Given that I've been away for pretty much the entire period from the Labor leadership spill through the election, the hung parliament and independent deciding of minority government, I feel like I've got a bit of space to wax lyrical about what I think happened in the past 6 months.
Though I don't know if my point of view will be entirely different to everyone else's. I have a slightly different take on what happened, and why, though, so allow me a little break from form to waffle a bit.
Kevin Rudd's ascension in the Kevin '07 campaign was largely the product of a narrative of change and hope. I'm talking "Change" and "Hope" in that sense that Obama would later run with in his own campaign in the following year, the words capitalised, the personality of Rudd embiggened (sic) to an almost revolutionary size.
Rudd's image (and slogan "KEVIN 07") on everything was as important to the campaign as the words he spoke. Here was a leader who spoke Chinese, who had a diplomatic background, who was a Christian, but who spoke broadly to the electorate and went on Rove (man, was it really only that long ago that Rove McManus was a TV personality?). Shit the man used Twitter as a platform, before it was even de rigueur for public discourse.
It's hard to remember now, because once in the job for more than a year, Rudd started to revert to Ruddbot mode, but he was an affable, approachable, generally unflappable guy.
Sure, but in many respects he signified to people a significant break from the years of "same shit, different day" politicking that Howard played. The ETS, Murray-Darling basin, ratifying the Kyoto protocol, formal indigenous reconciliation, tax reform, overturning of Work Choices, means-testing the Private Health rebate, the end of the Pacific Solution - all of these things were big differences between the parties at the time of the election.
It was a cult of personality, in the traditional sense, and just like the communist leaders we associate with this term, there wasn't really a personality there, as such, so much as a construct that appealed in a narrative sense to every possible basis. The man was a prism of qualities designed to appeal to voters.
Realistically, it's a voter's fault if they believe that the personality of the leader really matters. The best you can hope for is someone who looks like they are actually the personality of the party at the time, thus giving an accurate indication of what you're in for. As Gillard's ascension reminded us, we don't vote for a PM in Australia, we vote for a rep who is part of a party, and we trust them in their vote for a leader that best represents their interests; which in turn should, ideally, represent our interests. Whether it's the "faceless men of the ALP" or Nick Minchin's "broad church" skull crushers, this is what you're really voting for.
Perhaps it's our fault, perhaps it's the media, perhaps it's the cynical nature or modern politics, but for better or worse, a modern political party needs a narrative. As I said, earlier, you need look no further than Obama (and his own imminent demise in the mid-terms) to see another narrative that won a leadership. We talk about pragmatism, but we want a story. We want a hero.
Howard was not a hero. I have never liked him, and I think I would have wept had he won another election, but he, and the Liberal party's "broad church", are about a pragmatic and ruthless surge for leadership.
"Stay the course", "battlers and bludgers" (this still means nothing, and either term can be applied to anyone) etc etc etc... hell, look to the fact that a supposedly "small government" party spent 11 years handing out middle-class welfare to stay in power and you'll see shameless pragmatic vote grubbing at work. Howard's narrative was "little Australia" and "I'm alright, Jack!" - you've earned the right to have a little more, as long as you're making money and don't need any infrastructure. As an example - we'll subsidise you having Private Health if you don't expect a working Medicare system, propping up a system that should be a luxury, not the standard, while simultaneously driving up medical costs across the board.
Sure, Howard was a "conviction politician". His conviction? Stay the fuck in power.
Rudd's narrative was change. Quiet, concerted, hard working change. We'll do the reports (like good public servants) and then we'll action them.
You want an ETS? You want a review of the tax system? You want means-testing on the PHI rebate? You want reconciliation? You want Work Choices gone? You want Kyoto? You want the Pacific Solution done away with?
Leave it to us.