Thursday, 22 December 2011
We are us.
It is not so much that the Labor Party is now controlled as fiefdoms by factional warlords, as that the factional power struggles of the past have been replaced by . . . nothing. Nobody is in control here, if even anybody is actually at home.
Laura Tingle Financial Review
First the usual disclaimer. The possible return of Rudd would have little to do with opinion polls. It certainly would be nothing to do with policy. Any cigarette papers between the Prime Minister and her Foreign Minister have more to do with tactics than any policy difference. This is not leadership differences over policy differences, but the reverse.
There has been one underlying theme in Federal politics this year, and that’s the steady breakdown of the traditional power bases within Labor, and the return of Rudd would be a result of that. The year started off badly with the disintegration of the Right’s power base in NSW in March, and then proceeded to get progressively worse as the government, supposedly brought about to revive Labor’s fortunes, ended up doing the exact opposite. 2011 was the year that it became clear that the Labor Right’s electoral pragmatism, what had been the clearest sign of its social relevance, had broken down.
That Rudd’s return will be about the internal dynamics of the party than anything else is why, despite the end of the year showing little change in the government’s dismal polling, it was two internal events, the National Conference and the ministry reshuffle, that have brought a leadership challenge closer.
First, the Conference. Labor’s support for same sex marriage that it won’t force its MPs to vote for and therefore make a reality, can surely have pleased no one. Although Labor activists were celebrating; presumably on the fact that same sex couples can now get married in the ALP, if nowhere else. Meanwhile the leadership’s compromise will leave the Prime Minister having to cross the floor to vote against her own party’ platform to only remind everyone of a debate she lost. The idea from some Labor enthusiasts that this mess will now put pressure on the Liberals to allow a conscience vote is fanciful (besides the fact that Liberal party rules allows a vote on conscience against any policy anyway).
The uranium debate at least went more the leadership’s way. Not surprising, given the left’s opposition was so empty and stale that it is still centred on the NPT, a treaty that even the powers that drew it up are now seeing as an anachronistic. A treaty that says it’s OK for the US to have nuclear weapons, but not a major emerging democracy, was an easy target for the leadership, who made hay of reminding the left that current ALP policy meant sale of uranium was permissible to China, but not to India.
Understandably most contributions against the policy change steered well clear from the geopolitics of their argument and instead we had a carnival of anti-science fears about nuclear power. It reminded yet again that the left’s pro-climate change stance comes less from a “respect” for science than that it suits an anti-capitalist agenda, just as the right’s “critique” of climate change science is for the opposite reason. It was also a reminder just how politics has supplanted religion as the main ideological barrier to scientific development today.
The only decent contribution from those opposing the sale came from one delegate who asked that if the NPT was redundant, then why remain a signatory? This was a good point, but then it’s understandable that the US would be reluctant to abandon a treaty that gave it such a privileged position, even if geopolitical necessity to isolate China now made it necessary to make an exception for India. It’s contradictory, but then the Australian government has no choice but to follow the US, no matter how tortuous it may be.
If the uranium debate was as expected, the final important debate, that over the internal party structure, was even more a non-event than this blogger thought it would be. The Faulkner report was never released, except the bits that hurt Rudd, and we had the farcical creation of a directly elected non-rotating National President for three years that won’t have a vote on the National Executive over that time.
Adding to the powers of the National President, then taking it away, smacks of a botched compromise just as for same sex marriage. While Gillard got some flak for her performance at Conference, Laura Tingle put her finger on the real problem revealed; the operation of power brokers has broken down. With a dwindling grass roots membership that is certainly in no position to take-over, no matter how much lip service is given to party democracy, the real content of such democratic talk was revealed, namely the eroding power of the faction bosses with little to put in its place.
It was similar story with the reshuffle. While Gillard has retained Rudd’s power to appoint the size of the Ministry, the difference was that it would be with the approval of the factions that brought her in. But here again, while Gillard got the blame, the reshuffle highlighted that the normal faction dealings that would deliver the Prime Minster a working solution did not happen. Instead Gillard was left with neither a factional system that could deliver an acceptable result, or the authority to over-ride them.
At the beginning of this year, this blog suggested that the main question in federal politics this year will be whether Gillard manages to position herself clear of her backers. She hasn’t – and now the government, and her leadership, enter 2012 under threat as a result.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 22 December 2011.Filed under State of the parties