IN DECIDING to stick with Prime Minister Julia Gillard, it's entirely likely Labor relinquished its last chance to be competitive at the next election.
Simon Crean, a former Labor leader who was himself the victim of caucus unrest, effectively brought the leadership issue to a head on Thursday when he revealed he had withdrawn his support for Ms Gillard.
Mr Crean paid the price for his disloyalty when Ms Gillard sacked him as Regional Australia Minister a short time later.
Indeed, far from being thrown by Mr Crean's courageous intervention, Ms Gillard seized the initiative by calling a leadership ballot for 4.30pm.
In doing so she gave Mr Rudd's supporters just two hours to count the numbers.
It was clever. The Prime Minister is a master of internal political manoeuvring.
Her perfect three-from-three record in leadership challenges stands as testament to that.
But being clever will count for nought on September 14 when voters will almost certainly punish Ms Gillard and, by extension, the ALP over a range of issues.
Part of the voter anger will stem from Labor's three-year obsession with the leadership, which began on that infamous night in June 23 three years ago when Kevin Rudd was unceremoniously dumped in his first term as prime minister.
Within Labor ranks this was supposed to be the year the party put a disastrous 2012 behind it and focused on winning the next election.
It was supposed to be the year the carbon tax's potency as a political issue diminished.
It was supposed to be the year the polls narrowed as voters, spooked at the prospect of Tony Abbott residing in The Lodge, began to return to Labor.
But none of this has come to fruition.
Labor's standing in the polls has returned to pre-carbon tax levels.
Ms Gillard's judgment has been called into question time and time again, starting with her decision to use a "captain's pick" to make Nova Peris the party's number one Senate candidate in the Northern Territory.
And so it has continued for the next two months, culminating with the bizarre decision to try and ram through the contentious and highly complex media reform package in just six days.
Above all Labor has given the impression of being anything but focused on governing.
This perception is a tad unfair, it must be said, with the government succeeding in passing a number of important bills this year.
Chief among those has been the groundbreaking National Disability Insurance Scheme, which passed this week.
But you would be forgiven for not knowing this happened, with the government's internal ructions stealing the spotlight from just about anything else of substance, including Ms Gillard's apology to the victims of forced adoptions.
That happened on Thursday too, by the way.
People will inevitably blame the media for not focusing on these important issues.
But the leadership of the country is important as well.
Mr Rudd's backers, probably fed up with the poor polling and staring down a potentially huge election loss, ran out of patience.
They were outplayed, again, by Ms Gillard and her advisers.
The Prime Minister will now need all of her political nous to convince fed up voters she deserves another three years in the top job.
We're about to see just how clever she is.
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