|Thief! - Pencil on Paper 2010
For a second time in a little over 3 years the Labor Party rolled a sitting PM and their own leader. An impressive effort when you think about it.
Whether relevant to the Labor caucus member's own personal decision or not the PM they ousted this time was a woman. The main reason for it, which is supported by the facts, is that to go to the election with Gillard as the sitting PM and as Labor leader would result in political suicide for the Australian Labor Party. Gillard had lost the support of the electorate and Labor would emerge from the upcoming election a decimated husk. A long hiatus in opposition to rebuild is what the party needed argued some. The electorate preferred the previously rolled PM, Kevin Rudd. I am bemused by the public popularity of Rudd. He was rolled for good reason, he had lost the support of his colleagues, he'd lost his way dazzled by the position of PM rather than rising to its promise. It was clear to everyone something had to be done about Kevin as Kevin was all about Kevin. Gillard took on what most of her colleagues from both sides of politics would shiver at the prospect of, a political party in turmoil and disunity though they were very happy for her to do so. And, to give her credit she had the courage they lacked to do so.
Gillard became the first woman Prime Minister, bundled into the role following the ejection of a bumbling Kevin Rudd. Gillard then subsequently won at the polls a shaky hold on Government (a minority one) at the next election. It functioned due to Gillard's talent to unify her minority government with 3 independents. Rudd was never going to stand aside gracefully and happily embarked upon causing any and all destabilising interferences he could. He could be excused for some of this but not for behaviour that, due to its persistence, does point to one main reason for why the Gillard Government was never fully accepted as being legitimate. Rudd would not allow the country to move past his own personal pique. He chose to never accept the position he had arguably put himself into in the first place and demands we see him as one who can take responsibility. To me, like some sort of Prince Friedrich Hapnick, there he was in the background blithering around or pouting dramatically. A prickly, sulky destabilising force, which appealed to some obviously, blaming Gillard for his position and not letting anyone forget his version of events.
Knowing this one wonders how reasoned and thinking voters prefer Rudd to Gillard (or worse Abbott to Gillard). Rudd is a known tanty thrower, micro manager, self obsessed and self promoting. No one would accuse him of bringing an appropriate level of rigour and intellect to the high office of PM. Gillard defined in office that she is about the job and getting it done whilst eloquently deflecting what detractors thought of what she wore or whether her body shape complied to an acceptable fashionable standard. She also took on and won debates lesser intellectuals would have crumbled before. The problem for Gillard was the personal and gender related criticism never ceased. And some of the really grubby underhanded muck stuck firm in the mind of the populist voter.
Julia Gillard though was the first woman Prime Minister in Australian, a fact and a matter of history that cannot be taken from her. Many of us though liking such a fact as a shiny piece of political kudos to flash at our fellow democracies took it very much for granted treating it with less than the special care deserved. Gillard competently fielded valid criticism, too deftly and with a Lawyer's (political) manipulative flair she deflected fair criticisms. But so do all competent politicians. She also graciously endured invalid abusive and out of bounds criticism. Through her the government had gotten a few good things done despite the hung parliament, and it unavoidably and avoidably made mistakes. Some implementations were very good, some botched due to a too hasty pressure to perform and some were plainly wrong but persisted with out of a belligerence of Government which can delude those in power they know better than the experts who clearly advised caution and the public who say no that's too far, we did not approve this.
Gillard had failed to perform on some matters to expectation, the nature of the parliament she led made certain progress unattainable. It was were she failed on one matter in particular that confused her real supporters as well as the grass roots electorate. She declined to endorse the gay marriage bill instead she defined the status of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman. We balk at such contradiction from a Labor Leader, a declared Atheist and person of reason. But this wasn't of concern to those who simply would never "warm" to Gillard. She both irritated and elated the electorate - she polarised but also pulled people together. Not simply but especially because of her gender Julia Gillard's government was most precarious as the classic double edged sword scenario of a hung parliament. Leading Government but at the constant mercy of Parliament. To carry the metaphor to its end running government on a such a knife's edge makes for dangerous political territory misstep and off with her head basically.
As Gillard gamely stated, when announcing she'd lost the party ballot to lead the Labor Party to the next election, there were good reasons to explain some of the struggle she'd had in the role as being due to her gender. It might not explain everything but it explained somethings...
"I have been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past, but then concluded that it had zero affect on my political position or the political position of the Labor Party."
How dubious an honour to be the leader of the Labor Party, male or female. A comment I make as a Labor voter my entire voting life.
I happen to think that an element of timing is part of it. I'm grateful for her opportunity it may otherwise have taken much longer to see a Woman Prime Minister. I feel part of something as a consequence and some good must come of it.
Without a clear choice the electorate never "warmed" to Gillard on its own terms and Rudd remains a curiosity for anthropologists perhaps to some day sufficiently explain.