Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Phillip Adams - PM bent on leading ALP over the abyss

PM bent on leading ALP over the abyss

WHILE the Abbotts are measuring the curtains for the Lodge, the ALP is sewing shrouds. Latest estimates? An opposition numbered in the low 20s.
Private polling (not that the figures will be revealed by the PM's praetorian guard) shows that Victorian voters have now deserted Julia Gillard and we're looking at swings similar to those that obliterated the party in NSW: more than 20 per cent in safe seats.
September won't be so much an election as an exorcism. It wouldn't help if the Prime Minister guaranteed eternal life. No one's listening. Remember the last days of John Howard?
Which is why a lengthening number of Labor heavies have told Gillard, publicly or privately, that she has to go. The heaviest won't admit it publicly, but we're talking the aristocracy as well as the apparatchiks. Bob Carr and Simon Crean have not been alone. - But Gillard's not for moving. Having led Labor to the edge of the abyss at the previous election, she's now doing a Thelma, with Wayne Swan as Louise, and pressing on the accelerator.
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The MPs in the back seat know they're doomed but are gutless and fatalistic. Knowing that the post-election caucus could number in the low 20s, they're preparing escape routes. A lucky few can return to jobs in the right-wing unions. The rest? To oblivion and anonymity. And it wasn't much fun while it lasted.
It's not policy with the PM. It's personal. Truth is that since the Menzies and Whitlam eras our federal elections have been increasingly presidential. And September forces angry voters to choose between the most unpopular presidential contenders in memory. But not even Tony Abbott's electoral toxicity can save Gillard. There's no sense of hope in the future, - as there was with Obama v Bush. This is just politics. Of a sort that, like the presidential candidates, few respect.
On the night of the coup against Kevin Rudd I broadcast the view that "the ALP has just committed suicide". That's when Gillard lost the previous election, and the next. Like Malcolm Fraser after his coup, Gillard was stained by hers. Despite the sense of entitlement that had him conspiring with John Kerr, and his landslide win, Fraser would end his time in office tormented by self-doubt. Which explains much of his ongoing efforts to rehabilitate and reform his reputation. I don't think Gillard will feel like that. This is not a self-reflective person. She's still deluded that she can win. It's not a delusion that anyone shares.
It's not policy, it's personal. Some of her policy work has been impressive. It's not because of her erratic tactics. It's not because of the economy, which could be a lot, lot worse. And it's certainly not because the PM's a woman. The rejection of Gillard is deeper, more profound. Thus, not everyone who has said "it's time to go" has been in the Rudd camp - though the latest to announce the end to a significant career, Martin Ferguson, is as much pro-Rudd as anti-Gillard. (It's surprising he didn't call publicly for her resignation on his way out the door.)
The ALP needs a new leader, who may or may not be Rudd. One could say as much of the Libs, but not even Tony Abbott can discourage the exorcism. And perhaps his friend Cardinal George Pell can help with the ritual.
Of course Rudd should have run. With Bill Shorten ready to switch sides, he would have come close. Now everyone seems frozen in time, posing in a terminal tableau. The press and pundits are too afraid to talk leadership change - Hartcher, Richo and Adams were amongst the many caught out.
Now Rudd would be one of a number of possibilities, any of whom would improve the electoral math. Were Gillard the leader she believes herself to be, she'd resign for the sake of the party. As some surprising people have told her in private.
Phillip Adams is a columnist in The Weekend Australian Magazine.

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