Thursday, 24 June 2010
I was elected by the people of Australia to do a job; I was not elected by the factional leaders of the Australian Labor Party to do a job – although they may be seeking to do a job on me.
K Rudd 23 June 2010
This crypto fascist never bothered to build a base in the Party and now that his only faction, Newspoll, has gone, so has he.
An unamed Labor faction boss quoted by Chris Uhlmann 23 June
Let’s cut the crap, the move against Rudd isn’t being driven by the fears of an electoral loss. Not only is the government approaching election at this stage in a relatively more comfortable position than most governments for the last 20 years, against an opposition led by an unusually unpopular leader, there is little polling evidence this blogger has seen that suggest that Gillard would make things better.
This is about the party bosses using the polls (especially the decline in Rudd’s popularity) and the media campaign against Rudd to regain control of the party. What is striking about the move against Rudd is the degree to which it is coming from the party bosses rather than the backbenchers, with even the most likely to hear of such a challenge, such as the departing Member for Robertson, being oblivious to the action.
According to AWU boss, Paul Howes, on Lateline last night, Rudd’s “great mistake” was to dare to canvass the caucus to find out the level of support he had. What Howes forgot to mention was what that canvassing apparently found, namely that Rudd still enjoyed strong support in the Parliamentary Party. This is understandable. However, little Rudd is liked in the party, and however little benefit he is now giving to the government’s standing in the electorate, destabilising the leadership this close to an election is a highly risky move, but especially to a leader that the electorate appears to prefer no more and with no distinct policy difference anyway. It was one of the key reasons the Liberals were loath to dump Howard for Costello at a time of far worse poll ratings.
But then electoral considerations are not the only game in town. Just as Abbott’s claim of being on the verge of a “famous victory” made little sense as an electoral tactic but did as an internal one to boost morale in the party, so internal considerations are playing an important role, and now a primary one, as Labor approaches the election. The trouble is that with Gillard, such tactics may not work out as her backers expect.
The ascension of Rudd/Gillard to the party leadership represented a culmination of a process the ALP had been going through since its historical programme exhausted itself, marked by the dumping of Hawke twenty years ago. Internally that worked its way through the eroding power of the faction bosses. While Gillard and Rudd came from opposite ends of the party, what united them was a program to break down the faction system. From the moment they assumed the leadership, both immediately stopped attending their respective faction meetings (Rudd being the first Labor leader to do so). Politically Rudd’s detachment from the union bosses was marked by the scaling down of Beasley’s campaign against Workchoices.
Rudd’s enormous popularity was based on both his ability to tap into where the international agenda seemed to be heading and to represent a decisive break from what had become a discredited political framework. On winning power in government, Rudd immediately set about consolidating power against the party bosses, through such actions as the phoney anti-inflation campaign and the 2020 Summit all designed to put the former power centres of the party on notice.
Organisationally this was reinforced by the ‘kitchen cabinet’ of four, Rudd, Gillard, Swan and Tanner, which acted as a surrogate cabinet. What was striking about this grouping, and of the cabinet itself was the high representation of the left, the perennial losers of the factional system and the most to gain from it ending. Unusually, cabinet also included a non-factional member Peter Garrett, a celebrity shoo-in that Rudd reproduced in electoral candidates at the last election with mixed effect.
Running a government, while running against the power bases within it, was feasible while there was an international agenda to legitimise Rudd’s leadership. When that faded, Rudd’s strategy started to come under pressure. It was fascinating to listen to him last night and the pointed references he made to the ETS and asylum seekers. Following on one of the few interesting revelations to come from Insiders, that the decision to dump the timetable came from pressure from the right, a decision that Rudd was rightly torn on, it is pretty easy to guess that some of the flip-flops over the last few weeks have not come primarily from the polls but Rudd’s increasing need to accommodate to the resurgent power of the faction bosses.
The problem for the faction bosses, however, is that the primary reason for Rudd’s accession, their increasing irrelevance has not gone away. As seen by their decomposition in NSW, the political program of the NSW’s right, a pragmatic tie-up between business and the unions has long since lost relevance in the electorate. The political irrelevance of the right will no doubt be disguised in the way Paul Howes did it last night, banging on about Workchoices, helped by the fact that under Abbott, the Liberals are having a throwback lurch to the past as well.
Yet the irrelevance of those who are seeking to overturn Rudd suggests two things. Firstly, Rudd’s appeal to the parliamentary party may be a bit stronger than the media suggests. Secondly, that in the still likely event that Gillard gets up, she is no more in favour of the faction bosses than the one she replaced. If Gillard has been reluctant until now to take over, it may be partly because she wished to see Rudd deal with the party’s traditonal power brokers more before she made her move. Sooner or later, she will have to be forced to finish the job that her predecessor began but now, unfortunately, under their sponsorship.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 24 June 2010.Filed under State of the parties