An in-control freak has to be involved in every decision being made. An under-control freak has to be sure that his management team is on top of things and executing policy effectively.
Australia's prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is an in-control freak and the latest example is the mess that he has created with the government's FuelWatch policy.
FuelWatch is meant to reduce petrol prices by keeping an eye on petrol outlets. It has come to light via a leak from a government source that cabinet rejected advice from four departments that FuelWatch would probably lead to increased pricing, as has been the case in Western Australia where the scheme was first implemented a few years ago.
FuelWatch is yet another example of this government's penchant for style over substance, of symbolism over outcomes.
Andrew Bolt has been providing the best coverage of the issue and The Australian's Dennis Shanahan has written the best article on the matter:
KEVIN Rudd has been sent a strong message this week with the emergence of leaked departmental briefings to cabinet: change your style and political approach or face more debilitating crises such as this week’s petrol price disaster.That last sentence highlights what an in-control freak Kevin Rudd really is.
...The issues now go far beyond the potent issue of petrol prices to the conduct, direction, style and substance of the Rudd Government.
The damaging leaks revealing deep rifts within the cabinet over the FuelWatch price monitoring scheme have come at a crucial time for the Government. It is six months since the federal election and, although still popular, Rudd and the ALP are showing signs of losing their first blush. In addition to frustration within the bureaucracy over delays caused by funnelling too many decisions through the PM’s office, there is concern that good policy is being sacrificed to solve publicity problems.
The leaks - wherever they came from - underline the fact that without a coherent, definitive articulation of what the Government stands for, it can’t hope to hide behind stunts that don’t deliver.Wise words. Will Rudd listen? Don't bet on it. Rudd is a micro-manager in a macro job.
With all the weight and responsibility of managing an economy and the knowledge that this isn’t going to finish the Government, somebody’s bound to blow the whistle.
Which leads me to articulate for the first time my view of the man. As I've posted previously, leadership changes people. Sometimes they surprise people, step up to the mark and become real leaders in the way that Howard did. Sometimes they crash and burn, as Mark Latham did, though that was much more predictable. Therefore, it's always wise to let some time pass before making a judgement.
Six months into his term I think I've seen enough to have a clear view of Kevin Rudd.
Leadership: As a leader, Rudd is more Custer than Patton; more Whitlam than Hawke or Keating. He is a manager, not a leader. Australia is in a terrific position economically, small inflation worries notwithstanding, and so it's possible that a competent manager can be successful. The job of prime minister at the moment and for the next few years can be done effectively in management mode so Rudd's lack of leadership ability may not work against him - as long as things don't go pear-shaped in the world economy and we don't otherwise face a major crisis.
Competence: Here's a big statement that I think people will come to reflect on the wisdom of in years to come - Kevin Rudd is profoundly incompetent to be prime minister. Profoundly. In fact, I'd go so far to say that when his time has come and gone Rudd will be seen as one of our worst ever PMs. He has Gough Whitlam's understanding of economics and Paul Keating's understanding of the ordinary bloke. I think he will be seen to have squandered a huge opportunity to move Australia forward at a time when international competitiveness is growing ever tougher.
Vision: It is now clear that Rudd has no vision for Australia. His policy of symbolism and populism over outcomes and substance is proof. From the economic disaster of ratifying Kyoto to the Stolen Generations' Apology to a plethora of inquiries into all sorts of issues and to FuelWatch itself Rudd has been focused more on his personal popularity than achieving positive outcomes for Australians. Can you imagine this man taking the tough, unpopular decisions on illegal immigration, workplace relations and even the Iraq war as Howard? Even his most ardent supporters must wonder what he stands for.
Personality: Rudd has no charm and no charisma, traits that are important to hold a leadership team together, especially when times get tough. It can be quite justifiably said that Howard lacked charm and charisma. He turned out to be one of this country's best ever leaders so why can't Rudd follow suit? The fact is that Howard slept the sleep of a leader. Rudd sleeps the sleep of a manager.
My hope is that the government will continue to run large surpluses and not interfere too much with the business community's ability to be successful. The former should be guaranteed. The latter looks unlikely given the union movement's current strategy of testing their strength.
If Rudd can at least achieve these two outcomes then he will still be PM at the next election. If not then I think we'll be seeing a different person leading the Labor Party, and probably a female at that.