Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Intellect a disadvantage in politics

Australia has a new opposition leader in Kevin Rudd. A fluent mandarin-speaking foreign affairs specialist, Rudd mounted a challenge against erstwhile Labour Party leader Kim Beazley.

Beazley was the utter frustration of the long suffering Labour Party for the last few years. While the Labour Party is the more popular political party, leading in the (fairly accurate Australian) polls against the Liberal Party, Beazley unfortunately had great difficulty getting his personal ratings above 30%, while the PM, John Howard, easily garners virtually 2/3 of the popularity rating.

Though the Labour Party is more trusted, its previous leader wasn’t, which effectively meant that it wouldn’t have much of a chance at the federal general election. In Australian federal politics, leadership personality is very very important.

Beazley came across as a nice decent bloke but was perceived as someone who lacked the gonads to sock it to others. Sometimes he was seen as wishy washy, always wanting to play safe. Aussies like strong leadership, as seen in personalities like Bob Hawk, Paul Keating, John Howard and even in opposition leaders like Mark Lathan (later found to be a loose cannon).

The Labour Party realised that it had to get rid of its Beazley millstone so it abandoned him for a comparatively young Rudd who’s only been in parliament for 8 years.

His new team mate (now the new deputy opposition leader) is Julia Gillard, an unmarried (but alas, already attached) young-ish woman. Like Rudd, she’s around her mid-40s. She’s from the left faction of the party – yes, my type of woman - leftwing, good looking, cool as a cucumber (oooh!), smart, and with a strong character.

Gillard has actually been the more popular figure, even more popular than Beazley and Rudd in a poll taken early this year, where she polled 32% compared to Beazley's 25% and Kevin Rudd's 18%.

But the odds against her becoming the party’s leader have been her affiliation with the left faction of the party, her close ties with two unpopular Labour leaders, Mark Latham and Simon Crean, and probably her gender.

Well, much as Australians like to believe they are ‘equal opportunity’ people, there is still a fairly strong bias against a woman becoming a PM. But anything is possible in the future as the views of people do change.

Both the new leaders are articulate, smart, young, good looking (at least Julia Gillard - excuse my ardent enthusiasm for her) and never with a significantly wrong word or action. They are advertising their ascendancy to the leadership of the Labour Party as a ‘generational change’ that’s needed to lead Australia into a better future, and undoubtedly with a ‘jab’ at ancient John Howard, who refuses to hand over the reins to his frustrated deputy, Peter Costello.

On the plus side for Rudd are:
(1) John Howard’s growing arrogance
(2) the government’s new horrendous Industrial Relations Law, which may see some blue collar voters returning to the Labour Party fold
(3) rising interest rates
(4) his own political ‘freshness’ with no baggage
(5) his rags to leadership life, which may capture the imagination and sympathy of the Australian voters.
(6) his intelligence

(7) his more popular deputy enhancing his stature
(8) to a very small extent, Australia’s involvement in Iraq
(9) him being a novelty to Australian voters

On the minus side for him would be:
(1) John Howards’ cunning and his powerful political machinery, which had demonstrated its nastiness, like bullsh*tting about all sorts of perils which of course ‘only’ John Howard can hold back
(2) his paling beside his more popular deputy - seemingly a confliction with (7) above under his 'plus' points, but a good looking, popular and articulate female deputy can be a double-edge sword
(3) Rudd’s own intellect (slightly different from ‘intelligence’)

The third disadvantage for Rudd, his intellect, is not unusual in politics, where voters seldom trust brainy people or those who appear to be brainy, like former Labour Senator Gareth Evans. Some brainy politicians actually go out of their way to show they aren’t brainy.

While former NSW Labour premier, Bob Carr, is undoubtedly an intellectual, he managed to mask that when he was in office, with his guts-ripping, street fighting, eyes clawing political smarts. John Howard, Paul Keating and Bob Hawk, all PMs at one stage or another, were/are political ‘street fighters’, like our Dr Mahathir and the late Dr DR Seenivasegam.

The best example of the Malaysian politician, who was an intellectual (or appear to be one), was former Home Minister* Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, which might explain why the Malays generally didn’t want him. Pity!

* thanks, Anon - corrected!

Kevin Rudd needs to watch that he doesn’t get carried away by his intellect, but he may be sure the Liberal Party would go all out to show the Aussie people he’s one, who’s completely ‘out of touch with the ordinary blokes and sheilas’.

But short of that, or going bonkers, or being overtly anti-American (a no-no for wannabe PMs downunder), he could well be the next PM of Australia. It would be an exceptional achievement for the young and relatively inexperienced politician, who as a little kid had to live in a volkswagen car after his father died in an accident and his family was evicted from their farmhouse.

However, KTemoc is more interested in Julia Gillard. As you all know, my knees grow soft for powerful good looking women, which I blogged in Lustful Fantasy!

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