Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd appear locked in a deathly embrace. Neither will relax their grip until the other first abandons their desire to become PM.

Surely the only way to stop the ongoing disaster that is Federal Labor is to conscript a third person to lead the party.

These are some thoughts on the leadership battle . . .


If Kevin Rudd really loved the Labor party or, possibly, even the country, there’s really only one thing to do. Challenge Julia Gillard at this morning’s Caucus meeting for the Prime Ministership. But he won’t. That’s because he can count. And he knows he doesn’t have the numbers.

What he won’t accept, however, is that he’ll never get them. So the instability will continue. It will eat away at Gillard’s tenuous hold over Labor and shatter what little ability she has to cement her fragile hold on government. There is no answer there. So let’s examine this logically, attempting to work out what would be the best possible outcome in this best of all possible worlds.

Unfortunately people, even politicians, aren’t always rational and that’s why we need to begin with ofermod. This is an old English concept that is surprisingly applicable in so many different contexts today. It describes someone of great ability (in the olden days this meant they were hugely brave and clever) who then becomes consumed by self-admiration. Utterly overmastered by pride, they possess such overweening confidence in their own abilities that they believe they can do anything. And this is, of course, the prelude to the inevitable downfall.

Ofermod was used in the sagas as a way of explaining humanity – the way people sometimes act against their own interests because they are so utterly caught up in their conception of themselves and their place in history. This has nothing to do with the idea of everyone pulling together to achieve a group objective – it’s about the individual. And that’s the way the Anglo-Saxons understood this passion. It is a force that consumes: it returns nothing to the group.

And this is the force that is driving Rudd. He remains, understandably, eaten by anger at being overthrown by his own party at the very moment of glory. His resentment is white-hot. In this mood it’s easy to comprehend why he remains so desperate to return to the Lodge. It would represent triumph. It is personal vindication and individual redemption. It would blow away the past like a puff of smoke. For him it would be like waking from a bad dream, returning to his cherished place as the Dear Leader of the country.

Everything that has happened since that day he was torn down has simply served to further inflame his desire to regain the leadership. At first, during the election campaign (that Gillard called far too early, well before she had created any policy legitimacy for her coup) his destabilisation was subtle. What helped it explode, like a bush-fire rushing through the dry gums in summer, was her failure to inspire the country. Today he no longer needs to fan the flames – they are erupting spontaneously by themselves. The sparks are already amongst the leaves, just waiting for the right moment before combusting and sending more flames to lick at the gates of her office.

This allows Rudd to think the Prime Ministership remains within his reach. He wants it badly, so badly. It is his precious; he cannot focus on anything else. And, although the ring may remain just out of reach for a little while longer, Rudd has no doubt the leadership will quickly fall back within his grasp.

That’s because Gillard continues living from week to week; poll to poll; disaster to self-inflicted disaster. Waking-up each morning must be agony, opening the paper to see what new headlines are inflaming columnists to, this time, write her off yet again. Tragedy begins with a fatal flaw that’s unrecognised by the central character. If Gillard cannot now accept that there is something integral to her personality and the way she interacts with others that critically wounds her ability to be PM, then she is devoid of insight.

She is not. Unfortunately, however, the pattern has now become so established that she cannot change it. Nothing ever will. Her choice is now to determine just how long she will limp on. Is she, also, so obsessed by ofermod that she cannot recognise reality until it wrestles her from the throne? Rudd’s speedy corrosion of her leadership means she won’t have long to choose just how she’ll be remembered by history.

You’ll have noticed that the one element missing from this story so far is policy. Perhaps you expect, at about this point in the column, revelations about what ideas and concrete plans might distinguish one candidate from another. How this or that leader’s strategies might infuse the country with imagination and hope.

Forget that. This clash is nothing more than the blunt smash of egos, one smashing against the other. That’s why the public are despairing. It’s as if, having given the Reserve Bank absolute power to set interest rates with the bizarre, single aim of keeping inflation low (completely ignoring the way this props up the Aussie dollar and destroys our industrial base) our politicians now think there’s nothing left to do other than fight over the dwindling spoils of office.

The electoral analyst Pollytics recently preformed an exhaustive simulation of election results from recent polls. Noting the “two party preferred trend line has been unmoved for around 90 days” he insisted there hasn’t been another example of anything like this happening going back to the early days of polling. Labor faces utter electoral disaster.

Rudd proclaims installing him as leader is the answer. Accepting this requires demands much more than the idea Labor made a mistake in dispatching him. It presupposes that a person can possess the ability to change core elements of their personality.

If you think that this can happen, then pay attention this morning. Rudd won’t challenge: Gillard won’t resign. Ofermod will leave both of our protagonists locked in a deathly embrace of utter hatred and loathing. This will not change.

And a third candidate? If Young Billy Shorten wants the job I hope he’s got his mother-in-laws resignation in his pocket. When neither side has a majority in parliament, the role of the Governor General is more than usually critical. Perhaps that was why Rudd appointed her to the job. He knew it would force Shorten to wait.

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