Thursday, October 31, 2013

Revenant Rudd, Zombie Hawker

I have been ambivalent in the past about Katherine Murphy's work, both at the Age and her new gig at the Guardian. Her role as liveblogger of the day's federal political cycle has led her to report on a lot of faffery, and her long form work has consequently been drawn to the short term and superficial. Arguably this is merely a reflection of the limited (and limiting) work she has been given to do to suit the interests of the publications she writes for, not her own skills as an analyst.

Nevertheless, her piece on Zombie Bruce Hawker's election diary was a big head nodder for me, and well written it was too.
The great resonant emptiness in this Rudd rebellion recount is the apparent absence of an agenda. Rudd spent years campaigning to regain the Labor leadership but apparently had no cut-through idea of what to do when he had it. This, of course, by implication, is the fault of others. There was simply not enough time for him to map out an alternative agenda. (Really? That busy on the backbench?)
Net result: no coherent campaign. No consequential pitch for a third term in office. Just “diamond-studded toolboxes”, “bloke-ing up”, policy cooked up in the campaign plane, cycles of war and attrition with News Corp – confidences that would be laughable if they weren’t in fact lethal; lethal for political journalism.
Rudd devotees saw what they wanted to see in him. This is not a new insight, of course, but as more comes out about Rudd II, the more these acolytes are exposed as not understanding what motivated Rudd, not adding up his deficit in substance. Professor John Quiggin saw a centrist, someone to the right of the Left's Julia Gillard and thus more electable. The Piping Shrike saw an anti-politician, navigating his way between the factions strange-attractor style, pathfinding a New Way in a Blairite repudiation of the factional system.

In retrospect: this was all bullshit. Rudd II was not only just another politician, but he wasn't even a competent one. In Quiggin's own formulation, he practised zombie politics. He was not a messiah whose 40 days in the wilderness transformed him into a generous leader of men. He was a brainless revenant, who had no reason to go on after accomplishing his main goal of revenge on Gillard. He shambled from presser to presser, powerless to escape the media cycle. The public picked up on this, and his poll numbers retreated from parity back towards much what Gillard would have achieved if Rudd had withered away instead of finally sinking those claws in.

The one thing we will never know is how Gillard would have gone if Rudd had not destabilised her for her entire reign. Could she have been the next Hawke if Rudd had withdrawn gracefully like Hayden did? One for the historians.


  1. M0nty,
    you can only unstabilize somebody who is no good. Gillard was hopeless as a politician, I mean she thought Swan was a good politician . Whilst he was a very good treasurer he was hopeless as a politician!

    remember who brought up Rudd and National Security in the 2010 election!

    but yes Rudd had no ideas only ambition. A bit like howard!

  2. "Professor John Quiggin saw a centrist, someone to the right of the Left's Julia Gillard and thus more electable."

    Umm, no. From the linked article

    "Although she was notionally associated with the left of the Labor Party, Gillard was to the right of the party on most issues, beginning with those that had caused trouble for Rudd – climate change, mining taxes and asylum seekers."

  3. Yes Prof Q, how did that work? Rudd came to power with the support of the NSW Right, and lost power when he lost Dastyari who allied with the Left to promote their girl Gillard. Rudd's return to power came about when he secured the support of not only the NSW Right but also the Victorian Right led by Shorten. Yet you say Gillard was to the right of Rudd and the party.

    The reason I characterised your view as Rudd centrism is that it doesn't make sense any other way. Why would the NSW Right have supported Rudd over Gillard to start with, if he was more left wing than the poster girl of the opposing Left faction? Why would Shorten, having seen years of Gillard's supposed right-leaning policies in action, then shift his Right faction's allegiance to Rudd to lurch the party away from the centre and towards the left?

    It's all very arse-about.

  4. You seem to assume factional labels correspond to something meaningful in ideological terms. That might have been true 30 years ago, but now these labels are entirely of historical interest. Factional allegiances are to people, not policies.

    I look at Gillard's actual policies and see a rightwinger. Do you disagree?

  5. More importantly, it's one thing to say my views don't make sense, quite another to impute to me the views you think I ought to have held given your interpretation of my position.

  6. Fair enough on the mistake I made, Prof Q. Mea culpa.

    Obviously I am naive enough to think the Left is left and the Right is right. Never having been a member, I suppose this outlines the limits of my understanding of the situation.