In his published diaries, former Opposition leader Mark Latham tells this hilarious story about Kevin Rudd. He, Latham, had just been elevated to the ALP leadership in late 2003 and was settling his shadow ministry. Rudd was going to get foreign affairs:
Kevvie wanted his title expanded to the more grandiose Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security. No worries, but then he rang me last Sunday to say he objected to McLelland (Shadow Minister for Homeland Security) also having the word 'Security' in his title. At first I thought it was some kind of joke, but the crazy bastard was serious: he had a long and absurd argument ready about the overlap of the two jobs. By the end of the day, Rudd was threatening to go to the backbench, over a question of semantics. I told him I was willing to accept his resignation and he went away to think about it.
It goes without saying that Rudd didn't resign and somehow managed to get on with his job in the shadow ministry, despite this 'security' problem. Nevertheless, there was something about the chaos that overwhelmed the ALP in the last couple of days that brought this story to mind.
A brief recap then, of events as they transpired. On Tuesday, both Channel 9 and The Sydney Morning Herald came out with stories detailing comments that our freshly minted PM had supposedly made during internal deliberations over big ticket policies of the, now dispatched, Rudd Government. Among the colourful allegations:
- That Gillard had been opposed to both the paid parental leave and age pension increase schemes the Rudd Government had implemented.
- That she had argued against the paid parental leave scheme as it did nothing to help stay home mothers and
- That she had argued that it was pointless doing anything to help retirees as they never voted Labor anyway.
And this after she had gone on the debate on Sunday of the previous weekend and highlighted both of these policies as something that she had been intimately involved with formulating and proud of.
These leaked allegations have proved enormously damaging for Gillard for a variety of reasons. Firstly, they make her look disingenuous and amplify the growing perception that she doesn't really stand for anything; that she'll say and do anything to get elected, even praising popular policies she privately doesn't support. Secondly her blithe dismissal of parents and age pensioners as important groups worthy of government attention accentuate Labors problems with these demographic groups; parents are attracted to Tony Abbott's more generous paid parental leave scheme and old people really don't vote for Labor and really won't now. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Gillard had to spend a valuable day of campaigning time defending herself rather than rushing around the country to 14 different marginal seats to promise people living there that she'd build them a new railway line (and anything else they fancied).
But at least she defended herself rather well. An early morning press conference in Adelaide was the forum for the PM to shake off some of the dull, weirdly Rudd-like, non persona of the first week and a half of campaigning and show a bit of spunk. She bristled, she counter attacked, she started one answer, 'Oh come off it.' She said in plain language that she was skeptical of any policy that crossed her path and this was a sensible way to be and that anyone who wasn't like that was a dill. It was more like the Julia Gillard we'd seen prior to her sudden elevation to leadership, which could only be a good thing for her. But it was still defense and the leaks still hurt.
Which brings us back to the leaks themselves.
Which brings itself back to why anyone from the Labor side of politics would want to do such a thing.
Which brings us back to Rudd.
Popular opinion among the nation's press seems to rule him out as the direct leaker, but I'm not so sure about that. The other possiblility appears to be an un-named person or persons within Labor, deeply offended by Rudd's treatment, trying to get back at Julia for her treachery. But it's hard to imagine anyone doing this for someone like Rudd, who had so little support in caucus he couldn't even muster enough votes to have a credible (i.e. non humiliating) vote on his leadership.
It seems far more likely to me that Rudd would have done this himself. He has a reputation for leaking and a nasty streak so prominent that journalist David Marr wrote a recent profile of him that made him sound like Francis Begbie when he was losing at pool. And Marr was meant to be one of Rudd's 'mates' for fucks sake!
No, Rudd destabilising his own side makes perfect sense if you consider these things, the fact that he's a terrible sook and also:
Kevvie's Plan to Being a Very Popular PM (Mark 2)
Step 1: Leak all sorts of nasty shit about your replacement and ruin her election chances.
Step 2: Watch the Labor Party tear itself to pieces as they become the first one term Government in Australia since the Great Depression.
Step 3: Try not to laugh hysterically as Tony Abbott outlaws abortion and restores the White Australia policy and orders every kid under 16 into fat camp and all the other crazy shit that he'd really like to do once he doesn't have to suck up to us anymore.
Step 4: Quietly assume the ALP leadership again after Swan, Smith, Macklin, Roxon, Combet and Shorton have had a go.
Step 5: Win the following election, or even the one after that, and quietly put Australia back to sleep after years of chaos with a blizzard of the dull, technocratic gibberish that you specialise in.
Somewhere in the back of Kevvie's fevered mind, I've no doubt that this plan is formulating.