Teflon Kev may end up covered in mud

Kevin Rudd is hell-bent on becoming Australia's best ever social media campaigner this election period. But we can expect a few public jabs at the PM from all angles, including his own party.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision to go to the polls on September 7, a week earlier than Julia Gillard had planned, is an admission that his series of quick fixes in a range of policy areas simply isn’t working.

He has been slammed for causing policy uncertainty on carbon pricing, with the arbitrary move to bring forward the emissions trading scheme by a year.

His ‘PNG solution’ is being revealed day-by-day to be an elaborate illusion, co-opting with what two senior public servants described to me last week as a "failed state" to deal with the unsightly business of persecuting the already-persecuted.

Revised Treasury forecasts for tax revenue write-downs and slower than expected economic growth leave Rudd’s arguments on ‘debt and deficit’ and ‘managing the economy’ looking thin and anaemic at best.

And Rudd has angered even some rusted-on Labor voters by hiking the tax on cigarettes and cancelling the much loved tax-dodge of ‘salary packaging’ to buy new cars.

In these conditions, the election couldn’t wait another minute.

So what we have now, at last, is a chance to lay the various parties’ policies alongside each other and make sound choices that will deliver a prosperous, just and democratic future for our children.

Ahahahaha. Just kidding. That’s how elections used to work. This election has some unusual features of its own due to the potent interaction of social media and that other hip and revolutionary phenomenon, Kevin Rudd.   

Where once there were three main players in the web of communication we call ‘politics’ – the Libs, Labor and journalists – now there are four. Social media, which is changing politics around the globe, is getting its first real workout in Australia.

I was first asked to write on ‘new media’ and politics at the 2004 election, but those were early days – there was then the naive belief that a good slogan such as “Not happy John!”, circulated online, was enough to boot a government out.

Well, that didn’t work.

But things have moved on. Facebook was created that same year, though most of us didn’t start receiving requests to be ‘friends’ with people who, in many cases, we thought were already our friends, until around 2006 or later.

And the equivalent of pure, distilled Facebook ‘status updates’ started flying in all directions when Twitter was created in 2009. (Read a handy little history of those launches, and dozens of others, here.)

Social media, in theory, is a great way for voters to communicate with each other and bypass the traditional gatekeepers of political truth: journalists.

And who can blame voters for wanting to do that? The 43rd parliament has seen some truly disgraceful behaviour from journalists – Labor’s key policies such as carbon pricing and then national broadband network, for instance, saw the negatives amplified out of all proportion and the positives for such forward-thinking policies barely mentioned (The worst government ever? Not yet, March 19).

Worse was the handful of senior journalists acting virtually as lobbyists for Kevin Rudd by doggedly talking up the ‘Rudd camp’ until they, themselves, pretty much built it in caucus from scratch.

But if journalists have transgressed during the 43rd parliament, that is not an argument to cut them out of the picture altogether.

Rudd, the man who rose to prominence through his hugely successful appearances on Channel Seven’s Sunrise program, is now hell-bent on becoming Australia’s best ever social media campaigner.

He has recruited three of the stars of US President Barack Obama’s successful online re-election drive, and will use them to bypass a sceptical media, and to a large extent his own party apparatus.

That means this election is a private affair – just between you and Kevin. It could get very, very personal.

The Coalition and Greens will try to match Rudd’s one-to-one populism, though most commentators agree that Rudd is, amongst other things, a once-in-a-lifetime political communicator. My money is on him winning the social media war, though not necessarily the election (some people still read newspapers, after all).

On the other hand, the man widely believed to have leaked damaging information to derail Julia Gillard’s pitch for election in 2010 could feel the double-edged sword of social media. He has many enemies within his own party, and it’s likely that embarrassing leaks will emerge and be circulated through social media channels.

Teflon Kev could end up splattered with more mud than anyone thought existed.