Over the past four days we’ve not only seen Kevin Rudd return to the political frontline, but also Tony Abbott: the trouble child of the Howard government. As Health Minister and Leader of the House for four years, Abbot accrued a well deserved reputation for high handedness and erraticism. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the role of a Minister, particularly a Leader of the House is very different to that of party leader but as a party leader this propensity for the gaffe became a liability.
Since becoming leader Abbott has called in Messes Higgins and Pickering to remake himself as a disciplined, more understated, and consistent politician. To quote the Prime Minister, a leopard does not change its spots and Abbott still blunders about a little more often than is normal but he has reined in his excesses to a sufficient extent to make him an electable candidate for Prime Minister. That was until now.
Kevin Rudd may not be able to win over the nation through sheer force of prolixity alone but he might be able to do it with a little help from the ghost of Abbot’s past. Since Rudd emerged from the caucus and revelled in the flattering spotlight, Abbott has been running around like Steve Fielding in a beer bottle suit, trying, it would seem, to disrupt the coronation in one way or another. In doing so he has blundered his way through press conferences, parliamentary debates and interviews sounding frenetic, unsure of himself and nothing like the image of focus of discipline he has spent three years cultivating.
His reasons are doing so are obvious, for the first time since early 2011 it now appears plausible for Abbott to lose the upcoming election, not likely, but plausible. Abbott witnessed firsthand the devastation Rudd inflicted onto John Howard in 2007 and is weary the comeback kid will do it again. As you might expect for a new Prime Minister, Rudd is the media’s darling for the moment and he is happily playing them like a ukulele. What’s more he does so with such insouciance, such condescending ease that he appears to be taunting his rivals. Doubtless Abbott is seeing Rudd holding court with the press gallery and is worried that Rudd will develop some electoral momentum heading into the polls which will steamroll Abbott’s enormous yet paradoxically fragile lead in the polls. And so he acts like a dill. Anything to knock Kevin Rudd out of the media spotlight will do but its folly, people aren’t going to forget Rudd is there and instead Abbott just ends up looking erratic and untrustworthy.
Despite Rudd’s enormous political ability, this election is for Tony Abbott to lose. Rudd can narrow the gap but if Labor is going to win it will be because Tony Abbott drops the ball. He needs to stop running around like a headless chook, let Rudd have his coronation, issue a few carefully worded, authoritative statements in a press release then wait for the dust to settle before recommencing. While Rudd is parading about like a Prima Donna it’s probably a good time for Abbott to have a bit of a rest from the public spotlight to recharge before the real campaign begins. Abbott has purportedly rejected Rudd’s invitation for debates on health and economics, this is a smart move on his part, on the other hand wheeling in Howard and Downer to attack Rudd on Indonesia was desperate and panicky.