Twirling towards freedom

Campaigning for class president: KRudd and the youth vote

A few hours after being reinstated as Labor’s leader, Kevin Rudd began his bid to reclaim the youth vote. In his comeback speech he spoke about looking forward to his “rock around the country,” and said it was time for the youth to re-engage with politics so they can “start cooking with gas.”

Last week, Rudd took his very first selfie and uploaded it to his Instagram account – a photo of him grinning awkwardly at his phone with a piece of toilet paper stuck to a shaving cut. We know from another Instagram caption that he was inducted into the art of the self-taken photo back in March while on a school visit. “Learning how to take selfies and pout with the girls at LHC,” read the caption underneath a photo of Rudd doing precisely that. He then signed the caption off with his ubiquitous “KRudd,” followed by a winky face emoticon. The daggy jokes, the attempts to show that he’s “in” with the cool kids, none of this should appeal to young voters, but the strange thing is, it seems to be working.

In the week after his comeback speech, 22,000 people either updated their electoral details or enrolled to vote for the first time. In an ordinary week, only 8,000 people do so. This in itself doesn’t mean that Rudd is popular with young voters – they could well be enrolling so that they can vote against him – but it does show that Rudd is engaging with them. Rudd’s appeal may be chalked up to the simple fact he’s not Tony Abbott, but then Julia Gillard wasn’t Tony Abbott either, and whereas Rudd held over 50% of the youth vote in 2007, Gillard never got higher than the mid-thirties.

It would appear that Rudd is desperate to get those numbers back. This week it was revealed that one of the Labor Party’s advertising agencies has been offering “exclusive” interviews with Rudd in exchange for free pro-Labor editorial and advertising on youth sites. The deal encouraged journalists to produce “entertaining content on the theme of the inadequacy of the Liberal NBN plan” – a graph illustrating how long it would take to download an episode of Game of Thrones under an Abbott government, perhaps – but was rejected on ethical grounds by TheVine, a youth-oriented Fairfax website that’s heavy on pop culture and curated content. The fact that the resurgent Rudd (or at least, the ad agency that Rudd’s people hired to woo the youth vote) got this so wrong speaks volumes of a disconnect between what young voters want – leaders with credibility, vision and moral fortitude – and what they are being sold.

It could be that the youth vote is returning to Rudd because he is, as he has always been, the best bad choice we have. When he skyrocketed to power in the Kevin 07 Ruddslide, the young voters that flocked to his banner did so partially because he was a viable alternative prime minister for a generation that grew up under Howard, (and by proxy, Bush). Rudd, up against a ministry that harboured the cartoon vampire villainy of Phillip Ruddock, succeeded once in rallying the youth vote. Now, squaring up against Abbott – a kind of living meme generator – Rudd faces another cardboard cut-out adversary.

The left-leaning youth – who had moved towards the Greens as the Gillard government lost communication with them – seem likely to inch back towards Labor. For the more right-leaning youngsters who perhaps couldn’t get behind a female prime minister, the newly returned Rudd is looking like a contender. He isn’t perfect and never was, but at least he’s showing up. At least he’s presenting something – in marked contrast to the invisible, so-called policy of the opposition. It’s hard to forget Rudd’s shadow campaign to destabilise the Gillard administration but, considering the alternative, it could be that voters are ready for him to zip back into our lives. 

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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