjected to sexism and misogyny by public figures but has allowed the haters to use her political failings as a cover for their prejudice. Can there really be any doubt, for instance, that when Alan Jones last week suggested that Gillard is a man-hater in need of psychological help, he was not motivated by Gillard’s performance as prime minister? Can there really be any doubt, given the gender based attacks on Gillard, that sexism and misogyny is not confined to a small and increasingly insignificant bunch of ageing men?
This is not to say that most of the people who, it seems, have stopped listening to Gillard, who think she has been a bad prime minister, even those who dislike her, are motivated by sexism or misogyny. The mess that the Labor government is in is mostly of its own making.
The looming landslide defeat the government faces is, in the main, the responsibility of Gillard and her cabinet. It is also down to Kevin Rudd and his absolute desire for revenge for his political execution. It is also the responsibility of those caucus members who seem incapable of rising above their fear of losing their jobs and who spend an inordinate amount of time seeking to unburden themselves to journalists.
Millions of people will vote Labor despite the fact that many of the Labor caucus members they voted for – and will still vote for – have revealed themselves to be political pygmies, small in their concerns, bitter and destructive in their public anger and frustration at the prospect of being turfed out of office and desperately yearning for a (false) messiah to deliver them a salvation they have not earned.
It is easier to understand the people who have deserted the Gillard government − many of the Labor battlers in western Sydney and in outer suburban Brisbane, people who Rudd won back from Howard in 2007 – than those people who have stuck by Labor given the state of the government and the goings-on in caucus.
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Australians remain rusted on supporters of the Labor Party or the Liberal Party – and, to a lesser extent, the National Party – and that this period of minority government is an aberration that won’t be repeated anytime in the foreseeable future.
The point is that it’s nonsense to talk about the possible demise of the Labor Party, that somehow it is past the point of being able to rebuild, that it is a shell of a party representing only the inner city elites – who are increasingly supporting the Greens anyway – and now that the union movement seems to be in terminal decline, has no real constituency.
Of the millions of people who remain Labor Party voters, only a small fraction are inner city progressives. These people are the base of support on which Labor will almost certainly have to rebuild itself after September 14. Of course that rebuilding will be painful and might take a while.
Carrying on as if the end of the world is approaching, the way so many of the members of caucus are carrying on, unable to get past their personal fate, prepared to do anything including bringing back a man they deeply dislike and distrust, is disgraceful and dishonest behaviour. It must be said that these people are aided and abetted by journalists who, it seems, love nothing more than the prospect of political blood shedding.
The Gillard government will lose the next election which means some Labor MPs will lose their seats. They deserve to do so. That’s democracy. They should be doing everything they can to govern well in the next few months and to smooth the way for a new leadership and frank examination of the party’s structures and policies, its core narrative.
Labor doesn’t need saving by Kevin Rudd. It needs to be rebuilt – and, if history is any guide, it will be rebuilt. Rebuilt without him.