The resurrection of Kevin Rudd was treated as inevitable, but anyone who had considered the esteem with which he was held by his colleagues would have known better.
Robert Mitchum relished the role of an evil preacher in the 1955 expressionist thriller The Night of the Hunter, a film that still resonates in Nick Cave’s oeuvre many years later. Like the bent Reverend, I want to tell you a story about “love and hate”.
Actually, I’m just going to focus on the hate. Freud described hate as the state in which an individual wishes to destroy the source of his or her unhappiness.
In June 2010, Kevin Rudd was brought down by hate. When Julia Gillard was persuaded to challenge Rudd to a leadership ballot, the usual arrangements for a vote of the caucus were hastily made. But after surveying the lack of support of his caucus workmates and colleagues, Rudd decided not to stand.
He had failed to notice that the overwhelming majority of his parliamentary colleagues wished to remove him as leader. The catastrophic collapse in support for Rudd within caucus and the lead up to the challenge were missed not only by Rudd but by the entire press gallery and the public at large.
Why? It seems that no-one was paying any attention to the hate.
Yet, to those with a sense of organisational politics, culture and leadership, how could there have been any other denouement? It was apparent well before June 2010 that Rudd treated many of those around him badly, even contemptuously. A chronically sleep-deprived, erratic and angry micro-manager does not ordinarily enjoy a long shelf life, whether as a leader of a kindergarten, church, company or footy club. People who work with such individuals resent them. After a time, resentment breeds hostility and anger. And soon after, it becomes hate.
James Button, a gentle and highly experienced journalist, who briefly worked as Rudd’s speechwriter and then later with public servants who worked for Rudd, wrote:
The truth is, Rudd was impossible to work with. He regularly treated his staff, public servants and backbenchers with rudeness and contempt. He was vindictive, intervening to deny people appointments or preselections, often based on grudges that went back years.
David Marr penned an analysis that highlighted Rudd’s mysterious and sudden bouts of “icy rage” directed at those around him.
Why then has it been so hard for so many to understand that a Prime Minister with such tendencies is not sustainable? The caucus, the cabinet and the upper echelons of the public service will always prefer those institutions to retain at least a modicum of civility and functionality. It sort of, well, makes the job easier.
Since June 2010, the Gillard/Rudd issue has engendered charged and divisive debate amongst intelligent people, including journalists and politicians, past and present. There are good people on both sides of the divide. Yet those who have supported a Rudd return have invariably dismissed or trivialised the notion that Rudd is widely hated by his peers. They have defended Rudd’s character, which is to miss the point.
This is not a justification of the hate but an acknowledgment of its existence, role and influence on events that have shaped the Federal Government.
Rudd’s reaction to his demise in 2010, if anything, entrenched the hate. To his critics, it has resembled a very long and destructive tantrum. In organisational terms, it has been a predictable illustration of the spurned individual with a powerful personality, damaging and derailing the group.
The orthodox and only effective resolution in these situations is to expel the individual from the organisation. The hung Parliament has eliminated that option.
Rudd’s sulky behaviour appears inextricably linked to an increasingly strident and angry industry that has emerged in newspaper analysis of the recent woes of the federal Labor Party, and in particular the issue known as Rudd v Gillard. Experienced journalists including Peter Hartcher, Michelle Grattan and Phillip Coorey have maintained long campaigns for the resurrection of Kevin. On April 12, 2012, Grattan called on Gillard to resign. Gillard didn’t.
In the lead-up to last week’s aborted challenge, the overwhelming and often feverish consensus of much media reporting described the resurrection of Rudd as an inevitability.
No-one seriously questioned the wisdom or likelihood of reinstating a widely hated leader. No one countenanced the possibility that the numbers were being inflated. A number of journalists moved into that dark symbiotic realm in which the boundary between journalist and protagonist starts to disintegrate. Peter Hartcher, amongst others, appears to have been gamed by Rudd’s backers as they inflated Rudd’s support to try and generate more “Ruddmentum” in the caucus.
At a time when any notion of party-political consensus has disappeared, there has been a puzzling tendency to groupthink amongst political journalists. In a recent weekend edition of the AFR, no fewer than four of its correspondents penned remarkably similar analyses of the Rudd/Gillard issue.
The absence of original, sceptical, rigorous voices among journalists covering federal politics is keenly felt. There is also a perverse irony in all of this. Many who have advocated Rudd’s resurrection are the same people who routinely condemn poll-driven, factional politicians and have done so for years. They have criticised, with some justification, the tendency of modern politicians to take their cue from focus groups and opinion polls. Since 2010, they have levelled some of their harshest criticism at the politicians credited with plotting Rudd’s downfall for this tendency.
For the past few years, those same critics have been catalysed into action with each new published opinion poll, relying on Rudd’s high ratings to urge a change of leader. All the while, the hitherto poll-obsessed, factional warriors have failed to heed the tea leaves and switch leaders. With each successive bad poll for Gillard and positive poll for Rudd, the politicians grin and bear it (with perhaps more bear than grin).
So why does a politician ignore successive bad polls and stay the course? Answer: hate.
The definitive account of last week’s farcical spectacle, in which Rudd choked on his sword, is yet to emerge. When it does, it will inevitably explore the messy, ugly dimensions of human behaviour when panic, fear and the desire for self-preservation collide with a wall of hate.
Image Credit: The ABC
This article originally appeared on The ABC News Website