It’s an intricate two-step, but one false move now spells death. As Rudd surprises everyone including his own supporters with his adroit resignation, seeking the ideal strategic moment to knife his nemesis, the PM ducks and weaves hoping she won’t shoot herself in the foot again. Behind the scenes, however, it’s Tony Abbott who must take the credit for bringing about this deadly dance.
“The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as Foreign Minister if I do not have the Prime Minister’s support,” said Kevin Rudd, hilariously eschewing a “stealth attack on a sitting Prime Minister” and twisting events to appear decisive and “honest” whilst fraudulently painting himself as the aggrieved and innocent party (“the Australian people want an end to this soap opera.”) Jumping before he was pushed, he has cannily thrown the spotlight onto Gillard’s presumed inability to beat Abbott at the next election.
Normally, when a political party tears itself apart in such a spectacular and vitriolic fashion, there is a key policy issue at stake; Turnbull vs Abbott over climate change being an obvious example. But as with his original “faceless men” dethroning, Rudd’s latest move comes with no philosophical baggage. It’s simply a question of perceived popularity, mind games and who is the wiliest fighter.
In the absence of any clashes of conviction, another battleground had to be found for Rudd to attack on, and this was eagerly provided by the Press Gallery over the past few weeks, keen to notch up a hit after being wrong-footed by political events more than once over recent years.
A strong, confident leader would have been impervious to the hysterical but essentially empty provocations of Four Corners, 7.30, the Daily Telegraph and others. Gillard wasn’t. Above all, it is Tony Abbott’s success in fatally weakening the Prime Minister that is at the heart of her current predicament. Constantly carping on about his “negativity” and the “No-alition” has proven to be Gillard’s biggest mistake. At every turn, and on every policy issue, she has empowered Abbott in the eyes of the electorate (and, crucially, wavering members of caucus), whilst feeding the impression that she doesn’t know how to defeat him. Much like the picadors who soften up the animal for the kill, Abbott has relentlessly driven his spear into the spine of Gillard, making it that much more tempting for Rudd-the-matador to convince himself (and his supporters) that he can finish her off.
Bleeding, clearly rattled, and unable to shake off the “untrustworthy” tag, it is immaterial whether Gillard survives the imminent showdown. Her confidence and authority are shattered, and her Prime Ministership is doomed. Rudd’s tactics have so far outwitted her at every stage. He hasn’t missed a step, and it is unlikely he will stumble now, although there is always the possibility of a third contender popping up.
Whoever is left standing, the Labor Party has been battered to within an inch of its life. The internal bruising will take many years to fade.