PM's forces mistaken if they think Kevin will give up

SO WHAT was that all about? Kevin Rudd resigned as foreign minister because he said he did not have the support of his Prime Minister. He has now made it pretty clear that he did not have the support of his caucus colleagues either. We will never be sure - because there was no vote last time - but it looks like he has even less support than when he was dumped back in June 2010.

If there were people against him last time who really thought he had changed and learnt from his mistakes, we did not hear from them. Instead, we got the shallow spin of former lobbyist Bruce Hawker.

Those ministers who came out for Rudd were largely the ones who had been demoted by Gillard and bore her a grudge: Kim Carr, Chris Bowen and Robert McClelland. The only person of significance to declare for Rudd was a weepy Anthony Albanese (why is it that Labor strongmen resort to tears on occasions like this?) and ''Albo'' had been the numbers man on the last occasion. He was not a convert to the "new" Kevin. He was the last man standing with the "old" Kevin.

The most damning thing for Rudd was that apart from those mentioned above, and the honourable exception of Martin Ferguson, the whole of the cabinet was against him. His support was least among those who knew him best. Sometimes the closer you get to a person, the more you admire them. And sometimes you don't! Rudd was stronger with the public because they were too far away to see behind the cheesy and slightly nerdy public persona. Those of us who have mixed with him in the parliamentary forum know the other Kevin as well.

This time the Gillard forces were determined to shine the spotlight on that other Kevin. They were led by Wayne Swan, someone who has known Rudd from high school. He described Rudd as "dysfunctional" with a "demeaning attitude to other people". He accused him of "sabotaging" policy announcements and leaving the government in a "mess". Swan told us that Rudd put "his own self-interest ahead of the … country".

And that was only the start. According to Labor MP Steve Gibbons, Rudd is a "psychopath with a giant ego". There was more as minister after minister lined up to say they could not work with him.

None of this would have surprised those who had followed Rudd's career in Queensland, where his treatment of fellow public servants earned him the moniker "Doctor Death". The amazing thing was that it had been so well hidden. Every time a question arose about Rudd's integrity in the lead-up to the 2007 election - for example, over his dealings with Brian Burke or his account of his night in a New York strip club - it was laughed off. The press were happy to ignore it because they wanted a change of government. And no two people did more to cover up for Rudd than Gillard and Swan.

But this time they decided they would make up for all of that. It was conscious and it was venomous. It shocked the public. It brought no credit to the Labor Party. They did not have to be that vicious to win yesterday's ballot. But they were not focusing on that ballot. They wanted to kill him off for good. They wanted to make sure there is never another Labor Party leadership vote where the name "K. Rudd" appears on the ballot paper.

That does not mean he can never be leader again. There is one circumstance where Rudd can come back. If things get so bad that no other credible candidate is left standing, then Labor will turn to him in its utter humiliating desperation. Rudd cannot win a ballot for the Labor leadership - but he can be drafted.

Right now, the wounds are too raw to even contemplate that. Gillard has had her leadership vindicated. She was not elected by caucus the first time around - the faceless men fixed it up for her. She did not win the 2010 election - Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott delivered her into government. She can now claim she has a clear mandate from her party at least - if not from the electorate. There will be ritual declarations about how everyone loves each other and will work together. But Gillard is a prisoner of the polls. Her weakness is that she is a long way behind, and as the election gets closer, her caucus, focusing on its mortality, will get more desperate.

As for Rudd? He will not change. While he has breath he will be angling for the leadership. Even if he wanted to be, he cannot be loyal to another leader. He will brood and he will fester.

Peter Costello was federal treasurer from 1996 to 2007.

-National Times

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