An Australian bloodbath
It's an intricate two-step, but one false move now spells death. As Kevin Rudd surprises everyone, including his own supporters, with his adroit middle-of-the-night resignation in Washington DC, seeking the ideal strategic moment to knife his nemesis, the Prime Minister ducks and weaves hoping she won't shoot herself in the foot (again).
‘The simple truth is that I cannot continue to serve as Foreign Minister if I do not have the Prime Minister's support,' said Mr Rudd, hilariously eschewing a ‘stealth attack on a sitting Prime Minister' and twisting events to appear decisive and ‘honest' while fraudulently painting himself as the aggrieved and innocent party (‘the Australian people want an end to this soap opera'). Jumping before he was pushed, he has cannily thrown the spotlight onto Julia Gillard's presumed inability to beat Tony Abbott at the next election.
When a political party tears itself apart in such spectacular fashion, there is often a key policy issue at stake; Abbott vs Malcolm Turnbull over climate change being an obvious example. Not this time. As with his original ‘faceless men' dethroning, Mr Rudd's latest move comes with no philosophical baggage. It's simply a question of perceived popularity, mind games and who is the wiliest fighter.
In the absence of any clashes of conviction, Mr Rudd had to find another angle of attack. This was eagerly provided by the Press Gallery over the past few weeks, keen to notch up a hit after being wrong-footed by political events more than once in recent years.
A strong, confident leader would have been impervious to the hysterical but essentially empty provocations of various media outlets. Ms Gillard wasn't. Above all, it is Mr Abbott's success in fatally weakening the Prime Minister that is at the heart of her current predicament. Constantly carping on about his ‘negativity' and the ‘No-alition' has proven to be Ms Gillard's biggest mistake. At every turn, and on every policy issue, she has empowered the opposition leader in the eyes of the electorate (and, possibly, wavering members of Caucus), while feeding the impression that she doesn't know how to defeat him. Much like the picadors who soften up the animal for the kill, Mr Abbott has relentlessly driven his spear into the spine of Ms Gillard, making it that much more tempting for Rudd the matador to convince himself (and his supporters) that he can finish her off.
Bleeding, clearly rattled, and unable to shake off the ‘untrustworthy' tag, it is immaterial whether Ms Gillard survives. Her confidence and authority are shattered, and her Prime Ministership is doomed. And yet Mr Rudd himself is deeply unpopular within Caucus, as this week's bloodletting from colleagues Wayne Swan and Tony Burke made clear. Meanwhile, there is always the possibility of a third contender popping up, eventually. Whoever is left standing, the Labor party has been battered to within an inch of its life. Still, for pure entertainment value, not much can compete with the bloodsport of Labor politics.