Kevin Rudd: The people’s psychopath

Julia Gillard was ousted, and now Australia has Kevin Rudd again: the party’s answer to hatred of the party.

By the time Julia Gillard was addressing staff from the stairs of the Lodge, her official residence for the past three years, she was no longer wearing the black skirt suit she’d had on in caucus, and she was no longer prime minister. She was a mere backbencher and was wearing jeans. Wayne Swan, the treasury minister who later resigned rather than serve Kevin Rudd, the new prime minister and Gillard’s bitter rival, was there as well.

They spoke without bitterness. There were no tears. Apologies were made to staff, many of whom would lose their jobs. Festivities continued until only light beer was left – and then it was drunk, too.

To understand the events of 26 June – the replacing by caucus ballot of Australia’s 27th prime minister with its 26th – is to understand the desperation of the Australian Labor Party. Rudd stands atop the ruins of a government he played no small part in wrecking. Ever since he was removed from the leadership in 2010, accused of dysfunction and a vicious temper, he has campaigned relentlessly against the woman who replaced him.

Ministers have resigned rather than work with him. A former Labor leader has called for him to be expelled from the party. He is described on his own side as a “psychopath” – and yet his party decided he is the people’s psychopath. He has been elected to run an election campaign: that being his great talent.

Gender had a part to play in the demise of Gillard. This is the woman who has been described as “deliberately barren”. Her empty fruit bowl was worried over by the nation. Her “small breasts, huge thighs” and “big red box” were mocked in a “Julia Gillard quail” on the menu at a recent Liberal Party fundraiser.

Gillard’s chief disadvantage against Rudd was that she could never escape the party; she came to it through university politics, built a career in a Laboraffiliated law firm, owed too great a debt to the union movement. Labor is built on union support, in a country where four in five people are no longer union members. Yet while union influence has waned in the workplace, it has grown inside Labor.

And so you have Rudd: the party’s answer to hatred of the party. The phrase “old politics” has become his slogan – a commitment to run for the public against a parliament it loathes. By 30 June, polls had Labor in contention to win an election it has looked like losing for three years.

Rudd’s ambition for the leadership was there from the time he joined Labor’s opposition benches in 1998. Colleagues mocked him as “delusional”. The former Labor leader Mark Latham writes about this time in his truculent memoir, The Latham Diaries: “Rudd is a terrible piece of work: addicted to the media and leaking. A junior minister in government, at best.”

But instead he is prime minister. Again.


Julia Gillard. Photograph: Getty Images

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.