A few people have told me that they feel sorry for Kevin Rudd.
For the life of me, I can’t work out why. His political career appears to be a less eloquent version of Macbeth — except Rudd played both the title role and the role of the three witches: ‘All hail, me, I shall be king hereafter!’ All the character flaws play their role — the arrogance, the rage, the inability to maintain relationships — and then he’s toppled (interestingly not by a man of woman born… though the execution of this part makes Rudd seem more like the Witch-king of Angmar than Macbeth).
I have found it interesting that some are arguing that Kevin Rudd was elected by the people to be Prime Minister. Somehow, Julia Gillard is an illegitimate ruler of the country because the people didn’t elect her. It’s a strange argument and feeds into the conceit of people in democratic countries — the truth is, we don’t elect leaders; we elect parties.
The Prime Minister is whoever leads the party with the most seats in the lower house. If the party chooses to change its leader — which it can do at any point it likes — the Prime Minister changes accordingly. There’s no direct link between an election and the identity of the person who leads the country.
It’s this point which has fuelled a significant amount of hot air from the Republicans (those who want to do away with the monarchy; not the American political party). For some reason, Republicans want Australians to elect a single person to wield supreme executive power in Australia. This creates a certain link between the democratic process and the identity of the ruler of Australia. But that’s a discussion for later.
What Gillard did was appropriate. Rudd was a Prime Minister without a Party.
What should concern us more is the role of polls and the media in all of this. Rudd used the media cycle in order to become leader of the ALP. When he found that he couldn’t control the media cycle, the polls turned against him and toppled him. The media is not a neutral playing field: like the mining industry, the media is run by a group of very wealthy and self-interested white men. The media is also keen to protect its status as an essential organ of democracy and pumps out significant amounts of propaganda to sustain that image (see, for example, Balibo).
Given this and given the role it played in the Rudd Phenomenon, it might be a good time to have a public debate about the role of the media. Personally, I suspect it’s either time to start regulating the industry more carefully or it’s time to provide more resources to the ABC in order to have the very best news source in the public interest.