There would have been a number of anguished Labor MPs listening to Tony Windsor give a media conference this morning announcing that he will not contest the seat of New England at this year’s election – and a number of chuffed Labor MPs, too.
In a long-winded and emotional statement – and shame on anyone who thinks this man did not have a right to have his full say about this turbulent parliament – Windsor highlighted the best parts of the democratic process, and then went on to explain how his last few weeks within that process would play out.
In short, he put a large roadblock in front of the Labor MPs who want Kevin Rudd to lead them to the next election.
Asked a number of hypothetical questions by journalists, Windsor went some way down various imagined paths with them, but cut a few questioners off – he just couldn’t think through all the permutations on the spot.
The main issue he’d had to think through, he said, was one in which Kevin Rudd challenged for the leadership of the party.
In that case, he said, he “leaned towards” transferring his support not from Prime Minister Gillard to Rudd, but to the man who took “second place” at the 2010 election – Tony Abbott.
Overall, Windsor was not complementary about Abbott – he repeated a number of times that Gillard was “by far the best candidate” during the negotiation process after the hung-parliament election result in August and September 2010.
Without attacking Abbott directly, he said that turning the issue of climate change action into a political battleground was “a tragedy” and stressed the need, particularly in light of new moves by the Obama administration in the US to shift the issue much higher up the agenda, to take action in this policy area.
He also singled out the failure of the parliament, in 2012, to reach a consensus to enact some kind of measures to stop refugee drownings at sea – something of which he said all politicians should be “ashamed".
Windsor has found many enemies, particularly in the National Party, since siding with Labor and the Greens and elevating climate change and the NBN as core reasons for backing non-conservative parties of the parliament.
However, during the media conference, even sometimes-antagonist Barnaby Joyce sent a message to thank Windsor for his service. Joyce said in a statement: "When you are on the football paddock you always have immense respect for the toughest of players that you come across in politics. They do not come any tougher than the member for New England. I have never doubted his focus on the people of New England. At times obviously I questioned his mechanism, but today is his."
In the three years of this parliament, the only criticism I’ve heard of Tony Windsor within Parliament House was that he’s a terrible bluffer – threatening to bring down the government, or threatening to block a Rudd challenge just never rang true before.
Today, that changed.
Windsor has said, in the strongest terms he thinks appropriate, that in the flawed and imperfect system of democracy – a system that is still the ‘least bad’ available – that he’d rather hand power to Tony Abbott than to Kevin Rudd.
For the ‘Rudd camp’ to challenge now would be almost unthinkable.