Considering the farcical nature of the latest round of leadership argy bargy within the Labor government, the idea of the party presenting a united front in the lead up to the September election is as far fetched as the idea of Labor actually winning. Frankly, Christopher Pyne would have a better chance of being crowned Mr Universe. In a kamikaze moment, Labor Party elder, Simon Crean, saw to it that any chance former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, had of returning to the leadership went up in smoke when he self detonated by telling PM Julia Gillard she should stand down and call a party-room spill for her job and the deputy leadership.
After Crean went public, Gillard decided to immediately indulge him, confident she had enough support within caucus to repel any challenge. She was dead right on that score. Crean's move was mistimed and misguided given that the Rudd camp didn't quite have the numbers for a majority, and as it turned out the extra numbers Crean believed he could deliver to them never materialised. Rudd therefore stuck by his public commitment not to challenge, and that was that - the challenge that never was - leaving Crean (a former Gillard backer) completely on his lonesome. If that wasn't bad enough Crean was sacked from his ministerial position and banished to the backbench.
Since that fateful day last Thursday, eight members of the government have resigned or been sacked including four ministers. A cleanout. And so Julia Gillard's tactic will now be to convince the public that her government, having finally rid itself of the spectre of Rudd, can concentrate on policy and good governance. It sounds useful but it's not that simple. By sticking with Gillard the Labor government will be portrayed as yet again snubbing the people's choice of Rudd - their popular choice by a margin of two to one. What is worse is the ammunition they've handed Tony Abbott's Coalition (as if they didn't have plenty already) and the Murdoch press. Nothing short of a miracle will get Labor over the line on election day September 14.
There is one possibility, however. If Gillard and Rudd can bury the hatchet once and for all and work as a team - and be seen to be working as a team - then maybe the government will be able to turn around its disastrous polling figures. As it stands right now the word landslide could need redefining. If polling figures stay the same or worsen then Labor may be wiped out, leaving it a political irrelevence for a generation. A conservative coalition would consequently sweep into power with an unheard of majority. That would not be good for democracy, especially when the Prime Minister is guaranteed to be Tony Abbott - arch right wing ideologue and conservative Catholic.
For Rudd and Gillard to settle their differences nothing less than the soul of the party needs to be negotiated. Far from the reasons the general public were given for Rudd's dumping in 2010 - that it was about his leadership style and reluctance to delegate responsibility - the main reason was more to do with party reform. Rudd has always wanted to reshape the internal dynamics of the Labor party, broadening its base while simultaneously weakening the grip trade unions have via their so-called factional faceless men. Gillard on the other hand is a product of the union movement and sees it as Labor's natural base. Without Bill Shorten's "faceless men" she could not have toppled Rudd.
But in the battle over party ideology it is Gillard who needs to be the flexible one. Along with image problems and questionable policy decisions, Labor's move to the Left and the narrowing of its reformist vision since she took over has done serious damage to the ALP "brand". Without change then Labor will be consigning itself to the political wilderness, ending up competing with the socialist Greens party for what is left of the progressive vote. It must move back to the centre - with Rudd's assistance. Clearly reconciliation between the two warring factions and putting in place measures to broaden the power base is now crucial. To that end the smartest and most daring move would be to dump Wayne Swan and install Kevin Rudd as Treasurer. Nothing less than the future of the ALP is at stake. Thus its most profound reforms must be internal and they must come now while there is still time.