ANALYSIS

In his hands: Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

In his hands: Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

The prime ministership is now within Kevin Rudd's grasp if he is prepared to seize it. But it's not available on the terms he has been demanding.

The central question in Australian politics today is this - is Rudd prepared to save Labor from itself? He has to decide today. It's been entirely obvious to the whole country that he would dearly like to be restored to the prime ministership, and the Australian voting public is with him.

But he wanted the job handed to him. He wanted the Labor caucus to realise its error, correct its mistake, and give him the job by acclamation.

But now that it's down to the wire, it seems that he will have to fight for it if he really wants it.

Labor knows it almost certainly cannot win the election under Julia Gillard. Yet the party collectively has failed its first responsibility - to deny government to the Liberal Party and to strive to win.

Julia Gillard struck Rudd down three years ago on the grounds that his polling was poor and that he had no plan for recovery.

Today, her polling is diabolical and her every plan for recovery has failed. But Gillard will not submit herself to the same criteria and take responsibility by standing aside in Rudd's favour.

Neither will her cabinet act. It met on Monday night and failed to confront her. Neither has the caucus acted. It met on Tuesday and listened politely as Gillard delivered a dismally implausible pep talk. She has stared them all down.

If Rudd wants it, he will have to challenge for it. He will have to break his promise. He will have to tear her down as she tore him down.

Even some of Gillard's praetorian guard concede that she would likely lose a ballot held now.

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