Don't just do something, stand there - Gillard's Zen defence
Julia Gillard has decided to fight Kevin Rudd's passive aggressive leadership campaign with a passive ''do nothing'' defence.
Despite being advised by her closest parliamentary supporters to ''take Rudd on'', she has chosen to do nothing, the one path they believe is untenable.
It could be a ploy to calm things down for now, since nothing can happen until the Foreign Affairs Minister returns from overseas at the end of the week anyway.
Not flighting back ... Julia Gillard, with education minister Peter Garrett. Photo: Andrew Meares
But the Prime Minister made it pretty clear yesterday that she wouldn't be doing anything unless evidence of treachery or undermining by Rudd came to hand. And she admitted it hadn't.
Rudd hasn't been doing anything overt or public - he insists he hasn't been doing anything at all - so building an evidentiary case against him will be tricky. Every time the Gillard backers think they have real evidence it slips away - like the independent Andrew Wilkie's insistence yesterday that he had raised leadership in a meeting with Rudd, not the other way round, and the Foreign Affairs Minister had not asked for his support on the floor of the house.
Passive aggression is like that: covert behaviour, cloaked behind protestations that everything is good. In relationships it's the partner who crashes around the house or sulks, but when asked what's wrong says ''nothing''.
(Yesterday the Foreign Affairs Minister was citing the Prime Minister's own admission there was no hard evidence of destabilisation in his own defence. He was also employing the ''present-tense tactic'' often favoured by leadership aspirants - ''I am the Foreign Minister; we have a Prime Minister'' - which neatly avoids addressing the question of how long that will continue to be so.)
The problem with Gillard's ''do nothing'' response is the longer this tension drags on, the more Labor's primary vote will redefine ''rock bottom'', which could further erode her own support.
That's why her backers have been urging one of the other three options on her table, even though all are problematic due to the passive nature of the challenge.
The first is the ''just sack him'' option. This has the problem of lack of evidence of disloyalty.
The second is the ''call him in'' option. This involves demanding a public commitment from Rudd that he is loyal and will not challenge. If he refuses he would be sacked. This option seems to be favoured, although Rudd could well profess loyalty, while the leadership tensions continue.
The third is the ''call him out'' option, which involves the Prime Minister calling a spill. This has the downside of acknowledging her opponent as a contender and surrendering the great benefit of incumbency, something her own office has been reluctant to do.
Gillard's supporters are now working overtime to reverse the belief that momentum inside caucus is running Rudd's way.
The Prime Minister may be hoping that, if the waverers can be convinced the terrible damage being done to Labor's reputation is all her opponent's fault, despite her lack of hard evidence, then the ''do nothing'' option may just work in her favour. But her own backers believe this mess is too far gone for that.
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