Saturday, 4 February 2012
The Queensland election gets underway
SIMON CREAN: People will not elect as leaders those they don’t perceive are team players, Neil.
NEIL MITCHELL: And he is not perceived as a team player?
SIMON CREAN: I’ll leave that judgment to others, but I…
NEIL MITCHELL: Well, do you perceive him as a team player?
SIMON CREAN: I think that part of the reason he lost the leadership was that he wasn’t.
I had a lively chat with @3AWNeilMitchell this morning about today’s Newspoll.
Simon Crean on Twitter
Federal Labor has now entered its zone. Don’t bother shouting or banging on the windows (even violently) to get its attention, it can’t hear you. It is now fully absorbed in its internal dynamic and anything it says that suggests it is thinking about the outside world is just pretence.
Just how self-absorbed it is at the moment was illustrated so well by Simon Crean’s appearance on 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Tuesday. There have been several reasons touted as to what Crean was trying to achieve with the interview: warn off Rudd, rally caucus support for the Prime Minister and even, most amusingly, put himself forward as an alternative leader. These are all quite possible – the trouble is that none of these were aimed at the 3AW listeners who actually tuned into the show.
Listeners who might have expected one of the government’s leading members to justify it against lousy polls would not have heard it on Tuesday. Indeed Crean not only conceded that it had made disaster out of success, but that it was the whole government, not just Gillard that bore responsibility for it.
So when Crean says that Rudd is not a team player, it can’t be much of a problem if there’s something wrong with the team. Indeed as far as the polls suggest, brand Labor generally is on the nose and the current Cabinet is not exactly a sweet smelling stand-out. To anybody listening to the interview, it was a disaster; Crean not only failed to defend the government, but managed to bring the leadership tensions fully out into the open. Hardly an interview you’d want to tweet to the world about.
But if Crean was talking over the heads of Neil Mitchell’s thousands of listeners to the 100 odd Labor caucus, then claiming Rudd is not a team player is right on message. By “team”, Crean meant the existing power structures of the party and his comment was especially aimed at its beneficiaries, the power brokers who dumped Rudd just 18 months ago. The leadership turmoil is all about those internal power structures of the party and the way they are now breaking down.
This explains some things about the latest bout of leadership speculation that might not make sense on the surface. The press has been unanimous that support for Gillard has shifted decisively away over the summer break. Yet polls were either stable or starting to recover over a period which is usually not that great for governments anyway. Furthermore, Gillard started the year by dumping the pokie reform, a move especially designed to placate the fragile sensitivities of backbenchers. The Australia Day fiasco wasn’t exactly helpful, but of course occured after the switch away from Gillard was meant to have happened. So what did change?
Laura Tingle has kept her finger on the point she made before the break, that it was two internal events, the National Conference and the ministry reshuffle that was decisive against Gillard, as both showed the increasingly dysfunctional state of the faction system that put her into the leadership. This is what is giving this leadership contest a different flavour to those of the past – less a case of factions switching allegiance, but being unable to summon up the allegiance against someone who is intent on over-riding them.
Will Rudd override the faction leaders if he gets back in? Of course he will. Much has been made of Rudd “having learnt his lesson” after losing the leadership. But what was that lesson? He set it out clearly enough on Q&A a few months ago. Not that he should work better with the faction brokers, but on the contrary, that on decisions like dumping the ETS he should stop listening to them altogether. The discrediting of the power of the factions is a pre-condition for the return of Rudd and with faction brokers having failed with the electorate through Gillard but especially internally, that’s why Rudd’s return is back on the agenda now.
This was what was significant about reports that the NSW Right was split three ways between Gillard, Rudd and undecided – not the change in direction, but its incoherence; as are reports that backbenchers are calling up their faction leaders and telling them that they won’t be following directions if a ballot is called.
Hartcher has probably summed it up best as to what is happening, not so much a decisive move to Rudd:
… but over the summer break, caucus support for Gillard has crumbled from within. Rudd has done nothing to assist. Indeed, he’s been out of the country for most of the time and pledging loyalty to Gillard for the rest. So it’s entirely Gillard’s own work. But one consequence is that while Gillard has lost the fealty of many supporters, most don’t appear to have shifted to Rudd. Many seem to be in a state of uncommitted limbo, despairing of Gillard but not convinced of Rudd.
That this is about a crumbling from within rather than a decisive return to Rudd is why even just the act of campaigning in Queensland will be important internally. It’s not that it will necessarily prevent the inevitable fall of Bligh or even make much difference to the result, but to show a directionless, bewildered caucus that it is possible to make some connection to the electorate. Rudd may appear to be campaigning for votes but it will all be for internal reasons. After all, Rudd is as much in the zone now as anyone else.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Saturday, 4 February 2012.Filed under State of the parties