Rudd's violent cling to vindication

Having told the world Labor couldn't do without them at the helm, the best way for Kevin Rudd and his supporters to ensure history treats them kindly would be the party's electoral annihilation.

Less than two weeks after the Rudd challenge that did not eventuate − basically because the Rudd plotters are innumerate and Rudd himself lacked the courage to test his support in caucus − it is clear that the plotters are not willing to accept their humiliating defeat in silence.

Kevin Rudd won’t make any sort of comeback this side of the September 14 election, nor is it likely that Rudd has any sort of future leadership prospects, but for both Rudd and his supporters in caucus, it’s now all about post-September 14.

Rudd’s concern now is his place in history. Rudd is absolutely convinced that he was removed from the prime ministership by factional bosses inside and outside of caucus who acted for the most scurrilous of reasons; they feared that Rudd wanted to strip them of their power and influence. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was impossible to deal with and had virtually no support in caucus by the time he was deposed.

The surest way for Rudd’s take on his political demise to become the conventional wisdom is for the Gillard government to be smashed, indeed annihilated, at the polls. Given the government’s standing in the polls, Rudd won’t have to do too much to ensure that the result fits neatly into his narrative. Vindication looms!

There remains the question of whether future historians ignore the role Kevin Rudd played, ever since he was deposed, in the destruction of the Gillard Government. That role was significant, even if it is true that Gillard and her team were pretty damn good at self-destruction.

For those so-called elder statesman of the Labor Party who were either sacked from Cabinet or ‘retired’ to the backbench after the most recent botched leadership challenge, what could be their motivation for the way they have behaved in recent days?

And why have old Labor luminaries like Bill Kelty decided now is a good time to give the Gillard team a good public kicking? Should we expect similar Gillard kickings in the lead-up to the polls from Bob Hawke and Paul Keating?

For the now humble backbenchers, surely it cannot be that they want to see their support for Rudd vindicated by a more than solid defeat of the government at the polls? These men, after all, have given their adult working lives to Labor. Some of them, including Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson, come from dynastic Labor families.

No-one should doubt their loyalty and commitment to the Labor Party. At least that’s the considered view of most political commentators, especially those who are ferocious critics of Julia Gillard. So if we assume that vindication has nothing to do with the way they went to the backbench – criticising Gillard, inferring that the government was doomed, bitter about their failure to get Rudd to even stand for the leadership – what was it about?  

It is more than passing strange that Simon Crean and Joel Fitzgibbon, for instance, are leading the campaign against changes to superannuation which may or may not be in Wayne Swan’s May budget – possible changes which, at the very least, need to be debated, given the fact that super tax concessions heavily favor the wealthy.

(At this point, I should declare that it is probably in my personal financial interest that there be no increase in tax  super earnings and I will undoubtedly be cross if  there are tax increases on earnings, but this is self-interest talking, not the national interest.)

Is it really a sign of class warfare that the government is looking at ways to limit the superannuation tax concessions for people, for instance, earning more than $300,000? Does Crean or Fitzgibbon have any alternative suggestions about how to limit super tax concessions to the wealthy so that the Gonski education reforms and the NDIS can be funded?

If they do, it surely would have been in the best interests of the Labor Party they profess to love so much and to which they have devoted so much of their lives, had they offered their suggestions for reform within the counsels of the party rather than on Sky News or on breakfast television.

As for old Labor luminaries like Bill Kelty, it’s understandable up to a point that they are frustrated by the political and, to a certain extent, the policy ineptitude of the Gillard government. Nor is it unreasonable for Kelty to feel disappointed that some of his old political colleagues and friends like Simon Crean have been reduced to backbenchers crying out in the political wilderness for a return to the values and political smarts of the Hawke-Keating years.  Those years when unions still mattered and Bill Kelty, as secretary of the ACTU, was a national political figure of great influence and significance.

All this is understandable coming from Kelty but the fact is that Simon Crean was a senior figure in the Kim Beazley led opposition after John Howard’s election triumph in 1996, when the decision was taken to more or less forget about the Hawke-Keating reform legacy.

Indeed, Labor’s greatest failing, its biggest mistake, post the defeat of the Keating government, was to assume Keating’s landslide defeat meant the party had to repudiate the Keating reform agenda.

Still, understanding where Kelty might be coming from does not explain why he felt the need to so publicly put the boots into Gillard and her government. In terms of the good it might do for the party he supports, less than six months out from election, it could not be justified.

Besieged by opinion polls, with the political media convinced that she and her government are doomed, with half her backbench continuing to wish her gone, even though going is no longer an option, and with those backbench luminaries continuing to speak out against her – for the good of the party of course – the next six months are likely to be agony for Gillard and her beleaguered government.

Given the fact that whatever policy wins she has between now and September are likely to mean not much at all after the poll, the next six months could be a waste of time not just for Gillard but for the country.

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