An election to fill the gap

Tuesday, 13 July 2010 

If all the hints being given are correct, it seems that Gillard is wasting no time rushing towards an election.

Why? The media have been discussing the rapid approach of an election as though it is perfectly natural, indeed some have demanded it. Yet the idea of a newly installed leader rushing quickly to an election is quite unusual. You only have to cast the mind back to the speculation over Costello taking over from Howard before the last election. All the smart punditry was talking about the need for Costello, if he was going to challenge Howard, to do it quickly so that he had enough time to establish himself before going to the polls. There was a similar discussion going on when Keating actually did take over from Hawke.

It would seem especially necessary given the way Gillard’s accession to the leadership was presented. If Rudd had fallen under a bus, then it would simply be more of the same and so now is as good as a time as any.

But Gillard came in on the basis that the government had lost its way and needed ‘a new direction’. Surely it would take more than a few weeks to make clear exactly what that new direction was.

The only comparison that arguably could be made to what Gillard is trying to do, is what Hawke did as Opposition leader when he took over from Hayden in 1983 just as Fraser was heading to Yarralumla to ask for an election.

But Gillard is no Hawke. It’s not just that her popularity is nowhere near that enjoyed by Hawke, or Rudd, in their respective ‘honeymoons’. Hawke took over from Hayden because, as a popular former head of the ACTU, the party judged him better able to personify what Hayden and the ALP at the time were already proposing, an accord with the unions.

Gillard’s problem is that she has inherited nothing, nor been given anything by those power brokers who backed her. It is this vacuum that an election appears designed to circumvent.

This blog has highlighted that Rudd was probably in an winning polling position at the time of his dumping, in order to cut through the nonsense that was being put about to justify what was basically a power grab by the politically bankrupt faction brokers of the party. This lack of electoral justification for Gillard’s takeover would seem confirmed by the weakness of any Gillard ‘bounce’ even at this stage, which as William Bowe points out, is probably between only 1-2 pts.

In this blog’s view, Rudd was starting to claw back support because, rather than the mining tax being a ‘disaster’, it was at least giving Rudd an appearance of being a battler standing for something that he lost through the backflips of the last few months.

But it is likely that any benefit to Rudd would have been temporary. At the end of the day, Rudd still faced the problem that he had no real domestic agenda, nor since Copenhagen, an international one. There was an anti-political one, but this would have only heightened the conflict between him and the party he was leading, something much harder to manage with nothing else to base his authority on.

One of the ways this problem for Rudd would come out was through the dilemma over ‘backflips’. Rudd would pick the right fights, against the Premiers over health reform, the miners over the tax, but have limited authority to hold his position for long. Sooner or later the right fight would become a problem and eventually the Coalition could end up saying “wait for the backflip” knowing that each subsequent backflip would expose the lack of authority that was there all along.

Short circuiting this backflip problem is really what has distinguished Gillard’s few weeks. None of Gillard’s actions were really that much different to what Rudd was or would have been doing anyway. Gillard’s main agenda is to provide real backflips rather than the wishy-washy backflips of Rudd’s. Her problem, however, is basically the same as Rudd’s. It might be OK handing over money to shut up the miners, but when it comes to applying such ‘solutions’ to even small impoverished islands on which Australian troops are posted, a lack of political framework to manage it means that things can still get out of control.

These assertive backflips are being politely described by commentators as ‘clearing the decks’. In Gillard’s terms, it is being presented as ‘listening to the electorate’. In reality, it is called an exhausted program, or even a vacuum, that it appears Labor is now hoping that an electoral mandate can fill.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 13 July 2010.

Filed under Tactics

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9 responses to “An election to fill the gap”

  1. Invig on 13th July 2010 9:51 am

    This commentor appears to agree with this blog, strangely.

  2. Thomas Paine on 13th July 2010 2:29 pm

    Oh how the Liberal Party must be lamenting their idiotic behaviour in the first 18 months of Rudd. Being noisy, getting up to antics and making themselves look like a rabble in and outside the chamber.

    How much better they would have gone if they shut up and basically went along with the Govt for a bit, earning some credit for being a serious tuned in party.

    And now when the election is there to be won against a ‘non-incumbent’ person who has shown vulnerability, they lack a credible leader and barely any policy development.

    The only likely alternative that has the possibility of increased success in Turnbull is neither liked for he style of policy bent.

    Gillard might turn out to be one lucky girl, sneaking under the radar with what seems less than great leadership skills.

  3. Tweets that mention An election to fill the gap :The Piping Shrike -- on 13th July 2010 11:14 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Jackmanson, Wes Mountain. Wes Mountain said: – good analysis of the essential lack of change associated with @JuliaGillard's taking over of the PMship. […]

  4. MG on 14th July 2010 12:12 pm

    This blog appears to be based on one key premise, ie an exhausted program or vacuum as in: “In reality, it is called an exhausted program, or even a vacuum, that it appears Labor is now hoping that an electoral mandate can fill.”
    The same approach is taken to the Obama Administration in the US.
    What I do not understand is, what else is a government supposed to do? Much of the day to day governing is done by the departments and the bureaucrats. The government sits on top and tweeks policies a bit and provides handouts. If the govt tries anything ambitious such as the mining tax – look what happens.

  5. The Piping Shrike on 14th July 2010 4:47 pm

    By exhausted program, I mean the historical ones they were established on, especially related to their attitude to organised labour.

    The purpose of this blog is to see what it means. One thing it has meant is the erosion of their social base and difficulty to carry out even a basic revenue raising measure like the mining tax.

    One of the reasons politics is so interesting here is that the whole process is much more open and raw than in the US where it can still be managed through their international influence. Here the political class can even get tripped up with an impoverished client state!

    One response was Rudd’s attempt to set himself up against the old parties, which I think triggered off a crisis in the Liberal party. The end of that experiment has slowed that crisis down, in my view, and my guess is that the focus is now swinging back to Labor. My hunch is that either Gillard bites down very firmly on the hand that fed her, or we see the crisis go back to the Labor party.

    Much of it will depend on what happens over the next few weeks when the public makes one of its rare interventions into the process.

  6. john on 14th July 2010 8:29 pm

    It looks like Julia is trying to be Hawke, so I don’t know what that means in regards to their agenda.

  7. The Piping Shrike on 14th July 2010 10:35 pm

    At first thought I would think there’s an internal ‘inclusive’ message that she is reassuring the faction brokers.

    Externally, the reality of Hawke’s ‘inclusiveness’ was based on a program (the union accord) which Gillard does not have. That’s why she can’t reproduce Hawke. Hawke appeared cross party because he brought both sides of politics (business and unions) together. Thirty years later things have degenerated enough that she has to be against both sides.

    Externally, her nod to ‘real’ issues like school uniforms seems more Lathamesque than Hawke.

  8. john on 14th July 2010 11:19 pm

    Any chance she’ll do a Latham and melt down and give the election to a vicious conservative?

  9. The Piping Shrike on 15th July 2010 12:12 am

    Don’t know. Abbott’s approval rating is rising and the coalition’s primary is nudging up …

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