Editor’s Note

April 2013 Editor’s Note

John van Tiggelen

On the day the April issue of the Monthly went to press, Simon Crean called for a leadership spill.

No one knew what was going on, certainly not in this office. Was Crean sincere in his professed support for Kevin Rudd? Or was he a stooge for Julia Gillard, seeking to draw Rudd into the open? After all, he wasn’t exactly lavish in his praise for the man. He was calling on Rudd to put up or shut up, as he indeed had at the time of Rudd’s February 2012 challenge, back when Crean was a Gillard supporter.

I asked the printers to hold off and texted a friend in Gillard’s office. The feeling there was grim. Crean, though he looked pained, sickly even, was definitely rooting for Rudd; the night before, he’d gone to Gillard to ask her to resign. It seemed our Bob Katter cover might have to give way to Rudd. We’d need a new comment, possibly two. It looked as though we’d be reworking the issue well into the night.

Then, at the appointed hour of 4.30 pm, came the news that Rudd had gone to water. He didn’t have the numbers. In other words, the whole week-long build-up had been a classic beat-up, cleverly connived between his spruikers in the press and in caucus. We let the printers know the new issue was all set to go; not a word needed changing. Then we went to the pub.

That night and over ensuing days, the press gallery, even Kevin Rudd’s darlings, wrote him off. His leadership ambitions had been terminated, they said, in apparent acceptance of Crean’s “now or never” spiel. Yet that was what everyone said after Gillard’s emphatic 71–31 victory over Rudd last year as well. Within two months, Rudd’s ascendancy was back on the agenda.

Kevin Rudd’s ambition is not dead because, well, he is Kevin Rudd. The Ruddbot, Annabel Crabb dubbed him. Most of his senior supporters – Kim Carr, Chris Bowen, Martin Ferguson, Joel Fitzgibbon and Crean – are no longer ministers and have joined him on the backbench. This is a worry. As Mark Latham points out in his analysis of NSW Labor’s moral decline, there is nothing like spare time to spawn political mischief. Rudd’s lieutenants may or may not be men in Graham Richardson’s whatever-it-takes mode, but they make the same mistake in assuming that whatever is good for the party’s electoral chances is good for the party, and that what’s good for the party is good for the country. None of the above-mentioned has shown any inclination to swing behind Gillard in the wake of the spill.

In last week’s Newspoll, the first after the leadership spill, the question of whether people preferred Rudd to Gillard was not canvassed. But there is almost half a year to go till the next election. That’s a lot of fortnightly Newspolls. One sure way those polls are going to pay their way by making front-page news is by again pushing the question: would you be more inclined to vote for the Labor Party if Kevin Rudd were PM? Rudd will ride these polls and the collateral skittishness of backbenchers until his supporters cue his barrackers in the press to bring things to a head again. Gillard is not safe. She can never be safe. Not while Rudd continues to lurk.

In other news, the Monthly’s website has had a smart redesign. Do check it out. It has been designed to be read on any device, including smartphones and iPads. It also features excellent added content, including new videos and blogs, with Richard Cooke now joining Mungo MacCallum, Michaela McGuire and Rhys Muldoon as our resident bloggers. We’re very pleased with the new look, and hope you are, too.

John van Tiggelen

John van Tiggelen is a freelance writer and the author of Mango Country.

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