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September 04, 2013 5:51 PM A Center-Left Disaster Down Under

By Ed Kilgore

Some of you may remember the brouhaha Down Under in June when Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was ejected from office in favor of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd. What makes the story unusual is that they were both members of the center-left Labor Party, which has controlled the national government there since it won a general election in 2007 under Rudd’s leadership. The Rudd-Gillard rivalrywas always complicated and both personal and ideological, but the main reason Rudd won the latest round is that he was considered far more likely to win an impending September election against the National Party-led conservative coalition.

With that election now imminent, it seems the leadership switch didn’t work, according to The Guardian’s Lenore Taylor:

Australia is poised for a lurch to the political right this weekend when the ruling Labor party faces electoral defeat at the hands of Tony Abbott and his conservative Coalition.
Opinion polls predict a convincing victory for Abbott, a social conservative and political pugilist who has toned down his aggressive persona, narrowed policy differences with Labor and boosted his personal popularity during the five-week election campaign
An Abbott victory would end six years of Labor rule dominated by leadership tensions between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, who between them achieved something of a political precedent by unseating each other within three years.
Gillard overthrew Rudd to become Australia’s first female prime minister just before the 2010 poll, after which she clung to power by forming a minority government with the support of the Greens and an assortment of independents. But with opinion polls predicting a wipeout, a desperate Labor then moved against Gillard to return Rudd to the prime ministership only six weeks before he called the 2013 poll.
At first the switch appeared to have paid off, with Labor’s vote recovering to almost 50:50, but over the course of the campaign Abbott has again pulled ahead. Most recent polls show the Liberal National party Coalition with 53% or 54% of the vote after second preferences have been redistributed in Australia’s complex voting system. This would deliver Abbott a majority of between 10 and 15 seats in the 150-seat lower house.

As it happens, I made a trip to Australia in 2006 to attend a conference sponsored by the Labor Party, which was looking forward confidently to a breakthrough victory shortly after Rudd ascended to the leadership. There’s obviously a lot going on in the fade of Labor’s bloom, but it does go to show that unity can be an underappreciated political asset.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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