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I won't stop campaigning, says Rudd

Kevin Rudd will not be winding back his frequent public appearances, saying he has a role to play in helping his Labor colleagues campaign to retain their seats.

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This past week has seen an outbreak of the ''relevance deprivation syndrome'' among the political class. Witness Christine Milne, the Greens' stocks having plummeted since Bob Brown's retirement, performing a Clayton's ending of her party's alliance with the Labor government. See, too, the phalanx of commentators calling on Julia Gillard to fall on her prime ministerial sword.

Perhaps the most spectacular case of the syndrome involves Kevin Rudd, our self-styled prime minister-in-exile. Undeterred by his own party's thunderous rejection of his ambition to seize back the prime ministership 12 months ago, the humble Queensland backbencher is once more omnipresent.

Whether it is his daily television appearances uttering folksy denials of a leadership challenge, or lodging a freedom of information request into his own correspondence with the Australian Federal Police, Rudd is one happy little Vegemite. The party he joined at the age of 15 in 1972, not so much.

It wasn't enough that he sabotaged Labor's 2010 election campaign. Rudd's resignation as foreign minister in 2012 and subsequent challenge was a far superior exercise in self-destructive vanity. Now Rudd seeks to inflict further pain, even if his behaviour increasingly condemns him to the status of a Labor ''rat''.

Demagogic narcissists who treat the party as a personal plaything usually get their just desserts. It is perplexing then to witness commentators and even some Labor MPs urging that Rudd be rewarded for his disloyalty.

Instead, Gillard must remain as PM in the name of what this paper's Mark Baker terms the ''greater good''. First, the demise of our first female PM would be a devastating blow to our political culture. It would reward the bilious campaign waged by misogynist nut-jobs, Tea Party-style activists and the policy-free zone that is Tony Abbott's Liberal Party.

Removing a second-straight PM without reference to electors, based upon poor but not irreversible polling numbers, would seriously damage the public's trust in our democracy. The now-exuberant Liberals would not be immune. Celebrity politicians who think Sunrise is more important than Parliament would be here to stay.

Second, this is not a ''dysfunctional'' government. It has produced a raft of nation-building reforms: a carbon price, the national broadband network, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, paid parental leave, and the first serious attempt to formulate an industry policy in decades. The mining tax is a work in progress. This is a welcome departure from Howard-era style ''reform'': workplace laws which treated human beings as mere commodities.

As such, is it disappointing to see David Day, one of our finest historians, assert on this page on Tuesday that Gillard ''has turned out to be less of a Labor leader than her predecessor . . . And on some limited measures . . . even less of a Labor leader than . . . John Howard.'' Day adduced little evidence to support this proposition. And Rudd may be in ''a sweet place'', but at the potential cost of wiping out an entire Labor generation.

Granted, Gillard's leadership is not without fault. I profoundly disagree with her stances on gay marriage and refugees (neither of which Rudd fundamentally opposes). Gillard has made tactical mistakes, such as her whatever-it-takes commitment to achieving a budget surplus and rejection of reviving the republic issue before the current monarch's passing. Her government has struggled to communicate the economy's rude health.

It is in Labor's long-term interests for Gillard to prevail. Like the best Labor leaders - Andrew Fisher, John Curtin and Bob Hawke to name but a few - Gillard ''gets'' the labour movement. It would be far better that she led her party to an honourable loss than the party have to deal with the apocalyptic effects of a Rudd redux: ministers resigning en masse, unions disaffiliating or withholding campaign funds, the ultimate triumph of the revolving door leadership model, and several years of bitter recriminations.

Commenting on the long-lived Queensland Labor government's 1929 defeat, the Labor Call newspaper suggested: ''Labor with power in its hands, finds the struggle forward impeded in many new and more subtle ways . . . What keeps up the strength of the anti-Labor party is its solidarity. It never scabs on its mates.'' Right-wing bullies and conservative politicians are scarcely known for rousing renditions of Solidarity Forever. Yet they appear more adept at practising the labour movement's famous creed.

For its part Labor should focus on the bigger picture. Electoral recovery is not out of the question. Moreover, if it is to retain a modicum of self-respect in the eyes of voters and its membership, it must - and almost certainly will - ignore Rudd's siren song. Perhaps, too, Australia's happiest little Vegemite might care to mull over his place in Labor's illustrious 122-year history.

Nick Dyrenfurth is the author or editor of several books on Australian political history, including Heroes and Villains: the Rise and Fall of the Early Australian Labor Party.

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