There is no third candidate

Monday, 27 February 2012 

Why is John Faulkner supporting a psychotic wrecker of the ALP?

There is now a widespread expectation in the media that Gillard will win today but that this will not settle things and that she will be dumped, possibly for a third candidate, before the next election. There is no reason to believe that this scenario would not be possible.

But what would be the point? Any third candidate would start off in a weaker position than even Gillard did, so why we should they fare any better?

An argument against this is that at least the third candidate won’t be tainted by the 2010 coup like Gillard. But this is not what happened.

One of the (many) abiding myths of Gillard’s Prime Ministership is that she was crippled at the beginning by anger against the dumping Rudd. No doubt there were some who were such big Rudd fans that they stopped supporting Labor and Gillard when she took over. But they are unlikely to be significant. The first polls after Gillard came in showed that Labor’s vote jumped as did her approval rating. There was definitely a honeymoon, even if not an especially glorious one.

The trouble is that it just didn’t last very long. The problem wasn’t the coup itself but that it soon became clear that it had no reason that made sense to the voters. The power brokers had given her the leadership, but no agenda with it – other than accommodating to the Coalition line on the ETS, mining tax and asylum seekers. In fact it was the lack of an agenda which was why the political geniuses of the ALP thought it best to hurry up and go to the polls within a few weeks of Gillard taking over.

Add to that initiatives that were the paragon of process and consultation, like the Timor solution and the Citizen’s Assembly, all wrapped up in a non-slogan of “Moving Forward” and the honeymoon was over by the end of the first week of the campaign. Labor hacks like Barrie Cassidy might like to pretend that it was the leaks on the 28th July that derailed the 2010 campaign, but either they can’t be bothered looking at the polling of the time or are just lying.

The campaign was such a flop that it became the first government in 80 years to lose its majority after one term. But fortunately it did mean Labor could then hide behind a minority status to conceal a program it didn’t already have.

If that seems harsh, Labor supporters might ask themselves, how would it be different if Labor had kept its majority? It’s speculative, but we do know that instead of an ETS we would have had a Citizen’s Assembly waiting for a consensus that would never come; and the Malaysian solution, which, after the stuff up in the courts, would have been backed up by further toughening up of what were already some of the world’s toughest anti-immigrant powers. It could be quite easily claimed that the best thing about this Labor government is that it’s a minority one.

There is nothing in the Rudd challenge that would suggest on policy there would be any difference, at least on principle – other than that without the input of the political geniuses of Sussex Street, Rudd might not be so willing to make Abbott a credible alternative.

The real content of this leadership stoush is an internal one, a realigning of the internal structures of Labor to address the redundancy that has been shown so graphically during the Gillard government. This is the party reform debate that was so carefully avoided during last year’s Conference that has now gone external in gory graphic detail.

In politics, power is not ceded, it is taken. For the existing party brokers to lose power, some alternative force would need to be applied, usually electoral necessity. When Whitlam, someone who Rudd unsurprisingly identifies with, began breaking union links in the ALP 40 years ago, a precondition was some sign of electoral success. It was why the Victorian branch could not be reformed until a year after the 1969 election in which Whitlam achieved a stunning national swing that almost gave him power – but for the Victorian branch.

It is very likely that this is why Faulkner is reported to be supporting Rudd in the current leadership stoush, which given Faulkner’s supposed role as the senior statesmen and bulwark of the party has received surprisingly little attention in the media. Faulkner, of course, led the party’s reform review that presented its report at Conference in December and which was largely kept a secret (except for the bit damning Rudd). Whether they like it or not, Rudd is the only one in Labor with enough popular support to be a battering ram against those holding power and who are the ultimate target of reform.

If, as likely, Rudd loses today, political necessity would require that those in power in the ALP will need to continue to destroy the electoral popularity of Rudd to protect their positions. It may not even be necessary for them to do much, as a move to the backbench will take Rudd out of the limelight and possibly make him less of a pole of attraction. But a less popular Rudd would surely have to be a precondition for a third candidate to replace Gillard. Otherwise a move designed to restore popularity would naturally play to the strengths of Australia’s most popular politician and could make him a contender.

Switching to such a third candidate would of course lead to all the charges of the ALP being poll driven without actually doing anything that would benefit its polling. This is often as referred to as the ‘NSW disease’ and was supposed to be something that everyone in ALP has been warning against. But then, those who have the problem are sometimes the last to recognise they have it.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 27 February 2012.

Filed under Political figures, State of the parties, Tactics

Tags: , , ,


14 responses to “There is no third candidate”

  1. dedalus on 27th February 2012 8:38 am

    Well, a third candidate is always possible.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on another dimensions to this. For mine,the main reason for Gillard’s problems is that a percentage of the voters are misogynist (in one degree or another – including other women). Rudd himself is a classic misogynist.

    The big question is: can a woman ever be elected to the highest office in this country?

    If yes, Gillard will win the next election. The poll trends, even, show that. If the perception becomes otherwise, a third candidate might emerge.

    This is the thing that dares not speak its name.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 27th February 2012 8:52 am

    Certainly a third candidate is possible, but won’t do anything to change the situation.

    Mysogonism is always a factor, but not a decider here, in my view. First, Gillard would have had a problem from word go (she didn’t get more of a woman as time went on).

    Secondly, probably the greatest damage to trivialise her leadership on the basis of being a woman was done by the ALP geniuses at outset, such as the Women’s Weekly stint – an extraordinary way to treat the office of Prime Minister.

  3. Riccardo on 27th February 2012 4:48 pm

    Like you were saying, I can’t believe the way not just the ALP but the media are condescending to the public. You’re stupid, you didn’t know him. We know best.

    People aren’t fools – they look at the likes of Conroy or Arbib and say to themselves, “If he’s clever I’m a monkey’s uncle”

    I think Morris Iemma whoops Julia Gillard should be wary of thinking she’s got much time left in the job, win or no win.

  4. KEVIN-ONE-SEVEN on 28th February 2012 11:01 am

    PIPING – Truly brilliant analysis. Big question is whether, after electoral armageddon Labor goes for Kevin-One-Seven (he’s obviously standing again with that in mind). I doubt it. There will still be enough diehards to get Shorten (Fred Kite) up and he will be the John Robertson of Federal Labor. I’m really starting to think it’s over for the ALP. It will soon suffer the fate of the UK Liberals when the Labour Party hit its stride.

  5. Riccardo on 28th February 2012 5:36 pm

    Arbib resigning so Carr can become Foreign Minister is just so Sussex St. They haven’t learnt.

  6. Thomas Paine on 28th February 2012 7:17 pm

    Ha Carr! He will be more difficult for Labor than a dozen Rudds.

    No third candidate but how about a 4th party.

  7. The Piping Shrike on 28th February 2012 9:46 pm

    See no social basis for it, for the reasons there was no “people power”.

  8. Riccardo on 29th February 2012 10:40 am

    Actually it reminds me that even Tea Partyism and US libertarianism is based on a somewhat principled view of freedom, and that being lightly governed is so worthy a goal in itself that the tradeoffs required to achieve it are worthwhile.

    Australians seem to have this poorly focussed resentment of being governed, not principled or consistent.

    The constant invocation of nanny state clashes with the Australian predelection for middle class welfare, the ‘aorta’ syndrome and support for residual socialisms like the agrarian one.

    And no Australian has an alternative ideology to insert into the landscape when the nanny state is abolished. We don’t do guns and bibles.

  9. KEVIN-ONE-SEVEN on 1st March 2012 8:38 am

    Peter Brent makes the very good point that, when Rudd was dumped, the ALP effectively threw away the benefit of incumbency. It almost became like an opposition party because, having repudiated Rudd it had great difficulty running on its record. Nor could it offer itself to the population as the stable option. Effectively, it was as if two opposition parties were running for office.
    I fear that if the ALP now dumps Julia Gillard and goes to a third party candidate it will just exacerbate that problem.
    Going back to Rudd, of course, might (who knows) sidestep all of those problems. But that’s not gonna happen.

  10. The Piping Shrike on 1st March 2012 9:26 am

    I think it more that it sharply exacerbated a problem of political authority that was already there, that could go by the name of ‘incumbency’. I think it applies right across the political system now, not just Gillard.

    Rudd wouldn’t side-step those problems, rather be able to play with them by distancng himself from the political system a bit better.

    What seems striking now is the way Labor is now setting itself firmly to make a virtue of their unpopularity.

  11. KEVIN-ONE-SEVEN on 1st March 2012 9:41 am

    Piping – I basically agree with you. But I’m not sure you can just address this as a decline in “political authority”. I think the great unwashed (including me) take the practical view that a first term govt is going to stuff up while it learns the ropes and there is no point tossing them out when they have (hopefully) started to hit their stride. then the voters lose the investment they have made. However, after three or four terms they have to be tossed out because they have become sclerotic.
    The ALP basically tossed aside the on-the-job training that voters had given Kevin Rudd and said they wanted a new recruit, and the electorate wasn’t happy.

  12. Bill on 2nd March 2012 12:21 pm


    Whoa ! What ARE we to make of THIS ^ !

    The opposition has been all over Gillard for the embarrassment of her ministers blocking the Carr appointment, apparently dead in the water, and now it has come to fruition.

    An unforgettable week, politiically.

  13. Thomas Paine on 2nd March 2012 10:43 pm

    She made a mess of it but got there in the end I guess. Though I assume she must have upset a few of her ‘supporters’.

    Ultimately this will be a negative for her personally. Both Rudd and Carr are larger than life figures and accepted as having gravitas or credibility.

    Gillard is going to have a hard time not looking more insignificant in comparison to Carr. Ultimately his presence will diminish her credibility as PM, and a need to replace her more likely.

  14. Riccardo on 5th March 2012 12:08 pm

    Yep, I thought by the media coverage that Carr had been appointed Prime Minister, not Foreign Minister.

    The ALP never ceases to amaze. Sometimes the ALP falls in love with these larger than life figures but then knifes them later (and for some later get resuscitated)

Comments are closed.