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