Opposition only winners in Labor's bloody Game of Thrones

By Nicola Lamb

Lena Heady (left) plays the cruel Queen Cersei in  Game of Thrones.  Julia Gillard plays hardball in Aussie politics. Photo / AP
Lena Heady (left) plays the cruel Queen Cersei in Game of Thrones. Julia Gillard plays hardball in Aussie politics. Photo / AP

"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

- Cersei, Game of Thrones

Viewed from here, Thursday's game of thrones in the West Island had a distinctly farcical, dramatic and intriguing sniff of George RR Martin's fictional saga of Westeros about it.

Concerned courtier Simon Crean called the bluff of or smoked out the conniving schemers working to destabilise Julia Gillard's rule on behalf of the renegade in the shadows, Kevin Rudd.

Considering minister Crean was a Gillard supporter before he became a Rudd backer and his actions allowed her to strategically ambush her opponent, there has to be a touch of mystery about his motives even if he's been dispatched to the backbenches until September. However, most likely he was trying to break the circuit on the leadership standoff.

By slamming back with a defiant parliamentary speech and immediate leadership ballot before the Rudd faction was ready and with two of his backers out of the country, Gillard has turned Rudd into a three-time loser.

The man who had the opportunity within his grasp has quite probably missed his last chance to regain the leadership. Given bad odds if he challenged, Rudd opted for the apparent safety of the middle ground - a numerical no-show. He needed to play "to win" and make more of an effort to shift the caucus his way.

The fallout has been bloody. Key Rudd supporters have suffered - by last night seven MPs had been dumped or resigned from positions of responsibility and it wasn't expected to end there - and they won't want to put their necks on the line again. Rudd now has a serious deficit of credibility as an alternative leader. Yesterday a spokesman released a statement saying "there are no circumstances under which he will return to the Labor Party leadership in the future".

Rudd's poll standings are high among people who do not know him - the public.

But he cannot shift the opinions of a sizeable section of a critical constituency - his colleagues - even though changing the leader now would have at least given the party enough time to ease him in before the election.

Gillard had hoped that her victory over Rudd a year ago would put an end to the regular sniping from his faction which has proved a major distraction for the Government and easy meat for the Opposition.

The polls have shown that in times of relative party peace and organisation, Labor's numbers improve and have at times been competitive with the Coalition.

If, as seems likely, Labor lose the election, who in the party will get the blame? Most likely Rudd and his forces. They refused to take defeat and shut up, failing to give their party a chance to build confidence with the electorate.

And surely the party, should it lose, would want to move on with a fresh face and fresh start rather than return to a symbol of past division.

Gillard has once again displayed her Aussie battler toughness, her fraternal enemies temporarily cowed.

But she is limping to the line, unpopular in the streets and suffering from many old wounds.

It all brings to mind another line from Game of Thrones: "power resides where men believe it resides".

The public, pollsters and pundits believe power really resides not with the Government but with the government-in-waiting - Tony Abbott's Coalition.

The big loser this week was Rudd but the underlying election trajectory hasn't changed. There is so little time for Labor to turn it around.

- NZ Herald

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