Tales from the Political Trenches by Maxine McKew.

TALES FROM THE POLITICAL TRENCHES
Maxine McKew
Melbourne University Publishing, $29.99; e-book $14.99

This is a devastating portrait of contemporary Australian politics. Its blow to Julia Gillard's credibility comes at a moment when she is looking better in the polls, presumably on the basis of her misogyny outburst at Tony Abbott, which is widely being hailed as her finest hour by people uninterested in its context. Maxine McKew's Tales from the Political Trenches - all the more effective for being written by a woman who toppled a prime minister, John Howard, in his own seat - is, among other things, a depiction of Julia Gillard as the architect of her own misfortunes.

Gillard is, she says, liable to have caused a ''catastrophic wipeout of a generation of Labor parliamentarians'' having ''forfeited any claim to be seen as a politician of conviction'' because of her ''brutal grab for power''. The former Lateline host is certainly gunning for Julia. McKew says that by mid-2012, Gillard had lost her party 2 million votes and, although this is based on poll figures that have now changed, it's hard to shake the conviction that the prime minister has condemned Labor to needless years in the wilderness.

McKew emphasises the very controlling nature of Gillard's office as deputy PM and the radical unlikelihood of her coming to the prime ministership only reluctantly and at the last minute. McKew is also utterly convincing in her delineation of the way no one warned Rudd or told him things had to change. This is an almost wholly convincing account of how an effective, if unlovable, prime minister was toppled by a deputy who was overreaching herself.

Tales from the Political Trenches can't dispel the image of the unattractive side of Rudd's personality, which is, after all, widely attested to and was given definitive expression by David Marr's unaligned Quarterly Essay just before his fall. But it does testify to the special interest that maintained his demonisation as a foundation myth.

This book has a surprising scope and power because it articulates the need for a Labor Party, shorn of atavistic factional impediments, that speaks to the centre of Australian politics, to people who are not tribal or predestined to love it, but want a fair go.

McKew reminds us, too, that the white-faced Rudd at the edge of doom, his red-eyed family around him, warned of a lurch to the right on the asylum-seeker issue. Who could have predicted Gillard's embrace of the Malaysia Solution?