Monday, June 17, 2013

Fiddling while Rome burns?

Robert Menzies
If you believe the analysis of the Canberra press gallery, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's leadership of the Labor Party is again under threat by another poor opinion poll rating, with Labor trailing the Coalition by 14 percentage points. According to the Nielsen poll, the Coalition is now leading Labor 57% (up 3) to 43% (down 3) in two party terms. The poll also shows an 11 point rise in Labor’s primary vote, to 40%, when people are asked how they would vote if former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was reinstated as leader. If Rudd were leader the two party vote would be 50-50.

Rudd is more popular with the electorate than Gillard, but not with his parliamentary colleagues. If Rudd were to successfully depose Gillard in a leadership challenge, it would only be because the Labor caucus are motivated by pragmatism. Motivated by self-preservation, they would put up with a leader they dislike. They would still lose the September election, but by a smaller margin. It seems unlikely that Rudd would be more effective as Prime Minister than Gillard. As of the time of this writing, despite all the mutterings and media speculation, there is little chance of yet another leadership challenge after the debacles of February 2012 and March 2013. 

There is historical precedent for a Prime Minister returning to the office after a party room coup. Robert Menzies was Prime Minister from 1939 to 1941. In 1949, as leader of the Liberal Party, he returned to office for a second time, and held it for 16 years until his retirement, becoming Australia's longest serving Prime Minister to date. No doubt Rudd is aware of this, but he is no Robert Menzies. Menzies was a competent and capable leader who carried himself like a statesman, whereas Rudd was not.

Gillard is a resilient and formidable leader, and by standing her ground, she would retain more respect with the public than Rudd, who for the good of his party, should accept that he will never again be Labor leader and move on. Australia needs stable, functional government led by a Prime Minister that has the nation's respect, and not leadership sideshows. 

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