Is Howard setting himself up?

Thursday, 21 June 2007 

The Opposition Leader continues with his messianic bid to make the Australian union movement the most courteous in the developed world.

Despite what the press are saying, the video of Joe McDonald being rude is not an embarrassment but another opportunity for Rudd to distance himself from the unions. These ‘Sister Soulja’ moments were made possible after union acquiescence to the Theresa Rein affair allowed Rudd to stop having to worry about the internal impact of not keeping the unions on-side. Even before the government was calling for Rudd to do something about McDonald, Gillard was indicating on Sunday’s Insiders that the Labor leadership was itching to get rid of him.

The problem for the government is that as Rudd ditches the special interests of the Labor party, he is starting to make it a principle of political conduct. There is now a raft of issues on which Labor is attacking the government on mixing political interests with the functions of the state: funding for government advertising campaigns, the use of Kirribilli and the Lodge for political entertaining, the use of Ruddock’s staff for a political ‘dirt’ unit and now, the use of government advisors Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby (and possibly government polling) in a political campaign run by big business.

Some in the media have tried to make a parallel between the recent furore over unions campaigning for Labor and this business campaign for the government – but there are important differences. While Labor, at least until now, has always had an open, if awkward relationship to the unions, the Liberals have always tended to avoid being too overtly associated with big business (after all, the social base is not that large!).

To form such an open campaigning association between the non-Labor parties and the big end of town is an unusual step. It has come from Howard using the IR issue as a means of cohering his own supporter base but has now developed an external momentum where Howard will now find himself publicly campaigning with business (this is despite even Textor providing more uncertainty that IR is a leading issue with the electorate).

Furthermore, this move towards a more open alliance with big business may just be coming at a time when it will become more awkward to do so. Because there is another important difference between Liberal/business and Labor and the unions: the unions are an empty shell and as we are now seeing, fairly easy to dump. Business of course is not. If Labor’s attempts to make a virtue out of it becoming less aligned with special interests start to gain traction in an environment that is always hostile to the political class (as seen by the latest moaning over MP pay), the Liberals could be exposed.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 21 June 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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