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Rudd is back

Nick Bryant | 12:48 UK time, Thursday, 5 August 2010

To say the Australian election is becoming more soap operatic seems somehow inadequate. It almost qualifies as an entirely new dramatic genre. Certainly, it is ground-breaking. There's Julia, the fledging Prime Minister. There's Tony, the wannabe Prime Minister, and now there's Kevin, the deposed Prime Minister.

rudd_afp304.jpgJust days after going under the knife - as opposed to being stabbed in the back - in an emergency operation to remove his gall bladder, he announced this afternoon that he was coming back on the campaign trail at the invitation of the woman who so brutally ousted him. 'I'm Kevin, from Queensland, and I'm back,' he might as well have said.

As I write, it is unsure whether Julia Gillard fully illuminated the Batman sign in the skies above Brisbane, or whether Rudd dived into the nearest telephone box to re-emerge as an election-saving superhero. When she asked him to campaign, she might not have anticipated that he would swirl his cape with such passion and panache.

So while Julia Gillard was in the north of the sunshine state announcing funding for a new road, the sort of thing a local council leader could have done, Kevin Rudd was in Brisbane looking determinedly prime ministerial. Just consider the staging and visuals of the event, which included two Australian flags on either side.

He pre-announced the move in a radio interview on the ABC programme Late Night Live, which was also highly symbolic. Not only is it beloved by the progressive intelligentsia in Australia, of which Rudd clearly still considers himself the titular leader. It is presented by Phillip Adams, a presenter who very publicly resigned his membership of the Australian Labor Party in protest at Kevin Rudd's treatment.

The former leader will campaign in Queensland and New South Wales, the two states which will probably decide this election. But the benefit of having him in Queensland, his home state, could easily be outweighed by the television and radio airtime he will consume nationwide. He dominated the headlines today, and will no doubt dominate them again when he ventures onto the trail sometime over the weekend. He threatens to completely overshadow his new leader.

There's also the problem of the muddled message it conveys. If the Labor party needs him so badly, then why did it dump him in the first place?

One of the major problems for Labor in this campaign is that Rudd's abrupt dismissal has made it hard for Julia Gillard to claim much credit for what was the central achievement of his truncated government: Australia's success in avoiding recession in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. That came to be known as "Wonder from the Down Under." Is Rudd's return the blunder from Down Under?


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