2013 is often described as a rerun of 2010 for the obvious reason that it is an electoral rematch. Granted the key players remain the same but the environment in which the election could not be more different. The political year 2010 was frenetic, Tony Abbott had been in his position for only eight months while Julia Gillard had been there less than eight weeks when they went to the polls. The environment surrounding the election was probably the most volatile of any in living memory, including 1975. Even rusted on voters who were unmoved by the leadership changes on both sides went to the polls cautious and uncertain of what the future would hold. The prevailing sentiments in 2010 were the odd pairing of cautious optimism and anxiety, confidence was nowhere to be seen.
2013 is very different. Tony Abbott is now a long serving opposition leader who has transformed the opposition into an alternative government of uninspiring small targets while Julia Gillard’s team has established itself as a tired government living on borrowed time, expending enormous energies on just staying alive. In many ways 2013 is more akin to 2006 which explains the mysterious allure of one Kevin Rudd. As Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Rudd somewhat disloyally used John Howard’s attacks against his own colleagues. He encouraged the idea that Labor, that is old Labor (Beazley, Crean, Keating) were seen as irresponsible and untalented in the key areas of economics and national security and if Howard was to be defeated then they couldn’t fight the 2007 election in a traditionally Labor way. In essence Rudd ran on the popular platform that the old dichotomy was suffocating and that he could offer a new way, a third way, like Blair and Clinton did.
This is how Rudd wins his support; he portrays the Liberal and Labor parties as being uninspiringly similar in their old hat approaches to politics and at the same time unhealthily polarized. By emphasizing the need for the new and the positive in visionary language Rudd cast himself as an appealing way out of the uninspiring quagmire of Howard/Costello-Beazley/Crean politics. That he managed to do it the first time while impressive was not altogether surprising, the vacuum was already there as evidenced by the less successful attempt to break the old mold by drafting Mark Latham to the Labor leadership. What is extraordinary though is that both major parties have allowed themselves to shuffle back into a position where Rudd is able to do it all over again.
Despite the fact that Labor is in government, the pieces in place are eerily similar. Like John Howard in 2006, Julia Gillard is a Prime Minister who has outstayed her welcome and voters are willing to replace her with pretty much anyone, but, like in 2006, the opposition leader is not widely liked. As the country marches towards an election between two candidates which fail to inspire Rudd again reaps the benefits of old stock standard party rhetoric: The Liberals are nasty and right wing, they want to bring back AWA’s and shut down hospitals. Labor are dictated to by union thugs, they are reckless spenders and can’t be trusted to manage the economy. Rudd equipped with gloriole and powers of levitation avoids the stigma of either and so is at his most popular when both major party leaders are shackled to it.
Presumably when Abbott wins the 2013 election he will enjoy a surge in popular support and then we might see the allure of Rudd finally broken but until that happens Rudd’s popularity will continue to soar.
Edit: I’ve just read that Mr Rudd has returned to the Sunrise desk to engage in weekly sparring matches with Joe Hockey. This is more of a superficial parallel with 2006 but amusing none the less.