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

Tags: , ,


35 responses to “Catalyst”

  1. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 23rd February 2012 8:45 am

    That’s all well and good – but it’s Caucus who’ll decide and they’re as much invested in the idea of “the Labor movement” as Swan is. The turkeys may not vote for Christmas.
    As for there being no policy rationale to all this, I doubt there was much of one in 1991 – well, as anything more than a figleaf for Keating’s real claim to the job: it’s my turn and you’re past it. I don’t recall Keating campaigning as left-winger in 1991, that shift came well after he made it and was first manifested in his “One Nation” stimulus package.

  2. Twisted_Sister on 23rd February 2012 9:14 am

    Interesting to see Tony Windsor on ABC Breakfast this morning essentially putting the squiz on the idea of a Abbott government. No way no how was the gist of his answer. Are any of the independents actually open to the idea of handing power to the liberals, even with the turmoil that the Labor party is causing for itself?
    If Rudd gets a significant poll swing in his favour cum a successful take-over, what guarantee do the independents have that Rudd wont go for an early election?

  3. The Piping Shrike on 23rd February 2012 9:56 am

    T_S I think there’s no chance that Tony Windsor would do anythng to force an election, like going to Abbott. I see his pronouncements just horse-trading to renegotiate a better deal. My guess is that he would only go over if Katter or Wilkie came the other way.

    Michael there is a political difference between what things are about and how they are presented. Obviously relations to the labour movement will not come up in this leadership fight, merely provide the context in which it will happen, although I think when Rudd attacks the faceless men, everyone knows he means union leaders as well.

    But firstly, ALP relations with the unions have been a subject of internal debate for over a decade. Secondly, exactly how wedded are Labor members to the labour movement when it has been so easy for Rudd/Gillard to bring in Labor’s most anti-union agenda in its history?

  4. Twisted_Sister on 23rd February 2012 11:11 am

    Yes but if Rudd wins, will we see a mass resignation of the front bench? Some have signalled just that. How will having a whole bunch of former ministers sitting on the backbench affect the Labor party?
    Will he be able to stamp his authority on such a party? Would anyone?

  5. The Piping Shrike on 23rd February 2012 11:15 am

    I’m not sure there’s enough principle there to see such a walk out nor enough talent for people to care. Swan to leave the front bench? Hey ho.

    Not sure it’s the greatest of tactic by JG camp to threaten a cabinet walk out, some aspiring MPs might be tempted …

  6. Chris on 23rd February 2012 11:21 am

    TPS, are you still sticking to your odds of JG v KR v 3rd candidate?

  7. The Piping Shrike on 23rd February 2012 11:24 am

    50/20/30? Yeah, don’t see why not, for what it’s worth!

  8. Avalon Dave on 23rd February 2012 3:17 pm

    Twisted – Shorten is already on the record as saying he would serve in any Labor Cabinet – he is such a loyal foot soldier 🙂

    Rudd ambushed them spectacularly from Washington – and then they just kept on attacking him.

    Rudd will simply be telling the backbenchers that they might not like him much, but they don’t have to. It’s the voters that like him, and if they want to keep their job, they had better start listening to their constituents instead of the “Faceless Men”.

    News Ltd will be in the game to stir up trouble – Shrike, what are the odds that Newspoll will release data on Sunday night?

  9. Wood Duck on 23rd February 2012 4:56 pm

    So, the voters all like Rudd, or that’s what the polls tell us. I take it that a substantial proportion of the “Rudd lovers” are Liberal voters who have the opportunity to create a bit of mischief; people who have no intention of voting Labor. Aren’t these people the same as Labor voters who love Turnbull?

  10. Avalon Dave on 23rd February 2012 6:29 pm


    But that’s what wins election a lot of the time.

    The Libs will turn on Abbott soon enough – just need the ALP Circus to move out of town first

  11. Gillard and the Labor Leadership (part 2) | Alex White on 23rd February 2012 6:54 pm

    […] “Piping Shrike” writes about Labor and the labour movement, I think he (or she) has a lot of interesting opinions about the parlous state of Labor and the impact of factional shenaniga…: The faction system was the internal structure reflecting Labor’s historical role as the […]

  12. dedalus on 23rd February 2012 6:56 pm

    Such cynicism here. Pretending to be above partisanship, yet discussing like football fans which team will win the upcoming match.

    As long as the NBN rolls out too far to be rolled back, and the carbon tax has enough effect, even if unwound, to at least set us on some path towards a less carbonised future, does it really matter that one side of the political system gets replaced by the other? For won’t that other side get replaced by the first side in its turn?

    The theorising and partisan squabbling will always remain, just as a two party regression to the mean will continue into the foreseeable future.

  13. dedalus on 23rd February 2012 8:51 pm

    We now seem to have two sides of politics only in a nominal sense. In fact the left has fractured and half of it has at least temporarily joined the right in being driven entirely by the desire of its members to possess political power. And it’s not primarily party political power either; it is personal power – for the aspirant leadership (Rudd, Abbott) and their underlings (the ALP caucus marginal seat holders), and an avaricious shadow front bench.

    Meanwhile, Gillard and her cabinet, the policy faction of the left, continues to espouse its policy principles, despite its hold on power being so precarious as to seem carefree, even reckless. It’s as though it matters little whether the hold is by grappling hook or by fingernails. Like some strange creature of political solipsism, it beavers away at its policy agenda, even while reducing (according to disingenuous pundits) its survival chances to a point of extinction.

    This, on the surface of it, is what the Gillard cabinet presents. And, to my mind, it is a good thing. But an interesting question is: are its motives pure?

    To answer this, consider Kevin Rudd’s pre-departure statement in Washington. These are some of the keywords: “honour”, “the people”, the “faceless men”, “it must never happen again.” Words which drip with sanctimonious hypocrisy.

    Therefore, if actions speak louder than words, the Gillard cabinet’s motives are pure.

    At its core the Gillard government is, in reality, a continuing policy-wonk cabinet of the Rudd-Gillard governments which will probably have survived, by the time of the coalition’s next ascension, for six years. It is a government in which one faction, a cabinet of policy purists, will have achieved significant reforms.

    The other half of this “left” political system, will have been led by the chimerical agenda of a scheming egotist into the same defeat anyway, only one made sadder by its delusional mispurpose.

  14. The Piping Shrike on 23rd February 2012 9:14 pm

    I really am failing to get the “policy principle” side of this row.

    Citizen’s Assembly was policy principle?

  15. Troy on 23rd February 2012 9:49 pm

    What makes Gillard such a sad and pathetic case is that she is, as always, oblivious to the developments around her. So blind that she happily jumped aboard the Rudd vilification train today, completely oblivious to the long term strategy at its heart. There will be no 3rd candidate this time, but there will be next time and sure as hell there will be another ballot.

    Gillard’s total lack of political vision has robbed her of the chance (again) to be primeministerial. Her own ‘supporters’ are plotting against her and she is too thick to see it. No wonder she was roped in so easily to topple Rudd.

  16. The Piping Shrike on 23rd February 2012 9:53 pm

    I think it highly likely that they hope by trashing Rudd enough this time round, it will give them enough breathing space to safely dump Gillard for someone else later.

  17. Troy on 23rd February 2012 10:12 pm

    Again, Gillard is clearly stupid enough to fall for it. Monday will tell if others are too. Smith has cearly been sheltered this week. Even Shorten is playing it smart. Rudd really is the only shot at holding off electoral oblivion, but I guess that only matters to those in the HoR who are under 10%.

    It really was shocking though to see the PM down in the mud today. There was everything to gain by being above the fray. Her instincts are just so base. I sincerely doubt Australia Day was the result of a rogue media advisor.

  18. Avalon Dave on 23rd February 2012 10:19 pm

    I just saw Conroy on television.

    He was going on about how Rudd was popular in the community, but – get this –

    he had no respect for a) Cabinet, b)the process of Cabinet, c)the Caucus and d) the way things got done in the Labour Party.

    Guess that sums up things fairly well. It explains the internal ALP parliamentary view of Rudd and the wider community view of Rudd.

    Everything is falling apart for these poor souls.

    And soon will for the other side as well – they are just as socially bankrupt.

  19. S. Smith on 24th February 2012 12:29 am

    The affect of these events must surely make a significant dent in Labor’s primary and TPP and in Gillard’s personal ratings.

    Rudd must know this and may avoid the current challenge to make his own a little later. This too would incense the power brokers so much they will again go ballistic in smearing Rudd, thus robbing their criticism of any worth. Whilst Rudd remains calm and aloof and no doubt smiling.

    He can save his challenge for the last sitting day. If he can gather the requisite numbers to bring it on.

    He has no need to hurry, and as Gillard Labor lurches from poll crisis to poll crisis from here on the media will do the job on Gillard Labor.

    But I think they have already poisoned every well that none may win.

  20. The Piping Shrike on 24th February 2012 6:49 am

    I’ve never thought the row itself needed to hit Labor’s polling (it hasn’t so far over the last few months), disunity is not always death – depends what about and the result.

    But the trashing of a Labor government that most of them were in seems to me politically dumb.

  21. dedalus on 24th February 2012 9:45 am

    Shrike, there is always a danger of falling into a trap of thinking in cliches.
    And one of the greatest cliches in political discussion is the word “winning”.

    Why is everyone so obsessed about polls and winning? Winning? There is no such thing as “winning.”

    If you are a progressive voter, the only thing that matters is that at the end of 2013 the progressive side of politics will have managed to remain in government for 6 years, and that there has been some advancement of its progressive economic and social agenda.

    That the system will then revert, cyclically, to one of steady-state, in order for the society to catch up, is a natural and understandable phenomenon. Just as in its due course the progressive side will return to primacy once more, as it always has, and thence to again be defeated, and so on and so forth.

    That is the reality which overrides partisan rah-rahing. Theory should acknowledge this reality.

  22. Paul on 24th February 2012 10:07 am

    And why not another political party? Rudd & Turnbull together setting up shop and taking on the crumbling edifices of the current political structures?

    Could that be the next surprise?

  23. The Piping Shrike on 24th February 2012 10:13 am

    dedalus I certainly cannot see any cycle at work here. This looks fairly unprecedented to me.

    I don’t see any social basis for a new party, just the breakdown of the old. Nature doesn’t have to fill this vacuum.

  24. Michael on 24th February 2012 10:28 am

    I have been surprised at the vitriolic nature of the public criticism of Rudd by his colleagues, not the content, but the tactic. It would seem totally unnecessary unless he posed a big immediate threat, and could win on Monday, which seems unlikely or that he poses a threat to the party structure large enough that they would rather be in opposition than in government lead by Rudd. Either way it’s time the likes of Crean and Swan shuffled off, since they are either maniacs or incompetent strategists.

  25. The Piping Shrike on 24th February 2012 10:36 am

    They can’t go yet! They could be contenders!

  26. Michael on 24th February 2012 10:52 am

    indeed, if the plan is to go into opposition then there are many fine contenders on the front bench.

  27. dedalus on 24th February 2012 10:57 am

    Shrike – Every event is unprecedented in its details. That’s why we can endlessly discuss them. The cyclical nature I was speaking of is a more universal one and is related to the yin and yang of the human condition. This itself is manifested in various binary forms: self-interest vs altruism; progressive thought vs conservatism; and so on.

  28. Riccardo on 24th February 2012 11:45 am

    Nature always fills vacuums, just not necessarily with parties.

    Most mature western democracies have more than 2 viable parties – or have major parties that are very loose umbrellas for coalitions of broad interests, rather than disciplined blocs as we have now.

    TPS, I think that is one of the issues. Not that the ALP exists, but it has a tight party discipline to implement control over issues for which there isn’t broad support among its members.

    Look at gay marriage. We give away too many conscience votes, we might as well not exist as a party.

    I’d sooner see the 2 party system collapse, all power centralised into a presidential figure with a strong appointed bureaucracy and scrutiny by multiparty committees of parliament.

    The parliamentary committees and outside power blocs are then able to contest the presidency directly, not intermediated by cumbersome Soviet style parties with geographic constituencies some marginal and some not.

    Also get government out of people’s lives more. People only fighting over positions because there is still some economic or coercive power vested in them. Better to wield economic power directly (through wealth or corporations).

  29. Riccardo on 24th February 2012 11:48 am

    People are mocking Greece but forget their pollies actually have to preside over a decline in their standard of living that will be generational.

    Either by defaulting on Europe, or horrendous loan repayments. One will turn Greece into a true 3rd world country, the other will turn it into the Weimar Republic, crippled by eternal loans repayments.

    And the political class who created this mess now has to sell the cleanup.

    On the other hand, Australia is just a monkey circus.

  30. Riccardo on 24th February 2012 1:41 pm

    Tingle was on the money in the Fin. Factions losing power (this wouldn’t have blown up if they still had it).

    Backbenchers used to show their caucus voting papers to faction bosses to enforce compliance, not now doing it.

    Gillard has to tell Rudd supporters they’ve done their preselections, previously it wouldn’t have need to be said.

  31. Persse on 24th February 2012 6:27 pm

    Lets hold on to a few of these runaway horses. Gillard did not win the last election. It was a dead heat.
    She created a government by out negotiating and out dealing her opponent, who had equal chances but failed.
    Whatever people may think of her government, it is what she made it.
    What madness would inspire Rudd to think that he could inherit functional government through a caucus ‘victory’, in a situation like this.

  32. Bill on 24th February 2012 10:39 pm

    Just listened to David Marr on Lateline, he was very convincing about the nature of Rudd. I expect Rudd would have watched it, and certainly any wavering ministers.

    I’m certain he has no chance Monday, will probably be squashed/humiliated big time. He will need a miracle to come back down the track too. Just can’t see it happening.

    The opposition must be lining up their censure motions for when parliament resumes .. they are going to have many a ‘field day’ capitalizing on all this/stirring the pot!

  33. The Piping Shrike on 24th February 2012 11:02 pm

    I really have heard enough of Marr and his pop psychoanalysis of Rudd. Besides the fact that he is mystifying what is going on, psychology is supposed to be a science isn’t it? If not, and any old hack can pick it up, I could do with a hobby ….

  34. Troy on 24th February 2012 11:44 pm

    Marr, like others, is looking increasingly desperate in defending his role in the 2010 coup. What happened that night Is an issue that has simmered just below the surface and now with the renewed focus has boiled over. It was a frightening insight into the corporatist powers that so heavily influence, even control our democracy. Gillard will never be able to shake this. Not now, not next election and potentially not in her lifetime.

  35. Riccardo on 25th February 2012 8:24 pm

    Marr’s bio in monthly was ok, his attack column in fairfax was awful, bitter and personal.

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