Monday, 20 February 2012
We will unleash bloody vengeance on all of those who brought this vampire back to life.
One Gillard supporter
What we’ve learnt is there’s no amount of damage that Kevin Rudd isn’t prepared to inflict on Labor to regain the prime ministership.
… and another
OK, this is going to get messy. As a public service, therefore, The Piping Shrike is delighted to publish a handy cut-out ‘n’ keep guide to what’s coming up.
1) It’s not really about Rudd v Gillard
It wouldn’t be so messy if it was. What makes it messy is that this about collapse of the power structures of Labor on which it has operated for the last century. Gillard is in trouble because the operation of the power brokers that brought her in are now breaking down. Rudd is a realistic challenger because he has become their counterpoint. It is also what has rehabilitated Rudd in the eyes of the electorate both through his very ousting and his subsequent ostracism.
2) It’s not really about polling
One of the more bizarre ideas now going around the media, even beyond mere Rudd-haters like Barrie Cassidy, is that Gillard’s polling woes are due to Rudd and will recover once she has laid the Rudd challenge to rest.
Are they totally incapable of reading a graph? Even a cursory glance at recent polling will show 1) Gillard’s problem with the electorate happened while a Rudd challenge was no more than the fantasy of an embittered Foreign Minister seething away in Norman Park and 2) actually polling has been relatively unmoved by the leadership challenge returning in the last few months. This is not a surprise, as this is about the internal power plays in the party rather than any policy that would impact the public. Like her assumption of power, polling considerations are secondary to any removal of Gillard.
3) The manner of a successful Rudd challenge will be unprecedented
If Rudd succeeds, it will be in a way never done before, i.e. against the factions and the union leadership, rather than a result of a change in their backing. The inability of the faction leaders to direct its members and the unions to direct their sponsored MPs is a necessary precondition for Rudd’s return.
Just how far this has already gone is shown by reports that the NSW Right is divided on the leadership, a faction that has traditionally been the king-maker of the ALP. Of course, as far as the interests of the faction leaders go, they are wholly against Rudd, it’s just that they have no way of directing the membership to follow the line. Much of the reason for this is that the NSW Right have lost their historical ability to align their own interests with those of electoral success, having handed the party its worst ever electoral defeat in their home state, and a leadership coup that has been spectacularly unsuccessful in the electorate.
The manner of this change makes the situation highly volatile. First, the ‘numbers’ will be highly uncertain as there is little way of corralling the caucus, making predicting the outcome with any certainty almost impossible. Secondly, there is the ‘nuclear button’ scenario, i.e. what those with their hands slipping off power will do with the little they have left. This is why another bout of the ‘NSW disease’, a third candidate with little electoral justification, can in no way be ruled out.
4) On policy, nothing changes, everything changes
Rudd will come in with no option but to replace the power structures with something else, and it will most likely be him. However Rudd wants to dress this up, it is inevitable that it will mean even greater power in his hands than before.
Whatever positions are taken up in winning over sections of the party (the internal audience of Gillard’s recent ‘return to roots’ and her talking up of manufacturing have been almost wholly ignored by the media), in reality there is no policy principle at stake here. Nevertheless, the input made by the power bases on policy, such as we have seen on the mining tax, ETS and asylum seekers, will definitely change. Rudd may be more careful about rubbing their faces in it, such as with the 2020 Summit, but in the end, diminution of the party structures in policy, and a shift to the bureaucracy, will be inevitable.
5) Rudd’s ‘comeback’ dilemma
This being essentially about a challenge to the basis of the power structures that are no longer electorally relevant, there is something of a dilemma for the Rudd camp. What would make it easier for him to return, antagonising the power bases as little as possible, would also make it harder to be electorally successful. Sooner or later Rudd would have to make an electoral appeal against the old politics, to give what the Gillard leadership never had, an electoral justification for the leadership change.
The flip-side of this is that the effect on the Labor ‘brand’ of yet another leadership change to Rudd may not be that significant. Mainly because it assumes that the brand has much value these days anyway – those that think it do have clearly forgotten that in the only election Labor has won in the last 20 years, its brand was subsumed to a certain Kevin in ’07. Rudd dissociating himself from the Labor brand would do as much good as the harm it did Gillard being associated with it.
6) A successful Rudd challenge will see the Liberal crisis resume
When Gillard went over and said “game on” to Abbott immediately after taking power, it may have seemed as though she was taking the fight up to Abbott. So it would have seemed odd when instead of sharpening up the differences, she did the exact opposite and moved all of the major policy issues of the time, the ETS, the mining tax and asylum seekers, towards the Coalition’s position. The reason was that the “game” that was back on was, of course, the old two-party game, especially the most recent Howard version where the Australians were supposed to vote on the back of little more than a fear of asylum seekers and the hip-pocket nerve. It reflected a false awe of the last fling of the two-party system that requires forgetting why Labor won in 2007 in the first place. Labor’s failure to win back support by accomodating to the Howard world-view in the 2010 election was the first blow to the old guard’s comeback.
The most tangible failure of the Gillard leadership was the way it rehabilitated Abbott and took a leader who was the product of the Liberals at their most demoralised, and made him electable. So the removal of Gillard removes a major prop for the Liberals’ highly unpopular opposition leader. Any change in the leadership will likely have a major impact on the Liberals. In the case of a successful Rudd return making an electoral case against the ‘old’ politics, it would almost certainly mean the end of Abbott and bring back fully into the open the underlying crisis in the Liberals – one that is already lurking under the surface.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 20 February 2012.Filed under Political figures, State of the parties