Before going out last night to enjoy a performance by Damien Cowell with his two recent bands, Root! and the DC3, I made the decision to go in my Kevin 07 Tshirt. This one.
The shirt was greeted with a variety of comments as I walked the streets of Newtown, mostly favourable. “He’s a legend” came the comment from a variety of people – more often women than men – who seemed to know little about just how poor he was as a leader of a team. That didn’t matter to them. Kevin Rudd seems to have managed the trick of attaining the holy grail of Australian Politics – obtaining public popularity, a positive place in the Australian subconscious. A similar place held by John Howard over many years, despite the superior talents held by Peter Costello. Both Howard and Rudd had the Polls on their side.
We now have a name for this phenomenon of this public popularity with Julia Gillard saying politics wasn’t a Celebrity Big Brother contest, where people ring in and say who they like the most. I would beg to differ, due to our seeming obsession with Polls. Howard and Rudd shared one big feature – they were very successful Poll Dancers. They knew how to boil issues into asinine, generalised talking points – though Howard lost his ability to slide and writhe after he stopped being everyone’s flexible friend and tried to enact something he believed in – WorkChoices.
Kevin’s success as a Poll Dancer is the main problem for Gillard, because he will continue to show Australians what they want to see – principles, reform of a party that seems to be run by “faceless men”, a smiling face with a smooth delivery. With Gillard, unfortunately, the audience seem to be already telling her to put her clothes back on.
The ALP didn’t need all this. On the Bolt Report (no, I never watch it, but there are people on Twitter who do), Nick Minchin offered the opinion that the ALP could have won the 2007 election with Kim Beazley in the frame, rather than Rudd. While this can be seen as mischievous stirring by the Mark Arbib of the Liberal Party, it is an interesting point. The ALP, though, in the lead up to that election, blinked and panicked, gripped in fear that WorkChoices would continue to tear into union power as well as into the ability of the working poor to get by. Hence, they unseated a leader in Beazley who knew how the factions worked as well as presented a principled face, though without a simple poll dancing style, as well as health problems (thanks to Kimberley Ramplin for suggesting that to me).
At that time, Julia Gillard was seeking the numbers for a challenge, but as has been revealed by Laurie Ferguson, she had superior numbers to Rudd – but Rudd’s supporters refused to put their numbers behind Gillard – in the end her supporters decided Rudd was better than Beazley. So, as a result of the Rudd supporters’ highhandedness, the ALP put in Beazley’s place a man who had impressed the judges on Sunrise, but who had a long standing loathing for the factions and structure of the ALP, as well as known history of leaking to the media against his leaders. The man happy enough to make himself such a focus in the 07 campaign to have his name on the campaign Tshirts.
Ultimately, that was the biggest mistake the Federal ALP made in this whole sorry mess. They didn’t recognise how much of a problem Rudd would be as PM, that when he made it, he would insist that because he was the popular one, the one everyone wanted to see, that every member of the government would have to supply everything he listed on his long backstage rider. As a result of that mistake, we now have long term cynical political game players like Anthony Albanese realising Rudd’s ability, asking that he comes back to the stage. Albo, in his speech yesterday, proved that he has a few poll dancing tricks up his sleeve – he can out principle anyone, given a chance. It’s a good act. He doesn’t have enough tricks to be leader, though.
Another strand in this Poll Dancing phenomenon is the ALP’s unshaken belief that Tony Abbott is an unpopular man who needs to be targeted. Political commentators I usually respect have said the ALP is failing “because they can’t even take someone like Abbott down”. Gillard and Rudd have both unloaded on him in a style reminiscent of a Big Brother Diary Room rant. It sounded a bit like “Tony’s so negative. He said such a lot of negative things about me in the spa.” “I started cooking, and Tony came along and told me I was putting too many Great Big New spices in the sauce” and so on. It’s part of the Poll Dancing phenomenon, where they think that by laughing at the dancer in the budgie smugglers that you’ll win. It’s a poor strategy.
Abbott wins because people pay attention to him because he plays the game well. His game is to be a critic, an outsider, that man in the taxi or the bar who says “Oh, this government is terrible. All they do is put taxes up.” He is the bloke telling everyone the tricks that have gone into the poll dancing routine. It’s hard to argue against his simplification in a culture that doesn’t really read into politics with much depth. If the Government’s current mantra is “delivery, reform, teamwork”, then it should be focusing its attacks on the Opposition’s team – how they would be terrible at delivering anything. Pyne, Hockey, Turnbull, Morrison have said absolutely mind blowingly stupid things about issues relating to their portfolios, but we hear little about that.
If the ALP’s focus is on winning elections, then it should be putting Rudd back onto the stage. He has residual allure and the money is still bulging from his Kevin 07 pants. That seems to be what Australian politics has become. Put on that music. Put on the shirts. Then writhe around that poll, Kevin 13.