‘Ruddbullism’ sounds like one of those infectious diseases such as botulism or toxoplasmosis that hints at much unpleasantness to come. First diagnosed by John Stone in these pages over eighteen months ago, the term describes an unhealthy merging of policy strains on climate change, work choices, boat people, the republic and other issues where supposed opponents Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull found common ground. ‘Ruddbullism’ has now re-surfaced in The Australian courtesy of Brit-journo Nick Bryant; not as a sickness but as a suggested panacea for the perceived problems that plague our politics.
Coined by Stone, the term is a piss-take of ‘Butskellism’, used to describe the philosophical meeting of minds between Conservative and Labor ‘foes’ Rab Butler and Hugh Gaitskell that paralyzed British politics for decades until being dismantled by Margaret Thatcher.
According to Bryant, who after several years as the BBC correspondent to Oz knows a thing or two about the place: "The message from successive polls is that Australians would… favour a return to ‘Ruddbullism.’ Indeed, they repeatedly show that Rudd is much more popular than (Julia Gillard) and that Turnbull has broader appeal than Tony Abbott."
This contrasts with how former Secretary to the Treasury and Queensland National Party senator originally saw it: “Our own political scene was firmly in the grip of ‘Ruddbullism’, (yet) it was already clear that the Coalition parties had little hope of regaining office in 2010 under Turnbull.”
Much like botulism, a bacterium that enters the body through wounds, ‘Ruddbullism’ can also be viewed as a virulent strain that gains access through self-inflicted wounds upon the body politic. Perversely, it was the desire by Rudd and Turnbull to work together and stitch up an emissions trading scheme that eventually saw the two of them both lose their leadership positions. Similarly, Rudd’s embrace of feel-good policies such as the apology to the “stolen” generation – which Turnbull was also strongly in favour of, going so far as to publicly criticise former leader John Howard over, maintaining that his former boss’s position on the apology "was an error clearly" – weren’t enough to save either of them from being turfed out by their own party-rooms. Both leaders lost their jobs not in spite of, but indirectly because of their support for ‘Ruddbullist’ principles. According to John Stone: "Malcolm Turnbull welcomed, literally within hours of its appearance, the Rudd government’s Fair Work Australia Bill, conceding to Labor ‘a mandate’ not merely to repeal John Howard’s Work Choices legislation, but also to turn back the workplace relations clock by 25 years. He… embraced with equal fervour Kevin Rudd’s emissions trading scheme proposal, threatening to sacrifice Australia’s economy on the altar of global warming religion."
Where Stone saw a toxic threat, Bryant sees a healthy tonic.
"Rudd and Turnbull seemed to be leaders primed for a national moment pregnant with so much regional and international possibility," Bryant declares. Clearly he is a fan of both. Which is not all that surprising. Call it the British disease, if you will; that voguish longing for a touchy-feely centrist position that gave the world the original ‘Butskellism’, the brief flowering of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ and the current ‘Camcleggism’ which seeks to marry severe budget cuts with trendy soft left causes such as gay marriage, renewable energy and bucketloads of overseas aid.
Lost in the enthusiasm for such a ‘compromise’ scenario is the awkward fact that in Australia the punters won't vote for it. The closer both Rudd and Turnbull came to agreeing with each other, the faster they both plummeted in the opinion polls. It was only under Tony Abbott, who by fighting Labor on border protection and carbon taxes and drawing a clear distinction between the two parties where Turnbull had failed to, that the Liberals finally managed to tap into the thoughts and attitudes of Middle Australia and regain their current dominant position in the polls.
All the evidence indicates that the blue-collar "battler" constituency in the suburbs strongly support tough border protection and fret about higher costs of living, most notably energy prices. These voters have no time for Turnbull and will never support the green tinges of the ‘Ruddbullist’ agenda. Kevin Rudd’s initial success and triumph were largely due to his pretense that he was “John Howard-lite.” The more he distanced himself from that position, the faster he fell out of favour with “struggle street.” Turnbull, too, foolishly mimicked Rudd’s distancing of himself from the policies of Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister, much to his own detriment.
Turnbull’s tragedy, of course, is that he’s either in the wrong electorate or the wrong party. Take your pick. His constituents are the one group in Australia who yearn for ‘Ruddbullism.’ A Labor party ticket with both Rudd and Turnbull together would be an answer to the sweetest dreams of the Wentworth crowd.
It’s easy to see how the ‘Ruddbullist’ philosophy came about. In 2008-9, Kevin, confidently shedding his Howard-lite clothes, and Malcolm, eagerly donning the cloak of Liberal leadership under the mistaken belief that his own constituents expressed the desires of the larger electorate, found themselves dressed like a pair of slightly embarrassed identical twins. The majority of Australians suddenly woke up to the fact that the two leaders were prancing about in a manner utterly alien to them.
Although Rudd has now bounced back in the opinion polls, his popularity is probably as much due to the unfair manner in which he was dumped as to the policies he espoused. Call it the Short Poppy Syndrome. As is well known, we Aussies love an underdog. Where Red Dog endlessly roamed the outback looking for his deceased master, Rudd Dog now ceaselessly roams the globe, refusing to believe that his leadership is dead. And the audiences can’t help but love him.
According to the online Medical Encyclopedia, botulism can lead to hyper-sensitivity, double vision, nervous exhaustion, nausea and finally paralysis of the entire system. It can be fatal.
Much like ‘Ruddbullism’ really.