Australia’s ruling Labor Party rejects wildly popular Kevin Rudd as leader a second time

The World

He came, he challenged.

Now Kevin Rudd — Australia's once-high-flying Foreign Minister who took on Prime Minister Julia Gillard in leadership challenge Monday and lost — must sit on the naughty bench.

Actually, it's called the back bench, and it's a place for those Australian lawmakers who are neither party leaders, nor ministers, nor — in Rudd's case, at least — liked very much by their own party.

And those in Rudd's party, the ruling Labor Party, have proven themselves to be world-class dislikers of their own members on more than one occasion.

Rudd, a former Prime Minister — and wildly popular one at that — was dumped once before by his party. And that was after he won a landslide election for them, in 2007.

One of his predecessors, the wildly popular Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke, was deposed by his deputy Paul Keating in an internal coup in 1991.

You'd think Rudd — who confidently gave up his job last week as Foreign Minister in the belief that his widespread public appeal would convince the "caucus" (all members of the Labor Party serving in Parliament) to back him as their best chance at winning government next election — would have learned something.

Amazingly, he didn't (the downside of charisma) — and, it seems, nor did the caucus.

Rudd challenged, risking certain annihilation of his political ambitions — that is, months, perhaps years on the back bench, doing little else than represent his constituents —  were he to fail. And he did.

The Labor caucus ignored several opinion polls in the lead-up to their vote Monday — including one that very morning — showing that Rudd was the public's preferred Prime Minister over Gillard by a margin of at least 2 to 1. His margin was even bigger over the deeply unpopular conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott, while Gillard herself has lately rarely polled above Abbott in terms of public approval.

(GlobalPost reports: Australia's ruling Labor Party backs Julia Gillard over Kevin Rudd in leadership challenge)

Their justifications range from a desire to unite a Party riven by factional infighting and disagreement over which leader can best represent the policies and vision of the Labor Party, to just plain disliking the kind of guy Kevin is.

(Apparently, when Prime Minister he was often criticized by fellow Labor Party members for his inability to delegate, tendency to blow up at treat staff and fellow lawmakers and give them the "freezer" treatment when he perceived they'd failed him — in other words, he was seen as a control freak with a nasty temper and vindictive streak.) 

However, love him or hate, many outside and inside the party admitted that Rudd represented the Labor's best chance of retaining office at the next election — due in 2013 — and, as a result, being able to realize its policies and vision for the nation. 

So much for planning ahead.

At least the Australian public can breathe a sigh of relief that their federal representatives have, for now, finished with their squabbling and are ready to get back to the job of running the country, for which they were elected and continue to be handsomely rewarded.

That is, until Rudd — as is already being speculated — is asked to challenge Gillard again, something he hadn't ruled out … as long as he is asked to by the party, that is.

Kevin Rudd, the avowed Vegemite fan (he once had a personal stash confiscated at a New York airport), a Labor loser?

Those who've followed his progress could be forgiven for thinking his departure to the back bench means only one thing — more time to reflect on where he went wrong and rectify any faults in his strategy to one day again take over the Labor Party leadership. 

A year is a long time in politics, and Kevin Rudd a still relatively young politician (around 55, best we know). Hopped up on all that Vegemite, who knows what he can achieve.

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