Gillard's biggest challenge revealed
The Prime Minister has to overcome the 'Rudd Factor' and work hard to regain the electorate's trust, says Nick Economou
With only a couple of weeks to go until polling day, the 2010 federal election is going to be what it was always going to be - a very close affair.
The opinion polls are reporting a variety of findings but, in amongst all the static, a couple of messages about the campaign thus far can be discerned.
First, it is clear that the Labor campaign is struggling.
After the initial euphoria of her ascendancy to the Labor leadership and the prime ministership, Labor leader Julia Gillard admitted that her party's campaign had lost its way and that she intended to reassert control over it.
Admissions such as these are hardly edifying for swinging voters who look for evidence of confident managerial ability as a basis for selecting which of the major parties they will entrust government to.
It also hints as tensions between the office of the prime minister and the secretariat of the prime minister's party. Poor relations between the leader and the party 'machine' are usually associated with election defeats.
The second message is related to the first: the second week of the campaign finally revealed the extent of the risk Labor took in its decision to topple its former leader and prime minister, Kevin Rudd.
The enormity of what the Labor Caucus did to Rudd is something that the party has tried to gloss over, but that effort was undermined by the leaks controversy.
The press has been in a minor frenzy speculating on the source of these cabinet leaks, but this has missed the point somewhat.
The real issue about the dynamics behind Mr Rudd's fate was the way the voters themselves were by-passed in the process that saw him lose the leadership.
It's all well and good for experts to state that, under our Westminster system, the prime ministership is something that the political party that wins a majority of seats gets to determine.
The political reality is that voters feel a sense of ownership about the prime ministership, notwithstanding the constitutional technicalities.
This means that the voters also feel that it is their prerogative to cast judgement on the government, including its prime minister, at the end of the electoral cycle.
In getting rid of Rudd before the next election, the faction leaders presumably acted out of a sense of desperation about the conduct of the leader in managing the party's internal affairs as well as in addressing the policy debate.
But in doing this, the faction leaders of the ALP have intervened and denied the voters that deliberative prerogative.
The emergence of the leaks controversy actually pointed to a more fundamental problem for the Labor campaign than one of internal treachery or ill discipline.
Across the electorate there are voters who have been expressing the feeling that what was done to Rudd was far from just, let alone democratic.
The voters may well feel that the right to deliver a rebuke to Mr Rudd should have been theirs.
Had the Labor Caucus and its factional conveners a stronger sense of democracy and respect for the voters, they may well have allowed the man who led Labor out of the wilderness in 2007 to face the voters in 2010.
As it turns out, Julia Gillard's greatest challenge in this election won't be to defeat Tony Abbott.
If Gillard can achieve glossing over, or deflecting attention from the deeper implications of having replaced Kevin Rudd as leader for that relationship between voters and the sense that it is they who choose the prime minister, then Labor might just win the contest.
Last week showed that this is a mighty challenge indeed.
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