Winning is everything in politics

Politics is a blood sport in Australia, and there is nothing Australians like better than bagging and humiliating their politicians. The only possible exception to that is bagging and humiliating sportspeople.

Poor Mr Rudd has committed the ultimate sin of a political leader. His followers didn’t think he could lead them to victory in the next election. So rather than reshuffling the team, adopting some new policies (like abandoning the super tax on mining companies), or going on a charm offensive with voters, the Australian Labor Party’s reaction was brutal and swift. It is off with his head.

Remember that Kevin Rudd was the man who could do no wrong less than two years ago. Charming, gentle, urbane, a former diplomat, Mandarin speaking, cultured, not a boozer or a womaniser (he has a Baptist background), he led the ALP to a great victory.

Now he is without a friend in caucus, Kerry Anne Walsh of the Canberra Times told Radio New Zealand on Thursday morning, the day of the coup.

Axing a leader after an election defeat is a common practice – often the leaders go before they are pushed (Helen Clark did that, and so did Don Brash). But axing a leader who is still in power is less common.

The Australian Labor Party has done it before. In September 2008 the party’s powerbrokers told the premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma, that he had to step aside. The reason: the same as for Rudd. He wasn’t going to be able to deliver an election victory for the ALP.

Like Rudd, Iemma has already won an election for Labor – in 2007. Ironically, Iemma’s successor Nathan Rees was himself forced from office 15 months later, being replaced by Kristina Keneally, NSW’s first woman premier.

The powerbrokers were searching for a leader who could deliver victory. Keneally is the state’s fourth premier in five years, all the changes being made without any involvement from the state’s voters.

It is the same NSW Right wing faction of the ALP, together with the unions, that have rolled Rudd.

In December 1997, Jenny Shipley presented then Prime Minister Jim Bolger with the option of resignation or defeat in caucus. She produced a letter signed by a majority of the National Party caucus asking Jim to go. He went, preferring that to a humiliating defeat. Rudd did the same.

Forget about those who buy flowers for their partners or watch porn in hotel rooms on the taxpayer. This lesson is far more important.

Politics as practised is finally about one thing and only one thing for those who are at the centre of po9litics. Winning is everything.  Losing sucks. Being in opposition sucks. It’s not about policies, personalities, loyalty, the best interests of the country or any other consideration. Only winning matters and leaders who deliver get backing. Leaders who can’t, don’t or look like they won’t get the heave-ho.  No wonder voters get cynical.