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