Will Rudd sacrifice Labor?

There's slim chance of a successful leadership challenge by Kevin Rudd, and a failed tilt could ruin the party's future as one of the two majors.

Is there a greater hypocrite in Australia than Kevin Rudd? His performance over the weekend following the leaking of a video revealing his infamous propensity for swearing showed a staggering amount of only one thing – gall.

Rudd's failure to speak directly on whether or not he will challenge Julia Gillard before the next poll is in most respects pretty conventional stuff. Would-be leaders on both sides of the House duck that question for months before finally making their run and telling cameras shortly afterwards "I never absolutely said I wouldn't run". Bill Shorten probably mutters that in his sleep.

But that's where the conventional pattern ends. Unlike other leadership skirmishes, Rudd risks a lot more than a shattered ego. Indeed, it is hard to see how his actions in recent months can do anything but destroy the party he led to election victory in 2007.

Discounting a desperate bid to parachute Stephen Smith, Greg Combet, Bill Shorten or Simon Crean into the top job, here are the possible scenarios:

1) If, by a miracle, Rudd is brought back to lead the party to the next election, victory is far from assured. If Labor lost under Rudd, the turncoats who backed him at the spill would fight tooth and nail with Gillard loyalists for what's left of a diminished party – the best seats, the best staff, the best factional connections and the best chance of being part of a Labor Party edging daily closer to being the Greens' equal at the ballot box rather than maintaining its status as one of two majors. Party over.

2) If Rudd challenges Gillard and comprehensively loses the vote, he will remain in parliament and, having lost his ability to destabilise Gillard directly, would be tempted to tell the world every damaging morsel of information he has about her. That is precisely what the anti-Rudd camp believes he did during the 2010 poll – they blame him for the leaks that dragged Labor's vote down to result in a hung parliament.

3) If Rudd does not run, but never actually gets around to saying he fully supports Gillard, then he will do more than anyone else could (including Tony Abbott) to ensure Gillard is trashed at the general election. Unless something changes, that is the course Labor is currently on, and it would be a rout of such magnitude that the party would be unlikely to recover. Again, party over.

4) Rudd wins a spill and wins the subsquent Reps-only election (or, with the support of crossbenches manages to cling to power until a general election in 2013). In this scenario, Rudd appears to have saved Labor from oblivion.

5) Finally, if Rudd does not challenge for the prime minister's job, and comes out hand on heart to tell Australia that Gillard is the better PM, his support could help the party to win the next election without him in the top job.

Of those possibilities, the first three are the most likely. The fourth scenario is not beyond the realms of possibility but is far from likely. And the fifth scenario would involve a press conference featuring a fly-over by a squadron of aerobatic pigs.

All of which brings us back to Rudd's hypocrisy this weekend. He told Sky News' David Speers:

"... [there is one thing that] Australians want more than ever and that is for government and Opposition, Mr Abbott as well, to focus on the absolute detail of how we sustain the strength of this economy into the future. That's what motivates me. That's what motivated me during the global financial crisis: trying to keep the economy out of recession which we did; trying to prevent mass unemployment which we did; trying to ensure that we continue to keep this country strong despite the financial crisis in Europe. That's what motivates me and the government. I think we're doing okay on that score and I think it's important that we look on that main game, rather than be distracted by all the bits and pieces of day to day popular politics."

Breathtaking – and a statement that ensures Rudd's place in history as the arch-villain of Labor, the man who for reasons of pure power lust brought his own party to its knees.

Rudd truly believes, along with all his ALP colleagues, that his and Wayne Swan's stewardship of the Australian economy is what has delivered Australians a miracle economy at a time when our major trading partners are sliding toward the abyss.

He believes that, but he also knows that there are only two scenarios that will avoid handing government on a platter to the Abbott Coalition, thereby undoing what Rudd considers to be Labor's best work.

The choices are: Rudd backs Gillard to the hilt, or Rudd wins the spill and the subsequent election.

He knows he won't do the first. And on the second slim possibility he is willing to gamble the entire future of the ALP and, if you subscribe to his view of Labor's roles in navigating the GFC, the economic future of every Australian.

If this were a game, it would be thrilling. As things stand, it's terrifying. Australia has low unemployment, job creation is outpacing job losses, we have relatively low net public debt and a sensible fiscal consolidation program that will gradually deflate both our national debt and trim fat from the public service over years ahead.

Most serious commentators acknowledge the ongoing strength of the economy, and none has been brave enough to suggest that the Abbott/Hockey alternative can work – massive spending cuts to fund the repeal of the MRRT and carbon tax but also to maintain Labor's personal tax cuts and pension increases and, most recently, the promise to reinstate the private health rebate for higher income Australians. At this stage, it just doesn't add up.

Some readers will disagree with that analysis, but it is certain Rudd agrees that Labor has got its economic settings right. And he's shown he's willing to risk blowing that up simply because he feels cheated by his own party.

Unless Rudd can conquer his pride and publicly back Gillard in a convincing way, he is, by his own reasoning, putting himself ahead of every other Australian.

Follow @_Rob_Burgess on Twitter

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