The making of Ming the Merciless

Wednesday, 30 June 2010 

The story so far: suffering under the yoke of Ming the Merciless, the cruellest person ever to occupy the Lodge, Labor MPs are in such state of terror that even when caucus meets, they dare not breathe a word of dissent. Meanwhile, in other parts of the palace, brave knights like the good Sir Bill of Maribyrnong finds some internal polling that showed Labor was heading for an historic defeat (as opposed to the public polls that showed Labor was back on track). So concerned are these brave knights, that they rush to Merciless Ming to tell him the bad news, but are turned away. They have no choice but to give the polling to Andrew Bolt because only he will have the ear of those good folk everywhere who have Labor’s interests at heart. Still Ming won’t yield. So, as a last resort, they finally turn to the loyal and fair Lady Julia who, having no wish for the leadership, but angered by Merciless Ming’s canvassing of his party, reluctantly agrees to take action.

Is anyone buying this crap? Apparently so. In a bizarre piece, Peter van Onselen, claimed that talk Rudd was done over by ‘faceless men’ is complete nonsense because, er, they weren’t faceless (that Senator Feeney is a household name!). According to Van Onselen, Rudd’s style put him at odds with the entire party, not just the faction brokers.

This focus on Rudd’s poor man management misses the central point. The defining feature was not how Rudd treated those without power in the party, but those with it. Rudd was at war with the faction brokers during his entire leadership, indeed, he came to power on the premise of doing them in. Yet what is striking is that throughout Rudd’s tenure, the media were totally blind to the constant power struggle between Rudd and the factions, whether in its more trivial forms, such as his cutting of printing allowances to the factional bosses (by the way, why should tax payers pay for internal party machinations?) or the more serious issue about dealing with the decomposition of the NSW Right. For example, the media were blind to the dynamics behind the stitch up of Neal and Della Bosca over Iguanagate, just as they were why Rudd came in to openly support Rees in his last days and shunned Keneally.

While the media may have been blind to the confrontation between Rudd and the factions during his government, the way it ended is harder to ignore. Shorten tried on Q&A to claim that the brokers didn’t organise the dumping of Rudd, but even Barnaby was getting a round of applause putting that one down. So they have to find a good reason for doing what they did. First we have heart rendering tales of brutality under Ming’s regime. Then we have had some very dodgy psephological goings on to justify it, including lots of ‘internal’ polls whose results never seem to be repeated in those conducted by the professional pollsters.

Readers out there who are under the delusion that The Australian’s chief political correspondent is in a bit of a habit of putting an unfavourable spin on Labor polling, should cut out ‘n’ keep the latest write up of the first post-Rudd Newspoll. They are unlikely to ever find him again as enthusiastic about a one point movement to Labor’s 2PP. Of course, the real reason for his enthusiasm is the 7pt jump in Labor’s primary vote, which would be highly significant if we had a first past the post electoral system. Since we do not, however, conclusions are a perhaps bit more mixed. The bounce could only possibly be ‘significant’ if the previous 2PPs were ‘significantly’ wrong. Maybe they were and there were a lot of pro-Abbott Greens out there. We’ll never know. Otherwise, on 2PP, the 1pt movement to Labor was exactly the same as we saw in the last three Newspoll surveys under Rudd.

It was a similar story with Essential and Galaxy. Unfortunately Morgan went 1.5pts the other way (whoops!) but we’ll ignore that one because it doesn’t fit the narrative. Let’s instead focus on the one poll we have all been talking about for the last few weeks (even at The Australian), Nielsen, the one that showed what none other did, that the Coalition was heading for a comfortable win, and now showing the reverse, and let’s leave it at that.

It may be a bit stretched but such a narrative of Rudd cruelty and dodgy psephology is important for Labor right now to help them manage the awkwardness of Gillard’s accession. However, outside Labor supporters who may need to comfort themselves, this doesn’t have much relevance for anyone else. So there also has to be a policy reason but this is where the problems really start.

One early policy announcement has been Gillard’s dumping of a ‘Big Australia’ and talking about sustainable immigration. This has been roundly acclaimed as a clean break against the Rudd era.

Against what exactly? It is true that Rudd talked about a Big Australia for about a minute back in October (this ‘Big Australia’, by the way, was still talking about a slashing of current immigration levels). But within a short time it had disappeared to become also all about sustainable immigration, a cute Green way of being anti-immigration. Gillard’s ‘about-face’ on this issue does no more than repeat the about face that had already happened under her predecessor.

This highlights Gillard’s problem in justifying her takeover on policy grounds, not only did the bankruptcy of the factions that backed her give her nothing, but there wasn’t that much there to begin with. Other than generally pragmatic responses to the GFC, the Rudd government’s program didn’t amount to much more than the international agenda of climate change, and there is nothing any Australian politician can do to revive that.

The only other program of the previous PM, of course, is anti-politics against the old political system, and here’s where it gets interesting. One of the ironies of charges that Gillard is tainted with the factions, is that she can’t yet fully come out with the truth. She has been also as much against the faction system as Rudd and her anti-union credentials are constantly under-estimated (except perhaps by the teachers’ unions).

It is noteworthy that while the faction brokers may have got rid of their number one enemy, things are not back as they were. Gillard has retained the power of appointing the Ministry, rather than the factions, a century long tradition that Rudd broke. At the end of the day, the factions cannot fully recover because the social base for their existence has gone. The NSW Right may have had their fun in Canberra, but their core power base, as the latest Newspoll confirms, is melting away and what is coming in NSW promises to be a far greater blow to their power than the cutting of their printing allowance.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 30 June 2010.

Filed under Key posts, Political figures, State of the parties

Tags: , ,


22 responses to “The making of Ming the Merciless”

  1. john Willoughby on 30th June 2010 9:39 am

    if you can’t run your party you can’t run the country,
    has never been seen to be truer.
    It does tend to make a joke of our quasi presidential
    voting system.
    Hillary Clinton would love our system right now…

  2. Cavitation on 30th June 2010 10:04 am

    The personal often wins out over everything else. Like everyone, we were all puzzled why Rudd was dumped when the polls were showing better predictions for Labor than they did for the previous Liberal party governments. What we do know is that Rudd was disliked by a lot of people in the Labor caucus. It takes a different set of skills to be opposition leader compared with those needed to be a prime minister. As opposition leader, Rudd had to concentrate on policies, on promoting himself as a leader, and he had to do a lot of the work himself with only a handful of support staff. Rudd was very good at this. But as prime minister, that job is to manage people not policies, and to delegate. Apparently he was not too good at this. A successful leader of a country has to get other people to enthusiastically do his bidding; the job is just too big for one person to do alone. It seems Rudd’s critical failing was his bad people management skills. The others in the party could not work with him any more, and so they changed to a new leader, who they can enthusiastically pitch in with to win the next election.

    As for the sustainable immigration change, this is a promising sign of Gillard’s good political skills. Who benefits most in Australia from high immigration levels? It’s businesses suffering from shortages of suitable workers. This currently happens to be the mining industry, who can’t recruit workers in their mines in remote regions, and so are having to pay higher and higher wages to those it does manage to get. Well, what do you know – the government is now going to cut back on the flow of new workers who are though only ones desperate enough to move to the outback to do those tough jobs. The pressure to increase the wages of mining workers will also benefit the unions, who are still strong in the mining industry; unions that support Labor. This is hitting the mining companies where it will hurt them the most. Savvy politics; and hardly anyone has noticed. I expect to see a better attitude from the mining bosses over the negotiations about the tax reform proposals, especially as there is little chance now that Labor will lose the next election regardless of how much money the bosses throw at the Liberals and the Murdock media businesses for the election.

  3. Graeme on 30th June 2010 11:09 am

    PS: the ‘printing allowance’ is an aspect of MPs general communication allowances. Which have been controversial for their size and ability to be used in electioneering, not internal party affairs. That said the party machines like them because they help keep incumbents noses in front.

  4. Paul of Berwick on 30th June 2010 1:26 pm

    And now it has started. Grattan is talking about the lack of narrative that Julia has.


  5. General Kala on 30th June 2010 2:02 pm

    What do you mean, “Bill Shorten approaching”? … Open fire! All weapons!

  6. Doug on 30th June 2010 3:23 pm

    I am sure she can recall some bedtime stories from her childhood? Will they do?

    Me I’m more worried about her policies.

  7. john on 30th June 2010 5:13 pm

    Great piece, Shrike. I thought every commentator, both online and in the MSM had bought the ‘Rudd was mean to the Caucus’ line. I’m a Labor supporter, and it doesn’t give me any solace at all.

  8. dedalus on 30th June 2010 6:16 pm

    The real villain in all this: the journos. They can’t write – it’s all cliches. They can’t predict – both Abbott’s and Gillard’s ascensions blindsided them totally. They can’t be objective – it’s obvious to the office water cooler who they vote for, on both sides of the fence.

    But don’t let ourselves off lightly, either. For people who think of themselves as ‘followers’ of politics in western democracies it’s really just this – rooting for a team. Politics is a spectator sport. Only winning counts. Just like at the football match, it’s the suspense waiting for the final score that gives the game any validity. As for the ‘non-followers’, they follow too – the bleeding journos.

    So that accounts for the lot of us. The one-eyed and the blind. Followers.

    A jihad on journos.

  9. Femmostroppo Reader – June 30, 2010 « My Hot Topics on 1st July 2010 11:12 am

    […] The making of Ming the Merciless […]

  10. DavidB on 1st July 2010 4:09 pm

    Thanks for making the obvious point that has been ignored by everyone else – the leaking of votes to the Greens would not have elected Abbott. Unless as you point out there is a new species of voter that has appeared in the last six months the extreme right-wing environmentalist.

    Rudd’s fall has everything to do with the inner workings of the ALP and nothing to do with the polling – Howard proved repeatedly how “soft” numbers can turn once the election starts.

    The fall of Rudd and Turnbull have interesting parallels.

  11. jrbarch on 1st July 2010 5:34 pm

    Dear PiShri,

    Why trash a functioning PM? If they had the power to trash him, why not use that power to bring him into line? Then deploy Gillard when Rudd was all used up? Basic husbanding of resources – I don’t get it??



  12. Glorfindel on 1st July 2010 6:01 pm

    Trashing him was probably easier than bringing him into line.

    Also there was a matter of timing, if the polls had continued to improve then Rudd would have become safer and safer. And had he won the next election it would have been difficult to see a move against him for a long while.

  13. Amos Keeto on 2nd July 2010 7:00 pm

    @jrbarch… revenge

  14. The Piping Shrike on 2nd July 2010 7:02 pm

    Rudd had originally come in on dealing with the factions, so I don’t think there was room for compromise.

    Interesting to see if the same applies for Gillard.

  15. Oldskool on 2nd July 2010 9:46 pm

    I have been a Labor supporter all my life, but I cannot see myself voting for this mob of weak willed, panicky twits!

  16. Thomas Paine on 3rd July 2010 1:10 am

    It is guaranteed that the story of Rudd being a grumpy ogre, frightening for the gentle Labor men and unionists to deal with is utterly false.

    The degree to which Labor supporters, insiders and party hacks go to repeat and intensify this story tells us that it isn’t true but simply a device to justify their knifing of Rudd.

    The other reason the party hacks are out denigrating Rudd to the max saying how intolerable he was is stop Rudd supporters from defecting to the Greens or Liberals. It also helps to deify JGillard.

    These people are of course liars. But it isn’t unusual for party, Labor party insiders to lie through their teeth to justify something they know was wrong.

    It is a sad fact about Labor supporters in general that they are only too willing to start hating the an outgoing leader if they have a ready replacement to obsess about. And so it is with Rudd.

    You would think he was Australia’s worst PM and Labor leader if you listended to some. The truth is of course pretty much the opposite.

    It is difficult in the extreme to justify the knifing of Rudd. The polls did not provide the reason, and even the polls Rudd had were better than preceding PMs going in to elections. Then there is internal polling. Now when it comes to power grabs their are lies and there are convenient internal polls.

    The only reason for Gillard to take the job is a naked power grab for the sake of it. The factions taking back control from the free agent who showed them up.

    But there needed to be a catalyst and I think it was the mining industry dealing with Unions and Labor insiders organising the take down of the Australian Prime Minister and replace him with somebody they hoped to get a better deal. And a much better deal they get, when it is analysed in full.

    I can say that from two other sources now the general public think it was the mining industry that caused Rudds down fall. But I dont think they have joined the dots and thought that it was the mining industry dealing directly with the part to depose the PM. It is more than we know, the evidence is circumstantial. But knowing the history of some in Labor it wouldn’t surprise me.

    Labor supporters in their blogs are building into a crescendo of blind Gillard cultism, and the resident hacks are doing their job of persistent attacks and denigration of Rudd. Sort of attests to the character of some people.

  17. janice on 3rd July 2010 3:06 pm

    IMHO, Rudd went wrong when he forgot, or dismissed, a golden rule. To be a successful leader one must first of all earn the respect of colleagues and have trust in team members. Rudd was blessed with the most talented team I can ever remember in my 50 voting years.

    The fact that Rudd wasn’t ‘liked’ by many is of no consequence but the fact that his colleagues did not respect him, they therefore resented him. The fact that Rudd did not trust his colleagues enough to delegate, give due acknowledgement to their achievements and work with them as a team caused dissent. It was not a happy workplace environment.

    Out here where I am in a pro-labor electorate, there was much disenchantment with Rudd. Many were vocal in expressing their ‘hatred’ of the man for his inability to communicate clearly the many good policies and the achievements of a good government in its first term. Rudd was also downgraded because it was perceived that he was too religious for the good of the nation.

    I got over the shellshock of Rudd’s removal fairly quickly. My anger was directed mostly towards the rabid media campaign and I felt genuine sadness for Kevin Rudd, who I felt gave of his best.

    I have the utmost faith in Julia Guillard to also give her best efforts to the nation. I do not believe she would have even considered challenging for the leadership had not she genuinely believed the Government was in jeopardy.

  18. Thomas Paine on 3rd July 2010 5:47 pm

    “The fact that Rudd wasn’t ‘liked’ by many is of no consequence but the fact that his colleagues did not respect him, they therefore resented him.”

    I think we need to distinguish between fact and fiction. None what is said above is known except as allegations in a newspaper syndicate dedicate to his destruction since before his election and, those in the Labor party faithful only to their faction and their preferred candidate Julia Gillard.

    Kevin Rudd has been around a while, the certainly respected him enough to make him Opposition leader just before an election, and respected him enough to support him without question all the way through to the election. And even after the election all were peace and tranquillity with KR.

    To be sure most MPs that have fought their way up in the party know how to be tough and to fight the street fight and so on. If you cant do that you don’t make it anywhere.

    It is pure nonsense to suggest that KR was so awesome and powerful that all the Cabinet and power brokers were too scared to tackle Rudd over anything they found intolerable. These people are the toughest people around, and can be the nastiest. They are not frightened of anybody. There is no possible way a Gillard or Faulkner and so forth wouldn’t have confronted Rudd in no uncertain terms on anything they thought was intolerable.

    But the character assassination has been so intensly progressed by his media enemies and the white-anters of Gillard and the factions that most take it for granted without apply some basic thought. Rudd is unlikely to be any better or worse than those before him. And in fact this has been said by that Uni professor who observed Rudd and the workings of his office at close range.

    It is fact that if Gillard had deposed Rudd without his character being first besmirched in the public eye there would have been a huge backlash against her. The first beginings of this campaign may be traced back to the invented hair dryer incident.

    Again I have to say, let us not become members of a cult of anybody, lets not idolise Gillard and by necessity demonise any part of her history that may tarnish our golden view.

    The character assasination of Rudd will continue to be prosecuted by Labor insiders up until the election after which it wont matter, and they may even decide to say some nice things if they don’t perceive as a future threat.

    Beware of Labor Hacks – they are pimps, their job is to pimp whoever their MP and Leader is from one day to the next. An example of this is clearly seen on another political blog where Rudd could do no wrong up until the day Gillard was installed, then in this persons eye Rudd was suddenly bad.

    I also say beware Gillard, she needs to run things according to faction controls and sensitivities. The reason many in the Labor Party wanted Rudd gone is that he was a ‘free’ agent to persue what was good for Australia regardless of faction desires. His refusal to bend to factional interests is the real initial reason they intended early on to replace him.

  19. The Piping Shrike on 3rd July 2010 7:15 pm

    I think the useful thing here is to start with what led up to Rudd/Gillard taking over. For years before, the party had been wrestling with its relevance after its relationship with the unions no longer had any role after Hawke/Keating. Electorally that was felt by the way it continually lost to someone like Howard, who never really built a firm consensus in the electorate, shown in the regular mid term polling slumps (far greater than anything experienced by Rudd), but that would magically disappear every time he had to face an exhausted Labor party at election.

    Internally this meant criticism of the old faction system and the voting power of the unions, something ones like Gillard and Crean were against. Gillard’s aborted candidacy against Beazley in 2005 was based on his allegiance to the faction system and her recognition that it needed to be overhauled.

    This was also the basis of the Rudd/Gillard challenge to Beazley. The press saw Rudd as another factional candidate but in fact the support they had was split across factional lines as a result of their election really being a defeat for them and a broader recognition that things could not carry on the old way.

    This has been turned into a personality issue, but really it was a power struggle. Janice you’re right that there was considerable talent in the Labor front bench, but one reason was the breaking down of the factional system that meant the usual dead heads did not all get up. Don’t forget in the first Hawke Cabinet there was only one from the left (Howe) and even he was dropped quickly after. In Rudd’s Cabinet you not only had far greater representation in Cabinet outside the right, but you had two of them, Gillard and Tanner, making up half of the ‘real’ cabinet.

    The split between Rudd/Gillard was really based on the way they dealt with the factions. For Rudd it was getting authority internationally through the climate change agenda, which gave him the authority to override sectional interests and also appeal directly to the electorate. For Gillard,her role was more internal and the issue was Workchoices, which allowed Gillard to get away with introducing the most anti-union agenda in Labor’s history.

    I see it simply that when the climate change agenda faded internationally, the balance shifted Gillard’s way. The problem is that she has come in tainted by the factional support. It will be interesting to see how/if she deals with it. Until she does, Rudd bashing will probably be order of the day.

  20. Link dump « Spray of the Day on 5th July 2010 11:40 am

    […] The making of Ming the Merciless […]

  21. Ricc on 5th July 2010 5:50 pm

    An anti-politics politician is hard to weep for. I expect Rudd will regard the job of PM with the disdain it deserves.

    I’m wondering if NSW politics is bleeding into the federal sphere, and Canberra is becoming Sussex Street South, with the inevitable rats leaving the sinking NSWALP ship and clinging to what’s left in Canberra.

  22. The Piping Shrike on 5th July 2010 7:42 pm

    Yes, like with all the trade union bureacrats, we seem to be seeing the slow, sad migration of NSW right hacks to Canberra for one last act of the tragedy.

    Quite poetic when you think about it.

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