By Craig Regan
The political parlance is “coming up the middle” and it refers to a dark horse candidate taking advantage of the inability of front-runners to muster a majority of votes.
Like jockeys riding Melbourne Cup prospects, Bill Shorten and Stephen Smith both want to sit off the leaders and only make their run when the finish line comes into sight.
Are Greg Combet and Simon Crean credible alternatives? Or Wayne Swan, who for now is Gillard’s deputy. That’s getting way ahead of the game.
Right now it’s all about Gillard and Rudd. That’s Julia, who can’t cross the road without causing a 10-car pile-up and Kevin, the comeback kid whose evaluation of his self worth is much more substantial than his Parliamentary support base.
There’s supposed to be a hard-core of 40 Caucus members who will vote ABR (Anybody But Rudd) while Ruddster’s own bloc of votes is widely accepted as sitting around 30. That leaves 30 backing Gillard - plus most, if not all, of the ABRs.
With a comfortable majority of seats, Gillard could bring on a spill, send a vanquished Rudd to the backbenches and get on with the job of being a Prime Minister. A comfortable majority, of course, is one thing she lacks.
Pushing that button could provoke Rudd to resign from Parliament, bringing on a by-election that Labor would be hard-pressed to win. Talk about a rock and a hard place – and there’s that looming Queensland State election that’s shaping as a Labor bloodbath.
Resolving the leadership issue before then – even bloodlessly - isn’t going to reverse ingrained perceptions of divisiveness. A messy change could make it worse.
Gillard’s leadership never got out of the starting gates and is dying a death of a million cuts. Rudd’s Prime Ministership was riddled with mistakes but his popularity with men and women in the street is strong – mostly because he’s not Julia.
One under-reported factor is the role of the Press Gallery. Media love colour and movement and leadership changes are on every correspondent’s bucket list.
Some Gallery reporters have obviously been targeted by political operatives with leaks that talk up the prospect of change. One prominent Canberra scribe has even been berated on Twitter for his use of limited off-the-record sources.
It’s a harsh assessment because “off the record” is the lifeblood of political reporting in Australia. If newsrooms followed the US practice of not publishing a story without independent corroboration, we’d be living in a political news vacuum (which some would consider a good thing.)