Gillard: stooge for the party bosses

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

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Comments

30 responses to “Gillard: stooge for the party bosses”

  1. DM on 24th June 2010 1:35 am

    Behold the power of polls! The last 3 years have seen a marked increase in the influence polls have on events in Australian politics. It started with the dumping of Beazley and passed on to the Nelson-Turnbull-Abbott changeover in the Liberal Party. Has a party ever changed leaders three times within one term?

    Now we have the latest casualty of mid-year polls – the prime ministership! This is unprecendented stuff. A successful leader is dumped in his first term. I wonder where this will lead?

    The big question in my mind, Piping,is why Julia Gillard – who is herself opposed to the faction bosses – has agreed to ignore her good judgement and challenge the PM so close to an election?

  2. The Piping Shrike on 24th June 2010 1:39 am

    I guess she believes this is her best shot. Either Rudd loses and three years in opposition awaits, or he wins and consolidates his position against the party bosses, so needing her less. The things was that Gillard was always his weapon against the party, so the alliance always had a limited shelf life one way or the other. What I hadn’t expected was the international agenda, and therefore Rudd’s standing to fall away as quickly as it did.

  3. Edward O on 24th June 2010 1:54 am

    What are the right-wing union/factional bosses backing Gillard going to expect from her, I wonder.

  4. The Piping Shrike on 24th June 2010 1:59 am

    Acknowledgement that she owes her position to them I expect. Policy wise I don’t think they will want anything they couldn’t have got from Rudd.

  5. Chris on 24th June 2010 8:07 am

    I am finding all of this incredible. But I can’t work out whether this will make it easier or not for Labor to be re-elected. Any thoughts Mr Shrike on how the Liberals will target Gillard?

  6. The Piping Shrike on 24th June 2010 8:16 am

    I wouldn’t have thought they would need to. Rather initially focus on what it says about the party that brought her in.

    The irony in all of this is that here you have a Prime Minister accused of being poll driven and making back flips on bad polling numbers, now being dumped by a party because the numbers were getting a bit tight. Dumping policy because of polls, now dumping leaders for the same reason simply reinforces the question what does Labor actually stand for?

  7. john Willoughby on 24th June 2010 9:03 am

    The awu and the mining industry remove a sitting prime minister.
    The interest now is what happens to the tax.
    Gillard is now propped up by the same numbskulls who
    managed to deliver us a decade of Howard .

  8. Michael on 24th June 2010 9:20 am

    This is an incredibly high stakes game the factions are playing. I think it will be difficult to predict how it will pan out. How long will Gillard’s honeymoon last? The real issue here is that Labor is losing it’s traditional base, not to any other party, the base itself is disappearing with the unions loss of relevance. The defeat of workchoices was not won by the union movement, although they probably think it was. It was defeated by a broad base of people who feared that because they weren’t union members with bargaining power they would have no protection.

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  10. Graeme on 24th June 2010 10:02 am

    Is this Zombie Faction Leaders narrative unduly simplistic? It seems to paint a mighty conspiracy of faction leaders at the same time as being built on a critique of their contemporary weaknesses and splintering.

    We might also await the actual vote in caucus: if they are as decisive as the media reports suggest (2:1) it would be fair to say that something else is at work, that will have a lot to do with genuinely crestfallen backbenchers and an astonishing lack of sympathy/respect for Rudd personally. The Rudd-Turnbull analogy holds some water.

    My take is as much structural as institutional: Old Father Howard presided over a minor Menzian period. Which created various vacuums (that emerged as early as Latham and indeed within the Libs to destabilise Howards failing final years).

    The legacy is a cycle of interregnums and instabilities (with Rudd in there with Holt and Gorton – Abbott if he wins will not last long either). This legacy is exacerbated by factors that weren’t really present in previous generations: a media/polling cycle that itself fills a new vacuum, the baseless party (a phenomenon captured so well by the Shrike’s song). Liberal and Labor are so similar these days – I don’t mean in pure policy – but in their makeup, modus operandi, motivations.

    As for Gillard’s chances as Leader, well she will live or die on the roundabout of perception of personality, performance and polling that is post-modern politics. Policy and public spirit are very much secondary vectors on that roundabout.

  11. The Piping Shrike on 24th June 2010 10:52 am

    Simplistic but I think its true. The Liberals are already calling Gillard a puppet of the factions and unions. How pleased they must be to trot that out again.

  12. fred on 24th June 2010 11:20 am

    “This is about the party bosses using the polls ….. and the media campaign against Rudd to regain control of the party.”

    This sums it up.

  13. Invig on 24th June 2010 11:31 am

    I think you’ll be surprised Mr Shrike. She has watched while Rudd failed, and it wasn’t because he wasn’t a lackey of the factions.

  14. Michael on 24th June 2010 11:32 am

    The two power brokers Feeney and Farrell look like dumb and dumber.

    Senator Feeney “He is still blamed for the preference deal that resulted in Steve Fielding of Family First entering the Senate.”
    He, along with Senator Farrell, were verbally abused by Mr Rudd last year when they met him to protest at the paring back of MPs’ entitlements.

    from – “The faceless men who conspired to bring down the Prime Minister”
    http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-faceless-men-who-conspired-to-bring-down-the-prime-minister-20100623-yz8u.html?from=age_ft&autostart=1

  15. Invig on 24th June 2010 11:47 am

    Micheal, you shouldn’t confuse ‘early-adopters’ of ‘new technology’ with the intrinsic reasons why the technology eventually succeeds.

    These guys are opportunistic. Sure. But who else was going to move against Rudd first?

  16. Michael on 24th June 2010 12:17 pm

    True Invig, but it’s still depressing finding out about them. For all Rudd’s faults, which IMHO were greatly exaggerated, as probably were Howard’s I hate to admit, unless I’m completely wrong Rudd got them elected into government in the first place. He was phenomenally successful at beating Howard.

  17. Invig on 24th June 2010 12:24 pm

    The party structure promotes people like that. It’s systemic. The only surprise is that rot has been reversed in recent years, and someone like Julia can rise to the top.

    Rudd was good at beating Howard cause he espoused morality. But that was just as opportunistic. He had no idea of how to deliver on any of his promises, and certainly lost interest very quickly on each and every one of them.

    Still, its turned out well. Rudd beat Howard, and now we have Julia along with a strong cabinet. The machines of both parties have been seriously undermined in the meantime. Quite an amazing progression in my estimation, and great for the country.

  18. Graeme on 24th June 2010 1:42 pm

    “Simplistic but I think its true. The Liberals are already calling Gillard a puppet of the factions and unions. How pleased they must be to trot that out again”

    Sure, you can get good mileage from a half-truth. But if the ‘faceless men’ line was a truth when Whitlam uttered it, it’s barely a cliche now: unless the public suddenly discover great sympathy for a PM they loved shallowly and turned on quickly, and go in search for scapegoats to assuage that guilt/shame.

    The Libs 2007 red-scare campaign about union hacks/control was in theory good anti-politics: remind us why it failed.

  19. Tim on 24th June 2010 3:57 pm

    Shrike,

    Do you think this illustrates a resurgence in the power of the factional system? Clearly the factions are still capable of removing a popular first term prime minister, no mean feat. Or is this a symptom of weakness rather than strength? A desperate attempt to reassert control?

  20. The Piping Shrike on 24th June 2010 6:37 pm

    The Libs 2007 campaign failed because Rudd really was anti-union and anti faction. Gillard is too but the unfortunate way she has taken power now makes it harder to undermine their power. You’re right this is not a faceless men situation but this is more about the irrelevance of the forces that put Gillard where she is.

    That this is more about assertion of party boss power than any particular policy would suggest that they have little real program behind them.

  21. DM on 25th June 2010 12:37 am

    What a day! I thought Linday Tanner’s bowing out of politics topped an otherwise increadibly tumultuous day. I don’t know about the loss of Rudd, but the loss of Tanner will certainly be felt in the modern day ALP. A first rate thinker, and the greatest intellectual capacity in Labor will leave politics by the end of the year. What a shame!

  22. Jovial Monk on 25th June 2010 2:32 am

    35% primary vote.

  23. john on 25th June 2010 3:22 pm

    Shrike,

    Do you think if Gillard loses the election, the factions will be broken?

  24. The Piping Shrike on 25th June 2010 4:25 pm

    JM, over the last 20 years we have had three Prime Ministers contest seven elections and win five of them. None of them would have been able to contest a single one of them if they were dumped on the type of numbers that was supposed to cost have Rudd his job.

    Furthermore there is not a single national poll that suggests Gillard wll do better. No doubt she will get a bounce but to sack someone who had achieved the sort of stratospheric polling that we have not seen for thirty years on the back of nothing more than a hope that the replacement will do better does not seem to be a move based primarily on electoral arithmetics.

    John, the faction system is ultimately finished because it has no basis in social reality anymore. Obviously a loss will speed it up, but it is going anyway, whatever path it happens. This is a throwback from a dying system, it is sad/interesting to see one of its main opponents become caught up in it.

  25. john on 25th June 2010 4:54 pm

    Do you think we’ll see Kevin Rudd again? Julia Gillard is very unpopular here in Queensland, and there’s a lot of feeling for him, and against Gillard.

  26. The Piping Shrike on 25th June 2010 5:21 pm

    God knows what will happen!

  27. john on 25th June 2010 5:45 pm

    This was a bad business. It shouldn’t have happened.

  28. The Piping Shrike on 25th June 2010 5:48 pm

    Latest Morgan confirms how little time the power brokers had to make their move!

  29. john on 25th June 2010 5:55 pm

    They killed the reform of this government in the womb.

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