Julia Gillard continues as prime minister of Australia because every challenger carried too much baggage to be elected or, alternatively, did not want to take the leadership at this time.
When Simon Crean called for a spill, I wrote: “When the Labor Party votes on the leadership spill it will face Hobson’s choice.”
Now the result is known I will rewrite that comment but will not change it a lot because whatever the government did it faced a potential disaster – a classic Hobson’s choice. It was hopelessly divided so Rudd, without a certainty of the the numbers, refused to put his name forward.
The ALP has now saddled itself with a deeply wounded prime minister who looks certain to be decimated at the polls.
He might not have intended to do it, but Communications Minister Stephen Conroy caused Crean to act when he proposed his media laws and their associated attack on press freedom. Gillard was teetering under the weight of bad opinion polls and suddenly the party divisions came to the surface.
Why was there was no rush of support for Kevin Rudd? Kevin Rudd might be popular among the electorate but he was a hopeless prime minister because he could not run a cabinet. Every member of the Rudd cabinet knows that Rudd is too disorganised to be an effective prime minister for any length of time.
When he challenged Gillard last time a number of ministers led by Treasurer Wayne Swan told the truth about Rudd’s weaknesses. Those videos and published statements would have been the basis of a personal attack on Rudd by Tony Abbott unparalleled in Australian election history. He was therefore a very dangerous choice so he did not get the numbers
The best choice for the government was Bill Shorten, who has the ability to run a cabinet. But Shorten does not have the popular appeal of Rudd and feared mutilation at the polls. Had Rudd been a candidate and if Rudd looked like winning Shorten might have come forward.
That now looks much less likely.
And for Simon Crean there is a lesson – don’t call a spill unless you have the numbers and a firm candidate.