In a comment on a social media forum on 16 June I predicted that Kevin Rudd could succeed as ALP leader if he were able to prove himself equal to the task of uniting Labor behind him, emerge as a strong leader, and not concede any mistakes.
I forgot to mention a more fundamental challenge he faced: to present to the electorate a clear value proposition explaining why he and Labor are different to Abbott and the Coalition, why running a deficit is not the end of the world, and how it will soften a return to surplus for taxpayers, and why Labor’s longer-term approach is better for Australia altogether.
Neither Rudd nor anyone else in his team has done anything of the kind. The visible politics are all about personalities, and it seems Rudd’s honeymoon popularity was over before it could really emerge as a strength, let alone an election-winning coup de grâce the way some commentators saw it when Rudd challenged and beat Julia Gillard for the leadership on 26 June.
With three weeks left in the campaign, recent polling shows a definite loss for Labor, and there is no sign that Rudd will champion any of the issues he once mentioned as hallmarks of a Rudd Labor Party. Those issues might be roughly grouped under the concept of ‘social democracy’ he once promoted earnestly to the world, meaning a softer approach to the harshly rapacious, extractive capitalist model dictated by the ‘Washington Consensus’ since the 1990s, and a less impersonal, ownership-based view of citizenship and community than the American and British models, of which Abbot appears to be the principal Australian champion.
Given Rudd has vested so little of himself in anything that could be seen as an alternative to Abbott’s economic orthodoxy, and the authoritarian politics that go with it, it is not surprising that the Australian electorate might ask itself: ‘Why vote for a pretender to rectitude when we can vote for the real thing?’
In marketing terms this is a failure by the ALP to differentiate itself through a varied product offering, a failure to lock up niche markets, and a failure of marketing altogether.
Rudd is not the ALP, but the ALP has not suggested how it can be relied on to act as a Labor Party rather than Rudd’s party machine. In the end neither have done anything much at all to promote themselves or each other.
There is an air or timidity and hesitation about the ALP. Not daring to make the big plays even though it knows it has nothing to lose. There is an air of indifference or just plain myopia about Rudd, not willing to commit himself to big-picture policies or grand visions though these are the only tools available to him. But hesitancy and timidity are not qualities people look for in governments.
On that basis I think it is inevitable, now, that the ALP will lose the 7 September election, and not by a narrow margin. Too much left undone, and too little to choose between.