That’s the problem with leadership challenges: they’re not on until they’re on. The twice-spurned-but-hopes-to-be-vindicated-Prime Minister-in-waiting, Kevin Rudd, won’t declare his hand until he has the numbers.

And right now it appears that he does not have them.

That’s the reason for the flurries of speculation we’re seeing in the media. Rudd supporters are using every known technique to dragoon disillusioned and despairing Labor MPs into knifing another unpopular Prime Minister, in the interests of having at least a fighting chance at the upcoming federal election.

For weeks MPs have been hinting that the showdown would take place this fortnight, being as it is the last parliamentary session before the Federal Budget. Some even went as far as to name the date, although at least two different dates were nominated. This lead to the political equivalent of dry humping last week when the spill did not eventuate, a turn of events that was frustrating and unedifying for pretty much all involved.

But the main game was always due to take place this week. If it does. And then again, it might not.

All will depend on whether a sense of momentum can be created, setting off a wave of inevitability that would sweep the required number of caucus votes away from the listing ship Gillard to the dodgy lifeboat called Kevin.

A number of today’s events can be seen clearly as the Rudd camp working hard to create this momentum:

  • The day kicked off with an opinion piece by overt Rudd supporter and political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher, claiming “the Gillard Government is suffering a gathering crisis in its leader” and that two Cabinet Ministers had deserted Gillard.
  • Meanwhile, on ABC’s The Drum, Rudd’s unofficial campaign manager Bruce Hawker, criticised the “government’s” handling of the media reform issue.
  • Hawker’s theme was then taken up by Rudd numbers man, Joel Fitzgibbon, during Labor’s caucus meeting and duly leaked to the media afterwards.

Meanwhile, the political media is acting like a diabetic kid locked in a lolly shop: they know they shouldn’t, but……

They know they are being drafted as active participants in this saga, and rather than miss out on a story or – heaven forbid – a scoop, they comply with differing degrees of willingness. As we can see from Laurie Oakes’ non-breaking story this evening, not even mighty Walkley Award winners are immune to the lure of a potential leadership spill.

And so, the rest of this week will play out. There will be a challenge if Rudd can get the numbers. But there will not if  he cannot.

If the numbers fall Rudd’s way, it will be academic whether he challenges, is drafted or whether Gillard stands down. But then again, it may not…

Post script: The momentum builds.

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Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. there are corridor walkers this evening garnering numbers, I saw it tonight

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  2. Can someone please outline 1) the mechanism by which Rudd returns, and 2) how his return to power solves anything.

    I’m sure everyone still remembers that most of the senior ministers stated publicly and repeatedly that they would not serve under Rudd. I can assure you that the Coalition remember, and will be have advertising material ready to go. Swan’s open letter at the time of the challenge was brutal (perhaps stupidly so, but too late for that now). So question number 1 for fans of the Ruddstoration is relatively easy: Who will be in the Rudd Ministry?

    With most of the Government’s senior ministers now on the back bench, the next question is: Why will the media now stop talking about leadership? Surely there will be nothing else to talk about?

    Gillard will still be in parliament. Shorten will be there. Swan. Burke. Crean. Emerson. Smith. Combet. All contenders. And all on the back bench. It would surely be mandatory to create multiple stories every day saying that they were contenders, and that challenge was “close”. Why will this not happen? Please explain how and why the media will turn towards policy discussion with such easy pickings in front of them?

    Anyway – let’s say that Rudd becomes PM despite these issues. Mission accomplished! First question: “Mr Rudd… has Julia Gillard been a good PM or a bad PM?” “What do you think of the treasurer’s performance?” Perhaps he could try – “it was a good government that lost its way”. The public will happily swallow that twice. What will Rudd’s public position be on the performance and record of the Gillard Government?

    I can’t see how Rudd will be anything other than a 2nd opposition leader. Abbott will be against the record of the Gillard government. And now so will Rudd – but only kinda.

    What will the remaining 6 months of media coverage look like? Here’s my take… Rudd mainly gets questions relating to the leadership change, or the possibility of new challenges – that makes up around 99% of his public air time. Occasionally some more serious journalists ask a question about policy – but in reality 99% of media time is analysing the soap opera.

    With no oxygen left to discuss policy, and Rudd unable (and perhaps unwilling) to claim any serious role in the government’s record, the political coverage becomes even more shallow (yes it is possible) personality driven debacle. Voters decide to punish (what’s left) of the government and Abbott romps in without ever having to be forced into the areas he is clearly most uncomfortable with: policy, and economic management in particular.

    If people see Rudd delivering something else, please enlighten me.

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  3. Thank you for the post. I love the analogy “political media is acting like a diabetic kid locked in a lolly shop”. Reaching for the insulin I wonder how things would be if there was meaningful policy debate rather than the leadership speculation circus.

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  4. You forgot to mention that Hartcher’s story that Butler and Carr were deserting Gillard was repudiated by both Butler and Carr. Hartcher has no credibilty.

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  5. I predict Rudd will be overwhelmingly elected Opposition Leader at 8am, Sunday September 25

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  6. Everyone should just take a cold shower. It is as obvious as the nose on ones face who Rudds biggest supporters are, namely the LNP and Murdoch, then of course all of those that lean to the right.
    The PM has the numbers, will keep the numbers and is the best leader for this country. She has vision, she does not always get things right, but has the ability to negotiate to get a reasonably satisfactory outcome.
    Rudd has shown that he can’t do negotiation and probably is just loving winding everyone in the Media up,

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  7. “That’s the problem with leadership challenges: they’re not on until they’re on. The twice-spurned-but-hopes-to-be-vindicated-Prime Minister-in-waiting, Kevin Rudd, won’t declare his hand until he has the numbers.” Yep and no-one knows the numbers…

    I seriously think he would be silly to put his hand up for an election that is already lost. I mean, he already had the boot, then to have a lost election sort of makes him a two time loser and he doesn’t strike me as the sort who likes that rep? Would it not be smarter for Rudd to wait until they are all begging him, closer to the election when it is obvious that all is lost, that way he has all the support he wants from the party, yet as it happened so close to the election he can’t be blamed for the loss?

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  8. He’ll challenge if he can get the numbers, and he won’t if he can’t? Umm, Yeh! Still think that this is a media beat-up, and now that they’ve stuck their necks out they know they’ll look like fools if it doesn’t happen. I suspect it wont’! And Crean as an alternative — crikey, now that’s really regurgitating the old and the failed!

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  9. Can we please have a follow up in light of the last 24 hours?

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About Drag0nista

Political blogger and columnist on the interwebs. Former Liberal staffer and industry lobbyist. Studying the entrails of federal politics since 1989. Otherwise known as Paula Matthewson.

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