So it came to pass that 3 years and 2 days after the hurried scurrying down corridors of the #spillard that we had another episode of Corridor Craziness. This time the Ruddsurrection is complete. My new Powerfox clock from First Dog on the Moon knew – two days before the spill (and exactly three years after the original spill) due to the dodgy battery I had installed earlier, it stopped at a particular time.
The events, however, should not have come as a surprise to people who have noticed the stubborn poll numbers and public perception that dogged Julia Gillard for most of her term as an “elected Prime Minister”. I use this phrase because despite what political observers know about the Westminster system, the perception has remained for many in the general public that the people elect a Prime Minister, not party rooms. Hence Rudd starting his first speech last night with “When the people of Australia elected me…”. Perceptions. For better or worse, it’s perceptions that run this show.
Why it shouldn’t be a surprise is that the last 2 or so years in Canberra has been an extended play called Waiting for Kevin. A play where two (and more) journalists stand in corridors, waiting for Kevin to appear – but in the meantime talk about things so mundane as to drive audiences a little mad. While that has been going on, In that time, Julia Gillard has done her darnedest to work her skill at compromising, negotiation and diplomacy with a minority government, messy, difficult work for which she was rarely thanked or credited with by most media outlets. The kind of work she did – getting through the NDIS, Gonski and so forth was long term structural policy work that isn’t sexy enough for Sunrise, The Project, ABC News 24 or increasingly asinine Fairfax reports to explain particularly well. While Gillard’s meetings with various people were going on, getting the mostly boring work of government done, media outlets found it much more interesting to continue Waiting for Kevin.
In terms of the media’s role in all this, it wasn’t the case, as Latika Bourke suggested on ABC News 24 towards the end of the evening, that the media “merely reported” the events of Waiting for Kevin. That comment reflected either naivete or just self delusion. People in the media know that politicians and political parties read newspapers, read Media Monitor reports on just how they are being represented. To have such a weight on the Waiting for Kevin play in these media reports for the past years just placed pressure to bear on the ALP that it could not ignore. If the media wasn’t a player and didn’t repeat the backgrounding and gossip provided by Rudd’s supporters, this would have played entirely differently. Few journalists exemplify this more than the now triumphant Peter Hartcher. We wouldn’t have heard as much from Canberra, either. The media love a drama, a narrative, insider gossip. So Latika and anyone else suggesting that the media are just a reporter need to just stop trying to fool us and themselves.
It also wasn’t surprising neither to see certain press gallery journalists to blast people on Twitter for suggesting that the leadership business was purely media driven. Not surprising because such gatekeepers of The Knowledge seem to believe that outsiders don’t have much right to suggest that maybe policy and government work should be the chief focus of media outlets, rather than Waiting for Kevin.
What this means for the election is the next question. As I pointed out in my piece on Personality in the Western Sydney series, Rudd plays better in that area and his removal made no sense to most voters in the area – I even remember a conversation with a confused former Labor member turning up to a Greens meeting arguing that “we had voted for Rudd, not Gillard”. Now Rudd is back, there is a sense of justice done that would be resonating. Even this morning, on my public transport and coffee trip, the “I like Rudd, good to see him back” feel was spilling out of conversations. Rudd will be able to take the good, hard policy work completed by Gillard and explain it to voters in that smooth, hokey style of his (I still cringe at “cooking with gas”). He will probably also look at those important symbolic policies such as marriage equality and asylum seeker policy and seek to come up with a bit of massaging Kevin style, as to wring out the symbolic importance for the electorate.
In truth, though, we don’t quite know how this will all go – though there will be a lot of noise in the next couple of weeks. There are many Gillard supporters in the population who will say in the next week that “they would never vote for Kevin” – but it remains to be seen whether they would switch to voting for Abbott. Or whether those people who championed Gillard’s position as a female leader of a political party will have a similar enthusiasm for Christine Milne. If these Gillard supporters were truly interested in policy rather than personality, they would see that a Rudd Prime Ministership would not be significantly different to the Gillard one, except with more regard for symbolism. What will help Rudd is that I can’t imagine there being much in the way of leaks and gossip working against him in the campaign. Gillard doesn’t seem to work that way.
And then there’s Tony. In the world of popularity politics, the upcoming election will be a battle of Men with a Narrative. Rudd will bring back that “I’m an ordinary bloke from Queensland” schtick, while Tony will have his image prodded and stretched – whether he is robotically repeating “Stop the Boats” or being depicted in the Real Solutions pamphlet sitting on a aeroplane looking for all the world like somewhere between Don Draper and member of a Footy Show panel.
Though, after the pain that has been caused by the replacement of Prime Ministers mid term by governments, I can’t imagine that if Abbott wins the upcoming election, that we will see the Liberals undertaking what many in the Twittersphere are hoping for in his first term.
That wouldn’t stop many in the press gallery desperately looking at their phones, though.
Now we aren’t Waiting for Rudd anymore. I can’t see, however, that the Beckett style of repetitive conversations and trivia that marks our politics will go away.