Let the games begin...
One week down and probably just another 48 to go.
The Dream Team has settled in with ease and even a touch of the style which Kevin Rudd promised us.
The new shadow ministry is not perfect; one could point to at least a handful of old factional warriors who, in an ideal world, would have been given a very hefty boot. But Rudd got the key changes he wanted and in the process gave the finger to two of Australias most loathed and loathsome union bosses Bill Ludwig of the AWU and Joe de Bruyn of the Shoppies.
To emphasise the point Rudd also announced that he would no longer attend meetings of his Right faction; as leader he wanted to move beyond that kind of divide. And Julia Gillard, still giving an impeccable performance as the unassuming helpmeet, followed immediately by promising to eschew her Left faction. In practice they will both maintain close contact with their respective power bases but it was a strong signal nonetheless.
Balancing the Dream Team relationship is going to be tricky: on the one hand Gillard, both as a woman and a lefty, appeals to a section of the electorate which would regard Rudd by himself with suspicion and disdain. She cannot be pushed too far into the background. On the other hand her presence is a constant reminder that Rudd did not have the numbers to beat Kim Beazley in his own right, a potential point of vulnerability he will have to overcome.
Once the election campaign proper gets under way (and some would say it already has) the party can only have one leader, and while Gillard will presumably join him on various platforms, she will not and should not receive equal billing. Given that she is not without political ambition this will require considerable self control. But so far so good.
In the dying days of parliament last week Rudd was allowed to make all the running and he did the government considerable damage in the process. The lines about Howard and his ministers never taking responsibility for anything clearly stung, as did the accusation that they were only interested in short term politics, and not in long term governance. His attack on WorkChoices on the grounds that it disrupts the families Howard claims to cherish also struck an obvious chord with the backbench.
Rudds plans for a new federalism and targeted development have yet to be fleshed out, but at least they make nonsense of Howards constant complaint that Labor stands for nothing. The charge has always been false, but in the Beazley years he was able to get away with it because that was the received image of Beazley. With Rudd he will have to start all over again and it may be rather more difficult.
By the end of the week it was clear that Rudd had gone a long way to establishing himself in the opposition leaders chair and that even if Howard was doing his best to appear relaxed and comfortable quite a few of his backbenchers were decidedly nervous. Even the troupes of dancing bears assembled in the Murdoch press to cut the Dream Team off at the knees seemed a little out of sorts: apart from the odd crack at Gillard (Christopher Pearson, unsurprisingly, was particularly bitchy) they generally fell back on the line that Rudd had a huge task ahead of him and that master politician Howard would be hard to beat well yes, actually wed already figured that out for ourselves.
The great unknown is just how well Rudd can relate to the swinging voters, and of course vice versa. He has said he is not going to try for any kind of personality change; he is who he is, and the electorate must make up its own mind. Howards enforcers are already road-testing the smear that he is elitist, out of touch, just too clever by half; Tony Abbott, in tones of ill-concealed disgust, accused him of talking like a professor clearly one of the filthiest insults in the former seminarians vocabulary.
Its certainly true that Rudd does little to disguise his conviction that his intellect is generally superior to that of the next man, particularly if the next man is John Howard (Alexander Downer, of course, does not even register on the same scale). By conventional wisdom this should be a turn-off for good old Aussie egalitarians, but others notably Gough Whitlam, Don Dunstan and most recently Bob Carr have got away with it. The intriguing story of 2007 will be whether Kevin Rudd can produce the extra qualities that lot had, and so defeat Mr Ordinary. Bring it on.
It nearly choked our Dear Leader, but last week he finally admitted that the earth was round, the sky was blue, and yes, things were going badly in Iraq. Admittedly he had to wait until his controller George W Bush said it first the evidence alone was never going to be enough to convince him.
But now its official: Iraq is a schemozzle. So what is John Winston Howard going to do about it? Why, absolutely nothing.
Were certainly not going to increase our present token contribution; we have apparently already knocked back a request to embed a few diggers in Iraqi units on the grounds that we might need them somewhere, sometime in the Pacific (and of course theres always the risk they could get hurt, which might look bad in the polls). Nor will we set a date for withdrawing our troops; that, presumably, remains up to Washington.
Until the word comes, its just business as usual. Once more into the shit, dear friends...
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