Thursday, 23 February 2012

Enough faceless men to go round

Kudelka cartoon
Cartoon by Jon Kudelka. Source: The Australian

Despite Kevin Rudd's attempt to label Julia Gillard as a product of the scheming of faceless men, both camps are led by their fair share of powerbrokers. Rudd is relying on Kim Carr and Martin Ferguson, out of the Victorian Left - ironic, given that they hail from the factional grouping the Prime Minister is a part of.

Added to this pair are senior right-wing ministers from NSW, such as Chris Bowen and Robert McClelland, not to mention NSW left-wing powerbroker Doug Cameron, who has poured scorn on Simon Crean for his attacks on Rudd. However, for the most part, the Rudd camp is a bottom-up movement. For example, backbenchers who have informed power brokers backing Gillard that they will not be following directions to support her if a ballot is called because they are worried about losing their seats and believe Rudd is Labor's only saviour.

The Gillard camp's strongest defenders are those who imposed her over the top of Rudd in the first place. Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib, David Feeney and Don Farrell have formed a praetorian guard around the Prime Minister, perhaps only to protect themselves from Rudd's revenge. All won promotion after Gillard took over the prime ministership. Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan will also support Gillard, so long as his Australian Workers Union backers (read Paul Howes) oppose Rudd.

The swinging votes that are likely to determine this showdown, whenever it eventuates, are Anthony Albanese and Mark Butler, left-wing powerbrokers in NSW and South Australia respectively. Convince one to shift his support to Rudd and the other will surely follow. If they decide Gillard is finished, they are likely to block any attempt at a third spoiler candidate designed to thwart Rudd, knocking out a Crean or Stephen Smith candidacy. A move to Rudd by Albanese or Butler would give Rudd the momentum he needs to create an inevitability about changing leaders.

The most difficult read in this looming showdown is what senior ministers will do. So far they have largely been supportive of the Prime Minister, which Gillard backers have argued is evidence that the Rudd push is doomed. But as members of the executive it is impossible for ministers to publicly move behind Rudd without resigning. Even Bowen and Carr have been silent on their support for Rudd. His camp will want such backers in the ministerial tent, if only to provide intelligence.

The new dynamic favouring Rudd as a backbencher is one of options. By moving to the backbench he can say what he likes, do what he likes, challenge when he likes. In short, he can begin campaigning for the leadership. If Gillard supporters thought he was campaigning before now, they have seen nothing yet.

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