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Leadership rivals wait to see who blinks first

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Grattan: Game on in Canberra

As political speculation churns, The Age political editor Michelle Grattan gives her perspective on the Labor leadership battle.

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''You call it on.'' ''No, I'm not doing it - it's up to you.'' The Rudd and Gillard camps might sound like a couple of juveniles, but each is fighting for tactical advantage as the leadership row simmers a fraction below boilover point.

Neither sees advantage in being the first mover. Each side can only get away with inflating its candidate's level of support when it is still in the realm of the hypothetical.

The Labor Party was simultaneously governing and imploding before our eyes. 

Both sides are vulnerable because the numbers are fluid and they would change once a time was set for a vote.

Strategy: Kevin Rudd's leadership ambitions could be foiled if he mounts a challenge without enough support among the caucus.

Strategy: Kevin Rudd's leadership ambitions could be foiled if he mounts a challenge without enough support among the caucus. Photo: AFP

Julia Gillard doesn't want to forfeit the advantage of incumbency. Come and get me if you can, she is saying. Calling a ballot would be a sign of weakness and might well add to Kevin Rudd's momentum. Similarly, sacking him for disloyalty would just be a ''game on'' declaration, not only lifting all restraint on him but risking making him something of a martyr.

Despite claims Rudd has a two-stage strategy, the Foreign Minister could be stymied if he called a vote and his support was, say, only a quarter of the caucus (considerably less than the Rudd forces are claiming). The second challenge might then become difficult to crank up, especially given the hostility of many in the caucus to him.

The venom was on display yesterday. Once again, Simon Crean was out with a hot poker, prodding provocatively at Rudd. The strength of his attack is odd because it is known he has been critical of Gillard.

Crean denies he has leadership ambitions himself, but some believe that if Gillard eventually stood aside, he might run against Rudd. At present, however, there is no sign she would not fight to the end.

The Gillard-Rudd stand-off will have to be broken, though we don't know how and when.

In Queensland, where Labor faces defeat, Premier Anna Bligh and predecessor Peter Beattie are calling for an early resolution. Bligh would like the matter settled in favour of Rudd before the March 24 state election. She wants a bit of his popularity to rub off.

But the counter-argument is that if the leadership changed before a Queensland defeat, Rudd's reputation as a vote-puller would suffer and it would be a poor start to his leadership.

Former national secretary Bob Hogg describes this as the most unedifying spectacle he has seen - and he's seen a lot. Yesterday's prime ministerial news conference showed how surreal and dysfunctional Labor has become. The first half was devoted to the ground-breaking Gonski report on schools; then David Gonski departed and the journalists and PM got stuck into the leadership issue.

The Labor Party was simultaneously governing and imploding before our eyes.

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162 comments

  • This whole episode is an unbelievable farce and a hideously low point for the Australian media.
    Michelle and her cohort have created this monster, fed it, watered it and nurtured it at the expense of important political events and issues in this country.
    The re we buy into this trivial manufactured crap the further we are diminished.
    Bread and circuses.
    Absolute crap.

    Commenter
    Tipping Point
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    February 21, 2012, 8:29AM
    • What a load of old cobblers, if this was a leadership split in the Coalition the media would be reporting it in just the same manner. Michelle Grattan has seen all of this before (although probably not by such a bunch of knuckleheads).There is no need for her to create anything, this all Labor's own handiwork, just suck it up tipping point.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 9:14AM
    • Yes, it's all the media's fault. The voters are unwashed fools, easily manipulated like marionettes. It has nothing to do with broken promises, deceit, incompetence, waste, arrogance, inability to listen to the public. Let's create a bureau to censor all media so that they will report the correct news and opinions. Nothing should undermine the party. Long live the proletariat.

      Commenter
      Rodrigo
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 9:30AM
    • Last night we found out that Rudd is not planning a challenge any time soon yet the media have been pump-priming this non-story for 8 months now. What gives?

      The people calling most loudly for a challenge are those who would never support the government in a million years anyway. The political media in this country have decsended into a sad farce.

      Commenter
      Think Big
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 9:42AM
    • Oh Rodrigo, you're spouting Alan Jones-like dross there fella. 'Broken promises, deceit, incompetence' :) Why not throw 'Juliar' in as well, just for good measure?

      Rather than post Alan-Jones soundbites, it would be great to hear specifically what you consider deceitful given the compromises needed for a minority government. Complete authenticity is an impossibility given that the very existence of the minority government completely hangs on satisfying others' wishes. And where is the 'waste' and the incompetence etc?

      When you reply, could you also state how Abbott would do things differently. You'll have to guess here obviously, because Abbott hasn't proposed a SINGLE policy since he became opposition leader. He and his front bench are the epitome of incompetence if you only chose to examine them closely.

      Commenter
      Yeah yeah
      Location
      NSW
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 9:48AM
    • Think Big,
      How did you know that Rudd is not challenging anytime soon? From the media? Oh the irony!

      Commenter
      Rodrigo
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 9:58AM
    • Yeah yeah,
      I don't listen to Alan Jones at all as I'm not of the same state. But go on - demonize all those who tell the truth.

      Did she or did she not break her promise about the Carbon Tax? Yes.

      Did she or did she not break her promise to Andrew Wilkie? Yes.

      Did her office manipulate the Aborigines on Australia Day? Yes.

      We don't need Alan Jones to tell us about Gillard's many failings. We can see them unfold before us like a Greek tragedy.

      Commenter
      Rodrigo
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 10:01AM
    • Spot on TB, finally the bluff and bluster of the Media has been shown for what it is , nothing but futile attempts to create headlines, they have shone the spotlight on Rudd incessantly knowing that he would revel in it, even now suddenly faced with the realisiation that they are chasing a false dawn, the hysterical claims being made by Sky News have become even more shrill , as they desperately try to continue this beat up. Rudd and the Media have had their bluff called and they are holding at best a pair of duece's . there will be no spill, and no change of leader ,!!!

      Commenter
      stevec
      Location
      five dock
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 10:09AM
    • Isn't it ironic that all those who decry the media (who seem to be exclusively rusted-on Labor supporters) actually come to media sites and comment. If you don't like the media or what they report, don't read. Do something else like pound the streets giving out Labor party pamphlets.

      Commenter
      Rodrigo
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 10:25AM
    • @Steveh
      Instead of jumping on the media bandwagon with the rest of the dolt's, let's see if you are prepared to give us your own opinion on whether there will be a spill, or a change of leader , TB and I have given ours !

      Commenter
      stevec
      Location
      five dock
      Date and time
      February 21, 2012, 10:26AM

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