Can Julia Stop the Spin Cycle?

June 24, 2010

By Dr Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer Politics

"Some people might have found it typically long-winded and self-congratulatory, but Kevin Rudd’s farewell speech was one moment when he was more interested in communication and less in spin. It was one of his best moments because it was honest and from the heart.

Support for Julia Gillard as leader has always reflected the view that she is more of a straighter talker than Rudd and would be better at getting Labor’s message across. She’s now got the job because she can deliver their message better than anyone else in the party.

The biggest question for Gillard as Prime Minister is whether she can avoid the pressure she will come under to “spin” messages according to the results of opinion polls. Basically, she is going to have to deal with the various advisors who will try to massage her image so that she repair the Labor brand, stay “on message” and appeal to the target demographics. In other words,  do the sales job that political leadership has become.

Leaders have always had to sell their policies, but there’s a real difference between taking a position and then trying to convince voters to support you and working out your position after the polls, focus groups and other gauges of public opinion

It’s spin first and political leadership second, and some might say a distant second. The problem began early for Kevin Rudd. It started when Labor’s election campaign was as focussed on one person as the Kevin07 campaign was. And we know that this would have been done because Rudd was much more popular than John Howard, according to the polling and focus groups.

And clever politics continued to prevail, reaching a high point when the ETS was abandoned, and Labor’s apparent over-riding concern for the environment came second to polling and wedge politics.  For most commentators, this was the beginning of the end for Rudd.

Australian parties have become more professional, but that professionalism has come at a cost for political leadership in this country. So the big question at this stage of the Gillard Prime Ministership is whether she will act like a professional politician or the leader of a nation. She can’t be both.

Professional politicians might win our votes, but they won’t win our hearts and no amount of cleverness or spin can fill the vacuum they create when it comes to real leadership."

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