Well, it’s over. Kevin Rudd squibbed it, Simon Crean has crashed out of the Government front bench, arts first, Julia Gillard is still Prime Minister, and Malcolm Turnbull may as well quit now.
The most nuts day in federal politics in many a long year has, I venture, entrenched Tony Abbott as an unbackable favourite for the next election.
This is pretty much the way it looked destined to play out from the time Simon Crean opened his foolish mouth at 1pm on this last sitting day of the autumn session demanding a leadership spill.
To quote my first post today after Crean spoke:
“This may be the oddest leadership challenge ever. In fact there is some doubt about whether you can call it that.
“It is being led by a guy, Simon Crean, who’s not standing for leader. The person who is the presumptive alternative leader, Kevin Rudd, is not challenging. And he may not even have the numbers to mount a successful challenge.”
Since that time, of course, we have had an Opposition attempt to move no-confidence in the government, which it won on the numbers but lost on a technicality. We have seen three key independents, on whom the minority government relies for support – Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Andrew Wilkie – vote against it and for the suspension motion.
We have seen, in the Opposition speeches in the House, who they truly fear as an opponent, for they spent much more time bagging Rudd than Gillard.
We have seen very clearly just how deeply riven and panicked the government is.
And at the end, nothing significant has changed, in a personnel sense. What has changed is that a government which was previously tragically unpopular, now is comically unpopular.
It’s not all the fault of Kevin Rudd, but it’s mostly the fault of Kevin Rudd. Even in refusing to challenge, he showed the insufferable egotism which is his central personality trait.
As Gillard supporter and Leader of the House Anthony Albanese reported after the non-ballot: Rudd “has said he would only be a candidate for the Labor Party leadership, not through a divisive ballot in which he challenged the Prime Minister but only in the circumstances whereby it was the overwhelming view of the party.”
Yes, Rudd wanted to be carried to the leadership in a sedan chair borne by adoring Caucus throngs.
Alas, there was insufficient adulation.
But the fact that Rudd, Crean and co tried to pull off a challenge shows that they thought there was almost enough adulation. Or, to put it conversely, they thought there were enough people in the party who could no longer stand Gillard.
There is no point trying to present a coherent narrative of events, for they defy rational explanation. So let’s just make a few observations.
First, those people who thought all the talk about continued leadership tensions in the Labor Party were an invention of the press gallery, were wrong. It’s not hard to understand why those people came to that view. The amount of unsourced reporting over recent months has been just ridiculous.
Second, Rudd now has been beaten three times by Gillard. The best thing he could do for his party is just disappear.
Even Rudd’s backers think so. One of them, Richard Marles, the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, said as much to a press gallery scrum a little after 7pm, when he announced that Gillard had just accepted his resignation.
Marles said it was time to end all talk of challenges, to get fully behind the PM, and so on. All the stuff that has been said after each episode of Rudd destabilisation.
But of course Rudd won’t disappear.
Third, the most relieved person in parliament after the result of the Caucus meeting became known was probably Tony Abbott. For – inexplicably in my view – Rudd still enjoys high public support. And Abbott doesn’t.
Fourth, Abbott’s speech calling for a no-confidence vote in Labor inspired no confidence in Tony either.
Fifth, there is one capable orator in the Liberal ranks, and that’s Malcolm Turnbull. The public likes him; his party colleagues don’t. The only thing which might make him acceptable to them would be if Labor looked like it might win the election. Not much chance of that now, which makes one wonder why he bothers.
Sixth, although those three independents voted against the government on the motion to suspend standing orders, they would not all necessarily have voted no-confidence. The suggestion is that Windsor at least, just wanted to bring on the debate, so he could put his tuppence in.
And lastly, if the day’s events achieved nothing else, it at least showed once again Julia Gillard is one of the toughest, smartest, politicians you’ll ever see.
And it’s a little sad to contemplate her likely fate in September.
(Image: Mike Bowers/The Global Mail)