By MICHELLE GRATTAN
An extraordinary orgy of self-destruction has left Labor looking a shambles, with Julia Gillard now facing a reshuffle and an almost impossible task to get her government into fighting form for the September 14 election.
Nearly three years ago, Kevin Rudd was brought down by Gillard and her backers in a coup that came out of nowhere. Gillard said the government had to be got “back on track”. Now her government is more off track than the Rudd one ever was.
The 2010 coup was brutal; the 2013 attempted coup was farcical. If you count yesterday, Labor has had three chops at its two prime ministers in under three years. Even in this hyperbolic age, that smacks of irrational behaviour.
Look at things from the vantage point of ordinary voters. A majority have said repeatedly in the polls that they want Rudd back as Labor leader. Many Labor MPs in marginal seats believe he would give them a better chance of survival.
The Rudd forces have prodded and pushed to try to reinstall him. Their effort reached a crescendo this week, with lobbying of backbenchers and planted media stories – including one saying that good polling for Rudd in one South Australian seat in 2010 had been kept highly secret so as not to hinder the coup.
Former leader and cabinet minister Simon Crean gave the marginal seat holders their chance. They chose not to take it.
Chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon encouraged Crean into the move. Crean had recently met with Rudd, sorting out differences; he had been critical of the Rudd style in government.
Calling for the spill, Crean announced he would run for deputy leader. It would have been history repeating itself. His father Frank was deputy PM for the last few months of the Whitlam government.
Rudd camp sources claim they had about 47 votes – they only needed a handful more. The hope was that Crean would bring across some numbers from among his old friends. They didn’t follow him.
Gillard forces insist the numbers were not even close. A pro-Gillard source said Rudd has “bad timing and can’t count”.
Rudd, who pledged after his first disastrous challenge that he would not mount a second, wanted a big draft so he could arrive back in his old job with public credibility. He refused the entreaties of backers who went to his office after Gillard announced the spill. But sources among his followers are convinced he would have stood if he was sure of even a narrow win.
Gillard’s toughness and determination mean that there was never a chance she would crumple under the pressure. She’ll always fight, whether it is against Rudd or Tony Abbott.
The swordless lunge against Gillard has drawn a lot of blood and left many angry and upset people.
Crean says he doesn’t regret his action but he has been sacked – the first time he has not been on the front bench since he entered parliament in 1990. Richard Marles, who called on Rudd to stand, has resigned his parliamentary secretaryship. A clutch of whips – chief whip Joel Fitzgibbon (one of Rudd’s main numbers men), and Ed Husic and Janelle Saffin quit last night. The fall of the whips is ironic – they are supposed to be the ones who protect the leader.