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Labor's political dysfunction reaches new heights

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Chief Political Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald

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A dramatic day for Labor

A look at the developments in lead-up to the 4.30pm leadership spill.

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One thing the Labor Party is supposed to be good at organising is a political assassination. Even their opponents assumed that.

Before the Labor caucus even met on Thursday afternoon the Liberal Party had released an ad featuring the man who triggered the showdown - Simon Crean - bagging out Kevin Rudd, obviously preparing for the return of the former leader. The tag line... ''Labor, it's a farce''.

After this debacle, with an election just six months away, the Rudd ''camp'' must surely be folding their tents. 

But the Liberals didn't know the half of it. When the caucus met, the plotters found they didn't even have a candidate. This wasn't farce, it was a comedy horror show like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

Labor's political dysfunction had reached levels unprecedented even for a party that has spent much of the last three years tearing itself asunder.

Its dysfunction was so profound it had to scramble on the floor of the House of Representatives to win crossbench support and avoid a no confidence motion - which would have precipitated an early election - all because of a leadership challenge that never happened.

It had to stare down the no confidence motion against the Prime Minister in the Parliament when everyone knew it was considering an internal no confidence motion against her in the caucus room just hours later.

The former leader Crean had to call for the leadership ballot before Rudd had agreed to be a candidate in order to try to sway some undecided votes because the party had been bogged in leadership dysfunction ever since the last showdown over a year ago.

Reversing the normal situation where the incumbent has to be blasted out of the job, in the modern ALP people apparently have to try to blast a challenger in.

There wasn't a convincing case, even at the beginning. Right after saying he was calling for a spill because the party needed to end the stalemate and have some decisive leadership, Crean chastised Rudd's indecision.

''He can't continue to play the game that says he is reluctant or he has to be drafted. I know the party will not draft him,'' he said. And so it was. They didn't. And he wasn't, for the simple reason that the desperate tactic had not delivered the numbers.

And of course the whole thing happened in a week when Labor was forced to abandon the bulk of its media reform laws after a ridiculously rushed and bungled process.

The one speck of silver lining for Labor is that the leadership stalemate must surely be over now. After this debacle, with an election just six months away, the Rudd ''camp'' must surely be folding their tents.

But only after another extraordinary spectacle of Labor self-harm.

As Crean said Labor can't win the election from the position they are now in, and ''I do not believe that the position we find ourselves in, in the polls, for example, is just due to destabilisation. I think it is due to a number of decisions which obviously in hindsight should have been approached differently.''

The Liberals will be making their next batch of ads already.

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