THE favourite party game in the press gallery and among Canberra’s commentariat these days is “Pick the People”.
It’s based on the belief that sometime before the next election both major party leaders will be deposed. The question then is, who will take their place and in the reshuffle who will be the big winners and losers?
Regular readers will recall that, at the beginning of the year, I wrote that Julia Gillard would probably not establish an emotional connection with the electorate and that Tony Abbott wouldn’t see out the year as Opposition Leader.
At this stage it’s certainly true that Ms Gillard has failed to connect with the voters. Indeed, the latest figures from Queensland where she was able to score only 23 per cent approval, compared with 62 per cent for Kevin Rudd, were unprecedented.
But were they terminal? Will Kevin Rudd be the ultimate comeback kid riding to the rescue of his beleaguered party? Most of the press gallery journalists don’t think so; they say his caucus colleagues wouldn’t have him back in a fit. However, the wiser heads such as Laurie Oakes and Peter Hartcher are not prepared to write him off.
The gallery’s lesser lights are listening to the apparatchiks such as the egregious Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib who would have no future at all under a resurgent Rudd.
However, it’s a different story among Labor members who are closer to their electorates. They know – as do the top journalists – that, short of a political miracle, Gillard is leading the party into the wilderness and themselves to the unemployment queues.
Kevin is the only viable alternative.
But if he returns, the “Pick the People” game says Swan will go, as Deputy PM – probably to Defence – replaced as Treasurer and Deputy by Stephen Smith. Gillard will be offered Education and Craig Emerson will get Foreign Affairs.
The Rudd revival would immediately precipitate a leadership crisis in the Liberal Party. Abbott’s hold on the job is totally poll driven. He is detested by his own shadow cabinet and the wise heads on the backbench know their only hope against Rudd would be Malcolm Turnbull, newly resurrected as the “man of principle”.
Abbott would be offered Education (to oppose Gillard) and Andrew Robb would get Treasury to appease the right wingers. Poor old Joe Hockey would be given an expanded Regional portfolio much like Simon Crean’s bailiwick, nicely sweetened with the Arts and other high-profile goodies. And of course Julie Bishop would remain the eternal deputy.
And what a splendid battle it would be.
Truth is, it wouldn’t matter much who won; Australia would be well served at the top. The real problems would be with the parties themselves. Labor is full of union functionaries with little understanding of the real world. The Liberals are split between centrists such as Turnbull and an increasingly rabid right wing with echoes of the Tea Party that is growing like a cancer on the American Republican Party.
So, will it happen as predicted before the end of the year? Probably not, but there’s plenty of time before the next election.