Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Telling fortunes: Robert Manne on Rudd, before last week

I just scooped my copy of the July issue of The Monthly out of the mailbox and was mesmerised to see, on the cover, the words 'Rudd's Collapse, by Robert Manne'. I know for a fact that it takes longer to turn an issue of a monthly magazine around than five days, so what on earth could the story be here?

Turns out it's an almost-prescient article written, of course, well before the events of last Thursday; the piece is dated June 16, as though Manne or editor Ben Naparstek had the foresight to realise how fast things might change. I guess it's just possible they did manage to sneak that dateline in at the last minute of production. But no, surely not; not to get it labelled and wrapped and posted to Adelaide within three working days.

I've always had respect for Robert Manne as a commentator, even though often finding his style hard to read. But in the context of the events of last week this article is mesmerising, and it might give pause to some of the angrier anti-Gillard protesters to see just how much trouble Rudd was perceived to be in by a political commentator with a great deal more gravitas and cred than most of the people writing for the press.

Some highlights:
What was most remarkable about all this [ie the collapse of public support for Rudd and federal Labor, as measured in the polls] is that the strange and sudden collapse of the government's and the prime minister's fortunes was not a consequence of any external political crisis or sudden economic shock, or even of an upturn in the fortunes of the Opposition -- in both Newspoll and Nielsen, Tony Abbott remained even more unpopular than Kevin Rudd -- but a series of nearly inexplicable and easily avoidable government own goals.
But there is more to the sudden collapse of the government's fortunes than a failure of style and process. With Rudd there is also a deep confusion an unresolved tension between word and action. ... Rudd [has] found himself trapped in a hopelessly confused situation in which he argued that asylum seekers must be treated as human beings and the people smugglers who brought them here as 'vermin', and in which his government's policy was described as simultaneously 'tough' and 'humane'. ... Rudd rightly condemned the Howard government's addiction to taxpayer-funded political advertising as a cancer on democracy. He did not seem to understand that by the use of such language all future political advertising by a government he led was verboten. ... Rudd described climate change as the most important moral challenge facing humankind. He did not seem to understand that rhetoric of this kind, which allowed him to occupy the highest moral ground, would eventually seem ludicrously inconsistent with the feeble legislative compromise he negotiated with Turnbull.
The distance between his words and his deeds is not the Prime Minister's only problem. Equally disabling is his seeming incapacity to foretell the predictable consequences of his actions.

Well, quite.

Manne does not go so far as to actually foretell a challenge, successful or otherwise, from Gillard. But I bet he wasn't in the least surprised when it happened. In this piece Manne is doing what he does best: a lucid synthesis of events and themes in a rapidly changing landscape, and a deftly-made set of connections in which the many apparently disparate threads of the situation are pulled together into a coherent narrative or overview.

I hope lots of people read this piece, especially the people for whom the events of last week came as a surprise and/or those upset by the way it was done. It's sobering to realise just what magnitude of crisis Rudd was seen to be in before the challenge from Gillard. Obviously she was not the only person thinking that 'a good government had lost its way', and feeling very deeply alarmed by that thought.


Susanna Freymark said...

Very,very interesting...there is a lot to this still unfolding story. Thanks for posting that..I hadn't seen it.
Susanna Freymark

fifi said...

Yes, thank you.
There is a lot of which I was certainly unaware, and have now calmed down enough to look at things differently. I think there was heavy dose of blind faith in my case. Obviously.

Eric Sykes said...

Manne's little bit in the Oz over the weekend was good to. Rudd his own worst enemy, that kind of thing.

cristy said...

And yet I still don't understand how Gillard is a solution to these issues. In what ways has she taken a different position (then or now)? I mean this as a genuine question, rather than a rhetorical one.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Cristy, I don't know whether she's a solution or not, and since Manne was writing before the change of leadership then I don't know whether he does or not either. But his article is about Rudd. And I think a lot of the Rudd-based problems he talks about -- the personal unpopularity within the Party, the disconnect between rhetoric and action, and the inability to foresee the consequences of his own actions -- are probably not things that apply to Gillard.

Bernice said...

There's also an interesting piece in Weekend Oz by Scott Prasser - pg 2 of the Inquirer section (yes yes never one so misnamed)re more reasons why...

Unlike Helen Trinca's piece where either she or the subbie decided that the readers needed to be told re Doris Day - "a reference to the 1960s actress with the girl-next-door screen image." How old do they believe the average Oz reader to be for god's sake?

cristy said...

Yes, fair enough. His personal lack of popularity and alienating style are certainly all his own fault. As were his decisions to make big claims of action plans without ensuring that the government delivered.

I can see that point.

Karen said...

I'm sure I will have to wait at least until Monday for my copy of the July Monthly here in Perth. I think my postie must ride his bike across the Nullarbor.

via collins said...

"And yet I still don't understand how Gillard is a solution to these issues."

My understanding is that simply by involving and consulting caucus, by taking advice from wiser elders, by effectively delegating, and by treating all and sundry with due respect, Gillard is a massive improvement, possibly solution to the issues that have stagnated the federal ALP.

My initial concerns with the methods of Rudd's despatch have evaporated very quickly indeed.