Thursday, June 24, 2010

Decline and Fall: Vale Kevin Rudd

When we left for five weeks in South America in mid-April, Kevin Rudd seemed to be cruising. The economy was performing spectacularly. Even the battered Climate Change strategy was still on the horizon – we’d get some sort of deal with the Greens after the election. Despite Tony ‘the jock’ Abbott’s energy, the opposition were still looking like losers. The loudest critic was the Victorian Labor Premier John Brumby over the proposed health reforms.

While we were away the Prime Minister apparently went into self-destruct mode. The Emissions Trading Scheme was scuttled. The budget was judged as lack-lustre but politically safe. Then we heard the first mention of the Resource Super Profits Tax on BBC World News. The word courageous seemed too weak. Despite the tax’s obvious merits, a Whitlamesque fight to the end with the multinational miners was the last thing we needed.

Not long after touching down in Melbourne, I attended my local ALP branch. In an election year, there were only two others in attendance: one a student in his 20s; the other pushing forty years party membership like myself. The gloom matched the fast approaching winter. Thinking that the health reform was still unresolved, I was surprised to hear that agreement had been reached with the Labor States and only Western Australia were holding out. A big win for Rudd, I incorrectly assumed.

This sense of the government moving on to the next issue with business either unresolved or unheralded became a regular theme.

In the month since then, Kevin Rudd imploded. He became post caricature or satire. The more he said, the more voters stopped listening. Even in my extended Labor family, it was hard to find anyone who was not depressed by his seeming paralysis. Or his inability to articulate a way forward.

The government had lost the environment vote and not all of it was coming back in preferences. It seemed impossible to sell the company tax cut and improved superannuation that are the flipside of the mining tax. The hypocrisy of the taxpayer funded advertising submerged the debate about the merits of the proposal.

A relentless media campaign against Rudd and general fixation on opinion polls was extremely enervating. There was little solace that most polls still had Labor in front. We were presented with the bogey of winning the two-party-preferred vote but losing the marginals. 1998 revisited. Hints that party polling confirmed this, added to the gloom.

The PM had lost not just the mainstream media, the natural allies of the mega miners and conservatives, but also faced a very disillusioned blogosphere. The infamous internet filter wasn’t helping either. Ironically Minister Conroy’s peace deal with Telstra felt like the beginning of resurgence. A government that was being portrayed as doing nothing but spend money had also squeezed Paid Parental Leave through the Senate. Tony Abbott’s expensive alternative had split the Liberals and Nationals but no one seemed to care.

I couldn’t watch the ABC’s Australian Story on Monday night promoting Julia despite my admiration for her. The trap was set. Still a challenge seemed unthinkable.

Today was a very sad day. Kevin is a compassionate person with a strong social conscience. He had exhausted himself at Copenhagen trying to get a better result on combating global warming.

The political cynic in me feels that the billionaires and right wing factionistas are running the country. Little consolation that they have produced a feamle PM from the left – something the rest of us would have found extremely difficult to achieve.

The political realist feels that today’s events were unavoidable. That the nerd experiment in leadership had failed. Like Gough, Kevin was just too far removed from the rest of us, at both an intellectual and an interpersonal level.

The political idealist hopes that Julia Gillard will make one of our best Prime Ministers. Despite a heavy heart, like many of my relatives I do feel re-invigorated tonight. We’re ready to defend our piece of Labor history. The vandals are at the gate.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin - I'm not a great IT practitioner and fairly new to blogging, so leads are still a bit beyond me. I replied to your excellent post at Cafe Whispers. I also mentioned you at the Larvatus Prodeo thread where some surpringly anti-ALP feeling is being expressed.

Cheers, Patricia

Kevin Rennie said...

Hi Patricia

Thanks! These extraordinary events deserve a polypome or two.

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