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

Tags: , ,


28 responses to “The Piping Shrike guide to the coming leadership crisis”

  1. Bill on 20th February 2012 9:36 am

    Turnbull looks the best option to counter a hypothetical Rudd return. He certainly seems to have pulled his head in lately, waiting for the party to come to him (?)

    Relative to the ‘Rudd dilema’ … assuming he got back in …. where to for Gillard/Swan ? Could they work for/under him again ? Would they even be in his cabinet/ who replaces ?

    If Gillard sticks around in a significant portfolio, the Liberals could stir the pot by saying (ad infinitum) she is plotting to take her old job back/ dysfunctional labor government still, etc ..

    It all looks very messy, not to mention the eating of humble pie of the ministers/ videos/remarks .. that were anti Rudd, that would need to be ‘corrected’ should he return.

  2. Avalon Dave on 20th February 2012 11:09 am

    Hmmmm. Interesting last paragraph, if you take things a few steps further. So what is the most dangerous outcome for Abbott?

    Can we take it as a given, that a significant number of sitting Liberals are scared stiff of Abbott winning an election by a big margin? And by default, extremely concerned by the massive political capital and authority this would give the Mad Monk?

    If so, then would Abbott be better off with Rudd triumphing over Gillard, and bringing the polls back much closer together?

  3. The Piping Shrike on 20th February 2012 11:15 am

    I think the big lead in the polls is all Abbott has. Abbott doesn’t pose a threat to the Libs values, he is trying to reaffirm them.

    The main fear they have is that he is unelectable. Someone more popular in Labor would expose that.

    There is no one supporting Gillard who could seriously argue, on any polling evidence, that Rudd taking over would make Abbott more likely. But then that’s not what this is really about, is it?

  4. Avalon Dave on 20th February 2012 2:07 pm

    Agreed Shrike. This is so surreal, it makes my head spin.

    If Gillard falls to Rudd, which however bizarre, seems more likely each day, then that could be the end of the factional power bases forever. A bunch of Labor MP’s are already telling the faction kings, that their hasty actions got them into this mess in the first place, and that from now on, they’ll be making their own decisions on merit. That’s ominous just in itself.

    But what replaces it? An ALP power structure built on the personal popularity of an individual? Although Rudd wouldn’t be able to take vengeance directly on individuals, you can bet he will be hellbent on finishing of the structural sources of power, those factional leaders require (safe seats, senate spots etc). And that’s why I think the “Nastiness Level” has gone through the roof this last 24 hours. This weekend did not go well for them, and now they are becoming desperate men.

    But what really intrigues me now, is the other side….

    A bit of money and a keen intellect is not all that Kevin Rudd & Malcolm Turnbull have in common. Malcolm must be watching events with a bit more than a passing interest.

    The big advantage in the polls is a problem for Turnbull. So I see destabilisation coming soon on the coalition side as soon as the ALP circus is over.

    This is amazing. Absolutely amazing….

  5. fred on 20th February 2012 2:46 pm

    Its all about king [or queen] making by the owners and managers of the mass media.

    Policy, programme, personalities, whatever, is entirely irrelevant as are the interests of Australians.
    Its an excercise of raw and naked political power where Rupert and company are showing who holds the greater political power and that they will decide who governs Oz and for what reasons.

    Citizens be damned.

    Please don’t buy into the chimera created by the power breakers that it has anything at all to do with anything other than the exercise of their power.

  6. dedalus on 20th February 2012 4:46 pm

    Shrike, while your analysis is reasonable, it’s also very theoretical. On a more primal level, I prefer the simplicity of Fred’s view.

    This is mainly about power. And there are a limited number of players in the power loop. There are, of course, the vested interests. Personified by big business (or more generically, the capitalist system) and its mouthpiece, the mainstream media (a big business in itself).

    It’s even more, though, about personal power. And most of the caucus is as out of the loop as you and I.

    Consider the long line of historical power maniacs. Stalin murdered his rivals. As did many others. That gives you some idea of the mania for power. It underpins most of human behaviour. It is the instinct for survival taken to extremes.

    Gillard, Rudd and Abbott are obsessed with power – holding it or getting it. That is all there is to know, and all you need to know.

  7. Troy on 20th February 2012 6:36 pm

    Shrike, I’m a long-time reader, but a first-time contributor. Before anyone asks, I’m not the Troy who used to work for Rudd. What interests me most is that the crumbling of the Labor power structures we see now in Rudd v the factions and their anointed PM is not being taken up as a theme by the media. Is it that they are worried about what this means for them? Are they frightened at the prospect of their own cosy relationships with power ceasing to matter? Are they that reliant on appointed voices of the factions feeding them with tidbits and gossip? Surely this is the biggest story in Labor in years and nobody in the press wants to own it.

    I keep reading that this is a battle of personality, not policy – of style over substance. How can the press collectively be misreading this so badly? Is it that they don’t want to report on the destruction of old power bases as it just draws attention to the diminishing importance of their own world?

    Keen to hear the thoughts of others.

  8. Riccardo on 20th February 2012 8:26 pm

    Laura tingle seems to be closest to the piping shrike view. Maybe peter harcher on a good day.

    The worst are the poseurs like paul kelly, who are obviously part of the system. Agree that cassidymis a fraud and a player in the system, seems to hate rudd personally.

  9. Troy on 20th February 2012 9:00 pm

    I flicked over to ten’s project tonight out of interest. Curious to see how a slightly thoughtful MSM would play this. Unfortunately Cassidyms (thanks Riccardo) was guest political commentator. He was bronzed more than a Bondi lifeguard. On occasions though his hatred of Rudd had him glowing red like a lava lamp. Is he carrying a personal grudge or is he just the media mouthpiece of the Labor right. I’ve never seen a supposed quality journalist so blatant and one-sided. Paul Kelly looks a dispassionate observer in comparison. And how tired did his excuse or a panel show look on Sunday? He had his arse handed to him by Sky News.

  10. The Piping Shrike on 20th February 2012 9:29 pm

    I agree Laura Tingle has been picking up the break-down of the faction system. The C-M’s Dennis Aitken has also been good on that this is between Rudd v factions (although maybe a little under-states the degree they’re falling apart). Hartcher has been pretty good but he is channelling Rudd, so underplays Rudd’s involvement a bit. Cassidy is very close to the Labor power brokers so just channels them, so is kind of useful to see how they are thinking, not much more.

    I find generally the mistake made by political journalists is that they often miss the internal element of a party and don’t seem to really know how a political party works. They tend to see everything being about winning elections or, at a push, policy to explain things.

    So when they get to something that doesn’t make sense on those criteria, like the dumping of Rudd, they either go along with some tenuous bogus polling or fill in the gap with nothing but personality. This really doesn’t work now as with both parties in trouble, there is a real gap between what they are doing and electoral relevance.

  11. Troy on 20th February 2012 9:51 pm

    Shrike, I’m not sure you are right about the journalists an lack of understanding of how political parties work. I went through politics at Adelaide Uni with many of them and have met others since. They are smarter than that. My hypothesis is that they are part of a crumbling power structure themselves and spend a great deal of time in denial about this very fact. Birds of a feather blah, blah blah. They don’t want to have to confront the breakdown of the party system that provides their comfort and sustenance, just as they don’t want to deal with the massive changes to their own industry. The patronage and favors are drying up all around. None of the ‘political class’ like it one bit.

  12. The Piping Shrike on 20th February 2012 10:06 pm

    I agree, by “not understanding” I don’t mean because they are thick. It’s difficult to understand the breakdown of something you are part of.

  13. Riccardo on 21st February 2012 3:15 pm

    I still wonder at this behind the curtain stuff. Why did the ABC set up a show called ‘Insiders’ as if the media were desperate to appear a part of the game?

    Howes desperate to become the oxymoronic faceless man well known to everyone?

    Q&A as the vox-pop non vox-pop (ie we’ll let the unwashed ask some questions, but chances are the unwashed are actually party insiders, meanwhile the pollies use it as a platform for their pitch)

    In the good old days you knew when a pollie was casting a message for the masses, and one for internal. It appears as if they are now trying to coopt the external means for internal audiences, as if the internal comms channels are no longer functioning.

  14. Avalon Dave on 21st February 2012 5:02 pm

    Interesting to see Combet & Shorten admit that they would serve in a Rudd Cabinet – especially Shorten.

    How the hell does he explain his actions in 2010, if he takes up a cabinet spot in a Rudd MkII Government?

    This could end up fatally burning three Prime Ministers – 2 factual and one with potential?

  15. troy on 21st February 2012 5:42 pm

    Avalon Dave, good question re Shorten. I’d suggest he was all for defending the party structures when he needed the leg up in terms of status profile. Now he’s a recognised face, an anointed future leader and a minister to boot, they can get stuffed. Naked political ambition writ large that boy…

  16. The Piping Shrike on 21st February 2012 8:50 pm

    I thought the reports on Shorten as Treasurer were intriguing, if true. It would make sense from Rudd’s view as it would show a willingness to forget the last 18 months. It might be feasible to Shorten because there’s not much point being a power broker if you haven’t got much power to, er, broke.

    But it’s also useful for Shorten for the all-important ‘third candidate’ play as it would show him a healer able to patch up with Rudd supporters. I thought his performance on Q&A the other night was one of the few times his wishy-washy style has actually been politically effective.

    Compare and contrast with the other ‘third candidate’, Crean. His continual escalation of the split is hardly helpful to Gillard as it doesn’t force Rudd to act early but does put pressure on her to act, something she definitely doesn’t want. It just puts himself up as a contender, but a divisive one.

  17. Graeme on 21st February 2012 10:41 pm

    I credit the structural analysis here; but ‘Its not really about Gillard v Rudd’ ignores the inter-personal peer relations and managerial aspects of leadership, two elements of which, on all counts, Rudd failed at. Rudd’s complete baselessness was and is extraordinary, not least given how many class of 07 MPs otherwise ought otherwise have shown him gratefulness for their seats.

    Labor’s own internal and external bases may be weaker than ever, but the one thing Gillrd appears to have and which has kept the legislative machine humming is her ‘people skills’. None of this is to say she is more than a conciliator/negotiator, best left like a Lionel Bowen as deputy.

  18. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 22nd February 2012 1:11 pm

    Graeme’s right – the “structural analysis” is (very) sound but it ignores the human factor. Maybe this is why I sometimes get annoyed at your apparent enthusiasm for Rudd – which is likely just a figment of my imagination anyway? It’s hard to find anyone who’s worked with the man who won’t agree that he’s temperamentally unfit to run anything. The sheer animosity towards Rudd isn’t entirely that of turkeys who think Christmas may win the vote.

  19. Riccardo on 22nd February 2012 5:46 pm

    Why should we, the voters, care whether Rudd gets along with people. The alternative model, that he chooses the people he wants to work with, works well in the USA. It is not the presidential offices that don’t work, its the separation between executive and legislature, with the latter having too much power over budgets etc.

  20. The Piping Shrike on 22nd February 2012 7:05 pm

    In fact for most of the public, not being being part of the ALP mateyness may even be a good thing.

    Another example of how oblivious those ALP insiders are of what the public actually think.

    BTW my “enthusiasm” for Rudd is confined to his role as a catalyst for exposing the bleeding obvious.

  21. Bill on 22nd February 2012 7:52 pm

    Bombshell, he’s resigned !
    Interesting watching Tony Burke get stuck into Kevin (7.30 report) well and truly, no question, the gloves are off/no going back.

    Bruce Hawker fired a pro Rudd salvo back, letting us know he’s the only chance Labor has (so get behind him ! ..). Obvious those two have been hatching a strategy, and it certainly looks like Kev won’t quit the party all together, so it’s the backbench and or a challenge(s) pronto.

    Interesting times !

  22. The Piping Shrike on 22nd February 2012 7:59 pm

    If Gillard camp was in control, Burke would have done a much more concilliatory (“regretful”) interview. Totally self-absorbed. Gillard’s line was much better.

  23. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 22nd February 2012 8:20 pm

    Shrike, I had thought as much. But I wonder whether it sometimes affects your usually sound – and always incisive – analysis: a case of projecting hopes on to someone who can’t carry them.

    Riccardo, it’s not just about ‘getting on with people’ – it’s also about the functioning of government. As for the American model, I can’t help but notice that the Americans themselves prefer impose the Westminster model of an executive drawn from the legislature when they ‘nation build’. The strong separation of powers that produces the feckless Congress – full of blowhards who have no stake in the functioning of government – is inseparable from the vesting of so much power in the single person who happens to occupy the office of President. Congress is but a symptom of how the American political system *doesn’t* work – and the Presidency is not much better.

  24. The Piping Shrike on 22nd February 2012 8:30 pm

    I think a mistake I do make is that I assume things will go quicker to where they are already going anyway. But then, sometimes things just speed up faster than you think as well, like today.

  25. Riccardo on 22nd February 2012 10:20 pm

    Michael, i couldnt disagree more strongly.

    W keep hearing this garbage about australia punching above its weight, independent initiative and other such rubbish.

    The USA is the ‘puncher above weight’ par excellence. The one western country that acts with ‘independent initiative’.

    Australia is below par.

  26. Michael (the other one who occasionally comments here) on 22nd February 2012 10:26 pm

    Riccardo, I think we’re talking at cross-purposes.

  27. Mike on 24th February 2012 1:18 pm

    Piping, when you talk about “factions” aren’t you really talking about union power brokers. This is all about breaking the power of the union hacks in the ALP, and they don’t like it. They think that the ALP is there to provide them with some excitement and a great retirement package. Rudd threatens all of that.

  28. The Piping Shrike on 24th February 2012 8:36 pm

    They are both included. The factions ultimately came from tensions in organised labour. Which is why, since organised labour has lost its political voice, they are redundant.

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