There is a better than average chance of Rudd replacing Gillard as leader during the August sitting.
In February after Julia Gillard and her supporters flushed out a challenge from Kevin Rudd I reckoned her chances of contesting the next election were virtually nil. To have induced a spill as she did so early in the parliamentary term revealed a shocking lack of security about her leadership. Of course anyone could have spotted that from reading opinion polls. More or less since Bob Hawke politicians have lived and died by opinion polls. John Howard was the exception because for the duration of his Premiership the alternative was a man disinterested in taking a party to certain defeat. I speculated back in February that the longer Gillard remained leader the stronger the push for a return to Rudd would become. If they could replace Gillard with someone more palatable to the caucus before Rudd gathered enough momentum then that person would probably lead the party to the next election. Otherwise Rudd’s popular momentum would become virtually unstoppable. The rationale for believing this is the longer opinion polls remained diabolical the more MP’s would become concerned about losing their seat but that they weren’t ready to stomach two leadership changes in the same parliamentary term.
This was back in February, it is now five months later and parliament has just broken for six weeks. It won’t sit again till mid August with marginal MP’s going back to their electorates for six weeks where they can expect a lot of grumpy voters complaining about the carbon tax which has only just been installed, and the appalling saga the disastrous asylum seeker debate. The opinion polls released today say it all; the government is overwhelmingly unpopular and when MP’s descend upon Canberra in six weeks time they should be pessimistic about their chances of re-election under the current leadership.
The polling is largely unchanged from February but its context is very different. The February challenge was supposed to bury Rudd, instead he has re-emerged from the setback even more popular both with the public and in the parliamentary party room. That his popularity could so quickly carry him back to where he is, to me demonstrates the strength of dissatisfaction with the Gillard/Swan leadership. Another factor is that the carbon tax is now in place, to change leaders before July 1st would have forced them to make the unpopular decision NOT to abandon the carbon tax before its implementation. Now that burden rests entirely on Gillard’s shoulders and a new leader would be less troubled by it.
Those factors are significant but for my money the most important difference between August and February is the obvious one, time. An election will probably be held about fourteen months from this day, over the period of the last five months Gillard hasn’t made the slightest inroad into Tony Abbott’s opinion poll lead. On this track record it is hard to see Gillard clawing Labor back into a remotely competitive position and MP’s will be weary that it they deny the new leader a significant run up to the next election then they may not have time to claw back Abbott’s lead either. And I think these circumstances dictate that there is a better than average chance of Rudd replacing Gillard as leader during the August sitting.