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Chris Ford: Is the end really near for Julia Gillard?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

There has been more speculation about Julia Gillard's leadership this past week in Australia. The real question remains though - is she really gone this time?

From all reports, it appears that her federal Australian Labor Party (ALP) colleagues could be about to ditch her. Poor poll ratings ahead of the September 14 election have made ALP federal parliamentarians nervous. This is the case as the polls are forecasting a drubbing even worse than the one suffered by federal Labor in 1975. 

This ongoing leadership strife and speculation have all contributed to the greatest slide in ALP support in decades. While many MPs still have huge (and understandable) misgivings about Rudd, many still seem prepared to ditch Gillard, a person they would prefer to see remain as leader for Rudd, a man with numerous personality deficits to say the least.

Nonetheless, any leadership change this late in the game won't help Labor win re-election. What it will do, though, is possibly prevent an ALP loss so great that it would take more than a decade to recover from. After all, the ALP took nearly eight years to regain power at the federal level following their 1975 loss. There are evidently fears that it will take even longer than that to recover if Gillard is the person leading the ALP to defeat on September 14.

Labor caucus members are prepared to bet again on the former PM on the basis that he might deliver a 'Rudd bounce' in the polls. This bounce could add anywhere between an estimated 6-8 points on Labor's primary vote in the polls. In this event, the more important two party-preferred lead would shrink from the now nearly 20 point gap between it and the Tony Abbott-led Coalition to a mere 8-10 point lead.

While even a Rudd victory in a possible caucus vote this week will not spare the ALP from inevitable defeat, at least it might make all the difference between a disastrous defeat and a more honourable one. An honourable defeat might see Labor back in power perhaps, say, in six years (without Rudd as leader though) rather than the nine or more it might take if Gillard is still in charge on September 14.

Also, while Rudd has the personality of a cactus, he turned out to be more left-leaning than Gillard. While neither Rudd or Gillard are great socialists, at least the former leader was more social democratic than the latter one has turned out to be. I say this because, to his credit, Rudd initiated a successful neo-Keynesian stimulus programme, shut down the Howard Government's failed 'Pacific Experiment' immigration system, signed the Kyoto Climate Change Accord, apologised to the Stolen Generations and at least retained social spending.

Rudd, also, took on the big corporate miners over the mining tax. It was a brave move which, as the Australian socialist journalist John Pilger has said caused him to be practically 'overthrown' by the mine owners. The corporate mining lobby (and other business interests) obviously knew from sources about Rudd's character flaws and, consequently, did everything in their power to undermine the federal ALP through, for example, funding an extensive media campaign against the tax. Besides, corporate Australia was none too happy about elements of the stimulus package either as they would have preferred more neo-liberal style spending and tax cuts post-Global Financial Crisis.

No wonder then that many Australians want to see Rudd returned to The Lodge. Otherwise, absent any leadership coup, they seem prepared to reluctantly vest their votes in Tony Abbott's Liberal-National Party Coalition in huge numbers come September 14.

For all these reasons, if I were an undecided ALP caucus member for a marginal electorate, I would be opting for Rudd over Gillard. This would be despite the prospect of the former PM's return making my skin crawl if I were in that position.

I have to say, however, that Gillard has handled herself extremely commendably in facing down the sneering sexism of her conservative opponents. Her fine riposte to Abbott in a parliamentary debate last year went viral for her strong defence, not only of herself, but of all Australian women. If she loses any ballot this week, she will go down in history as not only Australia's first female leader but as one who was prepared to bravely put forward a feminist critique in a country where blokeism still reigns supreme.

While Rudd won't save Australian Labor at this election, at least he might have the chance to redeem himself before (along with Gillard) finally being consigned to the political dust bin in less than three months time.




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