Sunday, March 17, 2013

The view from here : Griffith in 2013 (no. 1 in a series)

The confidence of Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister

One of the aims of this blog when I started it just over a year ago (was I supposed to light a candle on its first birthday last month?) was to muse on politics as I follow it here and in Japan, with a nod to the social contract from time to time. It also allows me to explore ideas and put forward some observations outside the usual strictures of the formal academic sphere. (I have to say, the hits on the blog suggest a far higher 'viewing' rate than the formal citations system by which our careers can be judged.) 

One of my early posts was about my local member, Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister for a time and now a peripatetic backbencher (though I don't mean that in the Aristotelian sense of the word). Things are getting sufficiently interesting in Australian politics to take another moment to look at what is going on in this electorate. Over the next couple of posts I will offer some on-the-ground observations and some background on the seat including its history and a little bit of psephological insight. The talk is on again about a challenge to the Labor Party leadership and so therefore, the prime ministership, until the election, currently due on 14 September.

Let the games begin
Mr Rudd currently holds his seat by 8.5%. That has fluctuated over time, but should be considered reasonably safe. The enigma that is the politics involving Kevin Rudd is that he enjoys high popularity across a number of different opinion polls when the public is asked, reasonable popularity in his electorate but loathed by a large number of Cabinet colleagues, the people who will return him to the prime ministership. I am intrigued by the conundrum inherent in these figures. 

So what (as my supervisor would say)? There are several questions I seek to ask around this conundrum over the next few months, while reporting from the Griffith heartland as much as possible. 

The Liberal National Party (as it is known here in Queensland now) have put forward a candidate, Dr Bill Glasson, who brings to the position a reasonable media profile as a former president of the AMA, the doctors' union. He and his supporters are already on the hustings around the electorate, spending many a Saturday morning on street corners, waving placards. Dr Glasson received some unanticipated publicity on Friday last too when it was revealed his campaign was subject to some 'assistance' by way of a University exercise whereby students were asked to devise a winning campaign for him. 

When it comes to campaigning on the ground, Mr Rudd covers the local media very well. The local throwaway suburban paper the Southeast Advertiser carries his regular 'Rudd Report' and generally any photos or news of his engagement in the electorate, whether it is giving away his 'Rudd bikes' or handing out 'language awards'. One could be cynical about the purpose behind these activities, but I'm going to withhold cynicism from these next few posts. 

Kevin Rudd launching Troy Bramston's book,
16 March 2013.
I observed the former prime minister quite closely yesterday at a book launch in a local bookshop. I don't pretend to know Kevin Rudd although he has been my local member since 1998. To understand where I come from when it comes to Mr Rudd, I suggest you read the earlier post. Nonetheless, I have watched politics from the front row for a while now. And although I was sitting in the back row yesterday, I saw a man with unrequited ambition, a sense that the prime ministership was still his to be had. There was also a slightly humbled man, that look one has when one has been 'hit for six', and I reflected on how public that had been for him. (My personal career humiliations and disappointments have been much less public, but they hurt nonetheless, and they leave deep impressions, no matter how hard one tries to disguise them.) What drives someone to continue to want to do this? I got to thinking a little about the contest ahead and the vote I will cast in a few months. It is more than a mere 'place a number' in the box...

I am not the sort of political scientist who makes predictions and these posts will not present any. I will be watching this contest closely because it is my federal electorate and much rests on its outcome. Who wins or loses the two imminent contests--that for leader of the Labor Party (and with it the prime ministership) and that for Griffith--will indeed tell us as much about us as it will about the candidates. It will convey to us our modern social contract and whether or not the 'first among equals' of the Westminster traditions has been usurped by a shallow 'survivor'-type reality politics, game of drones.

In the next post, I will review the history of the electorate, past members and contests. There will be some meandering among the musings, but bear with me. I think we are in for a most interesting time here in Griffith.