Bob and Julia v Paul and Kevin

Friday, 16 July 2010 

They are two great Australians, passionate about their politics, having a passionate discussion and I’d have to say as someone with an intense interest in politics I’m enjoying it.

J Gillard on Bob v Paul 15 July 2010

It’s nice that Julia is enjoying it, because as far as this blogger is concerned, it is boring. But more on Bob v Paul in a minute, first on Julia v Kevin.

If what was implied by Laurie Oakes’s question is correct, then Gillard’s vow to keep silent about what happened between her, Rudd and Faulkner that night is pretty irrelevant – since they both went off to their separate camps to report on what had or not been agreed. Gillard’s takeover of course was not about Gillard acting alone, but with the backing of major party brokers, so no doubt they would have been kept in the loop as to what was on offer, just as Rudd’s (smaller) camp was.

It is a reminder that such power agreements are neither here nor there; the point is whether wider political developments are able to make it happen. In Gillard’s case the power brokers were using dodgy ‘internal polling’ and media reports over-stating Rudd’s electoral problems as an opportunity to regain power (just on that, Barry O’Farrell seems to be confused about more things than just how to use Twitter. Didn’t his message to Latima Bourke imply that lousy internal Liberal polling was making it hard to field candidates both before and after Rudd’s dumping? Wasn’t the polling in NSW marginals before Gillard supposed to be disastrous for Labor?).

Anyway let’s move on. Gillard’s problem is not how she took power but trying to explain why she did, other than the internal power grab it was. The media says that her economic speech yesterday was knocked off course by Oakes’s intervention, but it was pretty easy to anyway, given that it was a speech that Rudd could have just as easily delivered. Maybe the delivery style was a bit different but wouldn’t getting Rudd a speech coach have been easier?

If Gillard is struggling to put content into her leadership grab, it is strange watching it draining away from the earlier one between Bob and Paul. Keating’s letter to The Australian shows what was essentially a political struggle is now taking an excruciatingly personal turn.

Once again agreements in Kirribilli between Hawke and Keating were irrelevant unless there was a broader political reason to make it happen. In Keating’s case, it was based on the early response to the unravelling of the political project that underpinned their partnership. The locking in of the unions and subsequent wage restraint, so that Australian employees could take the strain during the structural reforms of the 1980s, was the bedrock of the Hawke government. Essentially Hawke delivered the unions, and sold the project to the public, and Keating delivered the party (or the Right at least) and tended to be more driving the reforms. As the project started to unravel at the end of the decade, signalled first by a near run thing in 1990 and then Hawke being paralysed in the face of Hewson’s Fightback, it laid the political ground for Keating to bring the Kirribilli ‘agreement’ into effect.

Keating’s initial response was to recognise that the conditions for economic reform had essentially passed and to turn Hewson’s attempt to continue the reforms under Fightback into a threat. In 1993, it was Keating who was the safe pair of hands and Hewson who was the reformer, and it was on that basis that the Liberals lost. Their lesson was to abandon reforms as well and become a small target led by a suitably small leader.

Having turned the tables on the Coalition, however, Keating was left with the problem of what Labor should stand for now its contract with the unions was losing its purpose. Keating’s new nationalist project had no real social basis (played up by Howard over Keating’s attachment to ‘elites’) and after the 1996 loss and the Republican referendum debacle the project was largely dropped.

It’s a safe bet that Keating’s ‘respect’ for Hawke over the last few years was more based on Keating’s failure to present a sustainable political project beyond Labor’s traditional one represented by Hawke, rather than sensitivities towards the man himself. Rudd also tried to go beyond Labor’s old program, this time with an anti-political but purely pragmatic program, and again failed. This is really the subtle fault line that underlies the difference between Hawke and Gillard compared to Rudd and Keating (and to a degree Whitlam, who kicked off the whole shift away from the unions).

The way Gillard came to power has drawn her towards Hawke’s more ‘inclusive’ approach to the party’s power structures. But Hawke could do this because he was using the full capacity of the party (and the role of its factions) for his political programme based on the union accord. Gillard’s ‘inclusiveness’ comes from owing her backers a favour for their support. Unfortunately beyond that, her backers have no other purpose in society and so her political programme is identical from the man she replaced, who ignored them altogether.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 16 July 2010.

Filed under State of the parties

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Comments

4 responses to “Bob and Julia v Paul and Kevin”

  1. john on 16th July 2010 9:26 am

    Interesting perspective. However, I do recall that there was a close relationship between Keating and then ACTU secretary Bob Kelty. This resulted in their grand plan for big unions by compulsory mergers, which I suggest may be a prime cause for the irrelevance of unions today. Many of the mergers had more to do with boosting Left and Right union power bases than a rational coming together of union organisations to improve the lot of workers with common interests. These larger unions certainly became more affluent due to economies of scale, but overall the result was a continuing decline in union membership.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 16th July 2010 9:54 am

    Absolutely agree with that. I was skipping over the last bit when Keating “pulled their teeth out” with the help of Kelty. The ones who were left basically became fat super funds.

    Then after winding it up, Keating was left to try and replace it. Ironically its the failure of that by which he will largely be remembered.

  3. adamite on 18th July 2010 7:44 pm

    ‘Their lesson was to abandon reforms as well and become a small target led by a suitably small leader’. Well, they certainly succeeded on both counts didnt they.

    I’d also note, like John,that the lines of allegiance werent clear cut, after all, wasnt Hawke’s major backer Graeme Richardson of NSW right fame? For me the interesting parallel between Hawke and Gillard is their self-portrayal as ‘ordinary’ Australians – leaders who can personally identify with the working classes, a theme Gillard is employing overtime in her speeches.

  4. The Piping Shrike on 18th July 2010 9:58 pm

    Yes, the idea that there is a type of ‘ordinary Australian’ to be identified with is an especially virulent strain in the ALP. Rudd’s exceptionally long run of popularity was clearly because he tapped into all those Mandarin speaking diplomat careerists out there.

    Your’re right, the lines weren’t clearly drawn but Hawke ended up trying to appeal to the left near the end, the usual refuge of fading Labor leaders.

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