Thursday, 21 January 2010

The personality cult


That Australia now has the most presidential-style of government in its history should go without saying. From producing a book for children based on his household pets, to appearing with royalty at a refuge for the homeless to resuming duties as a breakfast television commentator, Kevin Rudd is, or soon will be, everywhere.
There is rarely a good news government announcement that he does  not gatecrash, pushing the relevant minister who has done the work developing it into a supporting role as a pictorial backdrop. Community Cabinet meetings, like the one in Adelaide yesterday, are given prominence over the fair dinkum ones that previous governments used to hold where ministers occasionally even seriously debated the merits of submissions. These days, apart from the deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and leader of the House Anthony Albanese, ministers are less influential than prime ministerial advisers. The big decisions are made outside the Cabinet room rather than in it.
The carefully orchestrated exposure of Kevin Rudd as the personification of this Labor government has been tolerated by his colleagues because the primary concern of most of them is their own re-election. There is no willingness to challenge autocracy, even if it means accepting a role as a political eunuch, when the opinion polls show that this primary role is being well served.
The interesting times for a leader reliant on his abilities as a vote winner to control his party come if and when the polls ever turn bad. Labor is not at that point yet but there will be some nervousness among the backbenchers and irrelevant ministry at the trend in the latest Prime Minister popularity ratings. If the hard slog of governing a country can take the gloss off Barack Obama within a year, Kevin Rudd has no reason to think he cannot suffer the same fate.
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