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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Strip club visit tarnishes Rudd's halo
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labor Party
Kevin Rudd's strip club visit has surprised many Australians
Kevin Rudd is a politician for whom the phrase "squeaky clean" could almost have been invented.

Profiles of the newish Labor leader are invariably punctuated by phrases like "bookish intellectual", "fluent Mandarin speaker" and "family values Christian".

Now the Australian people have been introduced to an entirely unexpected facet of his personality: "Reckless Rudd", the Labor leader who got so very drunk on a night out in New York four years ago that he can barely remember ending up at a strip club.

Rudd painting the town red - it is almost as unlikely as snow on Bondi.

Certainly the road to the Lodge, the prime minister's Canberra residence, has just taken the most unexpected of detours: to Scores gentlemen's club in Manhattan.

The jokes are coming thick and fast. Did you hear that Kevin Rudd saw a disappointing poll this morning? It was bereft of a gyrating naked woman.... you get the idea.

Delicious ironies

In this age of public penitence, Mr Rudd acted quickly to contain the political fall-out, appearing in a number of television interviews with the uncomfortable look of a chastened schoolboy.

Did you hear that Kevin Rudd saw a disappointing poll this morning? It was bereft of a gyrating naked woman
A popular recent joke
On the morning after his revelry, he told his wife Therese that he had been a "goose". But these past few days he has looked more like a rabbit caught in headlights.

Many delicious ironies attach themselves to this story.

The journalist who broke the story, Glenn Milne from the Murdoch-owned tabloid the Sunday Telegraph, is famed for an incident last December in which he invaded the stage at a televised awards ceremony and barged a fellow journalist out of the way.

Afterwards, he blamed his behaviour on a cocktail of medication and booze.

To sex up the Rudd story even further, the politician accused by Labor MPs of leaking the story, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, is fondly remembered for appearing at a charity event wearing high heels and fishnet stockings - an image permanently seared into the minds of the nation's newspaper cartoonists.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (file image)
Mr Downer once wore high heels and stockings at a charity event

The most intriguing question, of course, is whether Mr Rudd's strip club visit will affect the outcome of the next election, likely to be in either October or November.

Mr Rudd is riding high in the polls, and since becoming Labor leader last December he has enjoyed the dreamiest of political honeymoons.

Admittedly, my initial reaction was that this would almost certainly boost his appeal even further.

After all, this is a country which once elected a champion beer drinker, Bob Hawke, as its prime minister.

"Good on you, mate," seemed to be the reaction of many callers on Monday morning's talk-back shows to his Big Apple binge.: If you can get drunk there, you can get drunk anywhere.

It gave him an everyman appeal.

Tarnished halo

More seasoned observers of the Australian political scene, though, take a different view.

Peter Hartcher, the political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, thinks it will not damage Labor's core vote but could alienate some of the waverers who will ultimately decide the election.

Kevin Rudd is very credible, smart, competent and reassuring - he's also unexciting and therefore unthreatening, and that suits the Australian public just fine
Peter Hartcher, political editor,
Sydney Morning Herald

"He's the most popular opposition leader in the 33 years of polling on the subject, and a lot of people have projected their hopes and dreams onto what is a relatively blank slate. Many people will be disheartened by this revelation," he said.

The Rudd brand has been tarnished, the halo has slipped.

Indeed, Mr Hartcher argues that Mr Rudd's lack of charisma is one of the qualities which makes him such a compelling and popular figure.

"Australian electors don't want a charismatic leader," he said. "Our record shows that the Australian public doesn't want boldness, excitement or risk-taking. We're a status quo country. We like a reassuring, credible leader."

"Kevin Rudd is very credible, smart, competent and reassuring. He's also unexciting and therefore unthreatening, and that suits the Australian public just fine.'

The overnight news from Wall Street is likely to affect the Australian election far more than a drunken night at Scores
Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute agrees that the incident will probably harm Mr Rudd.

"He wants to appeal to conservatives in the marginal seats on the outskirts of the major cities and in the regional centres along the coast of Australia. That's a pretty conservative group and he would not want that news to get to that group," he said.

Still, Mr Henderson does not think it will be a major issue in the campaign.

Ultimately, the biggest news from New York these past few days came from the fluctuations of the markets rather than the gyrations of any strippers.

If the latest poll is to be believed, the turbulence they created on the Australian stock market, combined with the fifth rise in interest rates since the 2004 election, appears to have damaged the government's economic credentials - its chief selling point.

The overnight news from Wall Street is likely to affect the Australian election far more than a drunken night at Scores.




SEE ALSO
Rudd apology for strip club visit
19 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Rudd transforms Australian race
23 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Howard faces election year battle
15 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Australia's Labor gets new leader
04 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific

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