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A delusion of grandeur: Kevin Rudd in politics

By Marko Beljac - posted Monday, 5 March 2012

If Graham Freudenberg was able to write of Gough Whitlam's political career that it exhibited "a certain grandeur", then for Kevin Rudd we might speak of "a delusion of grandeur."

Many of his most vocal supporters shared in this delusion. For instance his lead cheerleader amongst the Australian intelligentsia, Robert Manne, even went so far as to state that Rudd's critics did not seem to understand that the colossus from Griffith was "an intellectual in politics," who was "struggling" to simultaneously both "understand and change" his world. No self-respecting philosopher king can take seriously Marx's clarion call in the Theses on Feuerbach that "Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it".

For Rudd ,and Manne, such an injunction is too modest by half.


The result of the ballot for leadership of the ALP, the "second coming of Rudd," reminds one also of some Marx; first as tragedy, second as farce.

Kevin Rudd, the second time, had essentially stood on two issues, very much related. The first was on the leadership change in 2010 and the second was on the power of factions and democracy within the ALP.

The two are related because prior to his ouster Rudd had shown little concern for the sorry state of democracy within the ALP. Under his stewardship power was centralised amongst a very small group of senior ministers. After June 2010 Rudd discovered the road to Damascus.

June 2010, furthermore, was the ultimate expression of the usurpation of power by the factions. Manne, in a widely cited essay extolling the virtues of Rudd, written when the former Prime Minister was waging a stealthy campaign of destabilisation against Julia Gillard, had the temerity to state that Rudd lost his job because he "clearly failed to attract the minimal loyalty of his cabinet and caucus colleagues." The picture presented is of an assassination of a leader by power hungry faceless men determined to reassert the power of the party machine.

Pity the intellectual in politics.

To the contrary Rudd totally and utterly lost the confidence of his party because of the grandiloquent and odious manner in which he had treated it when in office. For example, by coming and going as he pleased at the ALP national conference. By announcing on radio, well away from the conference, that its resolutions, especially on tax reform, are irrelevant. By sidelining cabinet, even to the extent of exiting cabinet meetings to attend to petty media interviews. Not even Paul Keating would have displayed such brazen contempt.


Whist his poll numbers were high such treatment had to be tolerated. When the protection afforded by these numbers disappeared Rudd became vulnerable. When Rudd carried all before him I had asserted here that his poll numbers were an "asset price bubble," because they were based on branding and packaging rather than substance, just waiting to burst. Given his contemptuous treatment of the party his leadership, I had argued, was based on nothing else.

Though much has changed in the ALP a deeply respected leader immersed in the traditions and values of the labour movement, such as Ben Chifley, would not be ousted, even in today's frenetic political cycle, on the basis of a few bad polls.

In much commentary the events of June 2010 have been likened to a late night NKVD hit upon an innocent and unwitting victim. This quite fraudulent rewriting of Australian political history is one thing that, revealingly, both Robert Manne and The Australian, not to mention Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party, agree upon.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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