Thursday, 23 February 2012
Rudd has two advantages going for him in his challenge to the Labor leadership: one inevitable, one contingent.
What is inevitable is that the faction system and the power structures of the ALP that he has pitched himself against are on their way out. They are the internal side of a two party system that ran its course 20 years ago and had its long, tedious sunset in the culture war bore of the Howard years.
The faction system was the internal structure reflecting Labor’s historical role as the mediation between organised labour and business, which is now over. When Swan invoked the labour movement in his attack on Rudd, he was invoking something that has ceased to exist in any meaningful political sense, and therefore so does the cause Swan is defending. The consequences of that are now finally working its way through the organisation of the ALP.
It’s understandable that these structures still survive long after the social meaning has gone because it goes to the core for which the ALP was formed. But at whatever pace they fall apart, they are going in only one direction.
What will determine the pace is the other more contingent advantage Rudd has; namely, that for now at least, he has become the counterpoint for that system, and it is on that which his current popularity relies. So in one way he has time on his side; the forces behind Gillard are fading with each passing day. But what adds pressure to the timing is the extent to which he can become its beneficiary.
Because this is really about Rudd taking advantage of the weakness of the internal structures of the party, it is what gives this a level of open vitriol, such as we saw from senior Cabinet Minsters over the last two days, that were missing even from Hawke/Keating and that earlier Foreign Minister who resigned, Peacock, against Fraser. In both cases the contest was adjusting their respective parties’ programmes to changed directions from changed conditions; Peacock with the failure of Fraser/Howard’s anti-union strategy, Keating the exhaustion of Hawke’s pro-union (anti-union member) strategy.
This time, however, the only objective reality that is being adjusted to is the end of the very social relevance of Labor itself. It means there is no “policy” euphemism to discuss this through and nothing by which Rudd can mobilise, other than that Labor cannot carry on in the same way and survive as a governing party, if at least in name – and his own popularity which comes from a recognition of that fact.
This is also why, in attacking Rudd on the TV, there was not a single argument that the pro-Gillard camp had that would have any relevance to their listeners in the general public. Rudd’s not nice to work with? Who cares? In fact, ALP mateyness is these days a bit of a turn off, ask a NSW ex-Labor voter. Lack of consultation with caucus? Who’s worth consulting? Who are these people? Whom do they represent?
Rudd’s resignation has now given him the opportunity to be open about the failures of the last two years, of which, despite the time they have had, the Labor leadership has still not thought of a good enough justification. It depends what he does, but both the Labor leadership, and the Liberal are highly vulnerable, having both gone back to roots that have long since died.
A change in Labor has the potential, therefore, to change the entire political scene and in a way caucus could be deciding the Liberal leader as well as their own. For now Rudd’s resignation has given him a window, as he was in 2007, to be the catalyst of change in the Australian political system, but this time a system in a far more decrepit state.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 23 February 2012.Filed under Political figures, State of the parties