Miss Julia Gillard (one takes particular pleasure in applying the honorific “Miss” to so stentorian and charmless a femocrat), the prime minister of Australia, faces an interesting challenge in her bid for reelection on August 21.  Goodness knows, the Labor Party that she now leads—and which has been in office since 2007—should win at a canter.  Not since 1931 have Australians thrown out a national government after a single term.  And Australia has coped with recession and the global financial crisis better than most other Western countries.  How much of this comparative success can be attributed to Miss Gillard’s predecessor as prime minister, Kevin Rudd, and how much to sheer luck, others must judge.  Six months ago, Rudd appeared unstoppable.  The opposition Liberal Party had thrown up (such gastric phraseology seems appropriate in the circumstances) its fourth leader inside two years; no obvious rivals to Rudd were visible within Labor itself; and Rudd commanded a healthy lead in opinion polls over every alternative.

Then it all went wrong for Rudd’s rule.  Tony Abbott, as newly installed Liberal boss, was by no means the New Class empty suit that his two immediate precursors, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull, had been.  Along with bloodcurdling vulgarity of attire (Abbott saw nothing wrong with posing for the cameras in the most exiguous swimwear, known as “budgie smugglers”) and of utterance (he also saw nothing wrong with referring to Miss Gillard’s “sh-t-eating grin”), he displayed apparent sincerity in his skepticism about anthropogenic climate change, as well as a certain intellectual curiosity of which no Liberal leader since Sir Robert Menzies’ retirement in 1966 had been capable.  These characteristics sufficed to give Rudd’s administration a fright, and pollsters’ findings reflected this.  Three other factors aggravated Rudd’s difficulties: the unpopularity of the resources tax that he wanted to impose on the mining industry; a shambolic home-insulation program that had led to no fewer than four deaths before the government abandoned it; and ever worse news from Afghanistan, where Australia has had 1,550 troops stationed since April 2009.

What saved Rudd at first was the reluctance of Miss Gillard to mount a challenge.  Until this year such a challenge would have been unthinkable, given that Rudd enjoyed 69-percent approval ratings.  When these ratings went into free fall, Miss Gillard and her backers struck.

Helping her cause was the fact that Rudd’s own popularity, while it lasted, had been personal rather than institutional.  It occurred in spite of, rather than because of, his political allegiance.  Voters did not hand Rudd his comfortable 2007 victory (by a margin of 23 parliamentary seats) over incumbent Prime Minister John Howard through a sudden passionate enthusiasm for Labor—or because they found Rudd’s invocations of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology, in season and out of season, inexhaustibly interesting—but simply because Rudd was obviously a fresh face, and the increasingly decrepit Howard was obviously not.  The 2007 contest, in short, had been in essence presidential rather than party-based.  Rudd’s own slogan, “Kevin 07,” testified to this.  When Liberal attack ads started parodying 2007’s propaganda by referring to the prime minister as “Kevin O’Lemon,” the blow to Rudd’s fortunes proved accordingly severe, in a way that it would not have been for a more Tammany-like operator.  The Labor machine men whom Rudd had, for the most part, high-handedly ignored at the height of his acclaim took their revenge.

In contrast with Rudd, Miss Gillard was from the beginning the apparatchik’s apparatchik.  There is no evidence that she has read a serious book in her life.  She began her career in a hard-left campus organization, the Australian Union of Students, of which she eventually became leader.  (Its achievements included declaring 1983 the “International Year of the Lesbian.”)  From those heady days she has retained her enthusiasm for Emily’s List and suchlike pro-abort rackets, not to mention a gratingly pseudoproletarian speaking voice that can almost strip paint.  Later, she worked at the ambulance-chasing legal firm Slater & Gordon.  Today, Miss Gillard glories in her atheism (she was raised as a Baptist) and her concubinage.  (Her live-in boyfriend, Tim Mathieson, has been unofficially known, ever since the prime ministerial swearing-in ceremony, as the “First Dude.”)  But never, unlike several of her fellow femocrats, has she given the impression of a desperate allegiance even to misguided principle.  Looking out for Number One has always taken precedence.

Readers will soon know whether Miss Gillard’s gamble in calling an early election (she was not obliged to call it until November of this year) has worked.  There is no doubt that Australia’s Liberals are not remotely ready for another turn at government, any more than were “Call Me Dave” Cameron’s Conservatives in Britain.  They have failed to carry out even the most elementary soul-searching over how and why they permitted John Howard to lead them to disaster three years back.  Abbott’s only real hope is that enough religious believers will be frightened off by Miss Gillard to hold their noses and turn to the Liberals instead.