Wednesday, 10 November 2010
And that has created I think a crisis in confidence for Labor, something that needs to be changed, and people need to be empowered, to have a big discussion, to look at the big picture and say, “What is the great step forward that Australian Labor will take the Australian people on in this next generation? What is the big social reform that Labor will instigate to make Australia a fairer, more prosperous society?”
Paul Howes Lateline
Hang on a sec’? You mean to say Labor doesn’t already know? What on earth then are they doing in government?
Paul Howes is out and about redressing perceptions after he appeared on Lateline the night before Rudd was dumped and regretfully made himself “a part of the story”. He’s doing this by, er, writing a book and going back on Lateline to promote it.
However sincere Howes is about avoiding the limelight (certainly he wasn’t shy while Rudd was PM), his need to come back and explain himself, like Bitar’s performance at the NPC the other day, is being driven by what has happened since.
It’s not surprising the justification for the coup has morphed somewhat since June. Then it was supposed to be about popularity and policy. The popularity excuse is looking a bit strained now. It’s one thing to try and blame the lousy election campaign on the pro-Rudd leaks, while conveniently ignoring the damage the earlier anti-Rudd leaks did, which continued, by the way, right through the campaign itself.
But it’s quite another thing to try and explain what has been happening since. The normal post election bounce has not happened for this government and Labor is now polling worse on two party preferred that at any time during Rudd’s tenure. The primary vote has limited meaning in a 2PP electoral system, but the collapse in Labor’s primary was certainly an issue at the time of the coup, when on 2PP Rudd actually had a winning lead. Labor’s primary is now the worst since the dog days of Crean in 2003.
The policy excuse is wearing a bit thin as well. Howes is talking as though Gillard came in with a clean slate and we all know Rudd and Howes fell out because of Rudd’s Howardesque performance on asylum seekers. Presumably then, Howes was mortified then when Gillard came in and said that Rudd was actually too soft on asylum seekers and began proposing a nice, lean, sustainable Australia against Rudd’s big, slobby, fat one. Or maybe Howes wasn’t that worried. He seemed much more prepared to go with the flow about dumping them in East Timor, than he did about doing the same in Indonesia only a few months ago.
We have now a memory lapse that pretends Labor doesn’t stand for anything while ignoring that indeed, Labor has stood for quite a lot of things over the last few months. Just not for very long periods at a time, as the leadership has flopped and turned to first appeal to those rednecks it imagines in its core seats, then the Greens it needs to appeal to stay in office now.
Watching a party as aggressively anti-intellectual as the Liberal Party of Australia engage in a ‘battle of ideas’ was grim enough. At least the Liberals had the decency to do it in opposition. Labor is quite brazenly having a brainstorming session in government, basically saying right, we have bent over backwards to get here, now what will we do? When they aren’t talking about reforming anything that’s not tied down, they seem to be grabbing at anything; same sex marriage, an indigenous preamble etc. All terribly important things, of course – just not that important you would actually campaign for them at an election only a few months ago.
Rudd was not against having his own carnival of ideas, of course, but it was aimed at shunting aside those who are now back in charge. While ostensibly these ideas are about improving Labor’s flagging polling, in reality it’s not too concerned about that, attention is elsewhere. Exactly where was made clear by Howes near the end of the interview, when he explained why this blooming of a thousand flowers was necessary:
I think the problem was that you had probably the most powerful Labor prime minister in the history of the Labor Party in Kevin Rudd. He had more power concentrated into his hands than any other leader of the Labor Party had ever had in our 119-year history. And there was a lot of people that were in the caucus that were afraid to speak up. And for a long period of that government, you had the most popular prime minister in Australian history. I can understand that. But I think with retrospect now you’re seeing a lot of people in the Labor movement, in the Labor caucus, in the ministry, in the Cabinet talking about the need to be a more open party, to be a more inclusive party, that we actually are a team and that we are a movement. We’re not a support group for one individual, and that’s where Labor went wrong.
This is an extraordinary assessment and it was disappointing that it wasn’t probed further. Because for those not attuned to the finer points of ALP logic, it prompts the obvious question: if Rudd was so powerful, how could he have been summarily dismissed within barely a blink of an eye?
In reality of course, in the traditional sense, Rudd had one of the weakest holds on the party of any Labor leader. He had no real base in the party, certainly not in the union movement, just a couple of celebrity shoo-ins and some in the left who saw Rudd as the only chance to put down the faction system that had kept them in permanent second place.
Rudd’s hold didn’t really come from his popularity either, as helpful as it was. Otherwise, the party wouldn’t have taken the risk of dumping its only winning leader in nearly twenty years who was polling much more comfortably than most of his predecessors in the run up to re-election.
It ultimately came from the bankruptcy of a party and its powerbrokers who, no matter how they compromised and twisted and turned, couldn’t win an election unless they were hiding behind someone who openly showed their contempt for them. A big deal was made of Rudd leaving Labor off his 2010 election placards, clearly unaware of how Labor, especially in Queensland, won in Kevin07.
It’s the desperate need to turn this bankruptcy around, now that it has come out after Rudd’s dumping, that has made it necessary for yet more tales about Merciless Ming and how he held back all the creative talent in the Labor party. So we now have a flurry of reform and ideas to fill a hole that they helped create.
It’s certainly not about the policies themselves. Does Howes believe in dumping asylum seekers in offshore detention camps? Whatever it takes. Does he think the IR laws have been rolled back far enough? You can’t have everything. Does he agree with a punitive mining tax? Who’s asking? What’s important is that they are totally open to new ideas and a free debate on what they’re about – even if they’re now in government and you would think they should already know. What’s amazing is their total lack of embarrassment about how this looks to everyone else.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 10 November 2010.Filed under State of the parties