It’s called running scared. When John Howard knifed his former parliamentary secretary and good friend Ian Campbell, it was the action of a panicked and desperate man.
That Howard himself admits that Campbell had done nothing wrong only emphasises the fact that this was an entirely political move, with the sole aim of propping up a frantic and pitiable attack on the character of the first opposition leader to have Howard seriously rattled since he came to power 11 years ago.
It’s to Rudd’s credit that he and his new look Labor team have refused to fight fire with fire by engaging in similar grubby and personal attacks on their opponents.
But that hasn’t stopped the media and political classes being swept away by the theatrics of the Brian Burke affair. Proclaiming Kevin Rudd’s honeymoon over, and his integrity seriously compromised, commentators are falling over each other to make the running on the kind of blood sport they most enjoy, but which largely leaves the rest of us cold.
This is most clearly demonstrated in the “insiders” email newsletter, Crikey!, where the Burke fiasco has dominated the top stories for several days, and in which former Labor advisor Richard Farmer on Monday told Rudd to start throwing mud back at the Government.
This not only misunderstands Rudd’s character, it’s a serious misreading of the Australian people, who have flocked to Rudd because he offers something other than the bitter, tired old ploy of playing the man. Rudd’s focus is, and always has been, very much on the ball. His popularity is due to people’s desire to hear policy and ideas - something the commentariat consistently under-estimates in its patronising attitude to the Australian people.
Despite the frenzied pronouncements of our professional politics watchers, the impact of this most political and personal of brawls on the voting public - the people who count - seems, according to the latest polls, to have been negligible.
The poll results can only be a crushing disappointment to Howard. Doubtless, the PM was hoping for a massive hit on Rudd’s almost unprecedented popularity in the polls, which would then have allowed him to paint Rudd as a flash-in-the-pan, an untried and immature leader in the mold of Mark Latham, whose number Howard had from the very start of his last federal contest.
But Rudd is no Latham, and three meetings with an almost ubiquitous lobbyist, seemingly unavoidable in the West, more than a year before Rudd became leader of his party, is a far cry from the kind of brutish behaviour and lack of judgment consistently displayed by Latham.
The fact is, Brian Burke is the type of Tammany Hall style Labor man that Rudd has determinedly opposed throughout his impressive diplomatic and governmental career, and whose kind are nearing the end of their power and political influence.
This is why Howard is grasping so desperately at the straws that link Rudd and Burke: he doesn’t know how to fight the new progressive politics Rudd is so effectively championing, so he’s trying to paint him as one of the old guard. But it won’t wash, and Rudd’s determination to remain above the fray and keep talking about ideas rather than throwing punches will ultimately blunt Howard’s desperate, out-moded assault.
Burke is an anachronism in the Rudd-led Labor party; a man’s man, a back-room operator, an un-reconstructed Old Labor thug. He comes from the culture that banded together to ensure misogynistic Mark finished his degree and never had to hold a job anywhere but within the ranks of the ALP.
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