Monday, 4 February 2013
I would not have left if I thought it would do harm to the Party or the Government.
Senator Chris Evans resigning on Saturday
This is precisely the right time because Parliament will resume next week, which gives my caucus colleagues an opportunity to deliver their judgment on who should be the next Senate Leader in a timely way.
Well at least we know why Roxon could say she would never work under Kevin Rudd last February, because she had already decided she wouldn’t work under anyone. Apparently.
One of the fascinating things to watch in the last few elections is the way that parties that have turned inwards in their malaise, are then forced to go through the agonising process of trying to turn outwards as they approach the electorate. They usually don’t succeed. It happened to the Liberals in 2007, both parties in 2010 and now Labor in 2013.
To anyone (bothering) to look at the events in Canberra last week, barely any of it would have made a lick of sense.
Let’s take the Prime Minister at her word, there is no reason not to, and agree that both Roxon and Evans did actually decide they wanted to quit a year ago (as opposed to the last few days as implied on Saturday by Craig Emerson and a sympathetic piece on Roxon in the SMH). So, having just been appointed Attorney-General, Roxon went to Gillard around the same time as Evans and said she wanted to resign.
Gillard then sat on what must have been Canberra’s best kept political secret for a full year not using any of the caucus meetings to elect a replacement for Evans in the Senate, while Roxon carried on with an even more ambitious program than before.
Then Gillard starts the new year with a landmark speech setting out (sort of) her plans for the year and then takes the unprecedented step of announcing an election date to create “certainty and stability”. But given how far Labor is behind, the only “certainty” it gives is to fix when Labor will lose. Furthermore, throwing away an advantage of incumbency to create certainty is done not only with a major reshuffle having still not been done, but without even giving a hint that it would be happening in a couple of days.
Finally when it does happen, instead of Gillard presenting it as a rejuvenation that she is control of, with a couple of necessary retirements as a sideline (as Howard used to), she presents it the other way round, as resignations that she is forced to respond to.
To anyone who thinks parties are just about winning elections, this seems like unfathomable electoral tactics and a sure way to give a sense of chaos for the Coalition to take advantage of. Yet on the basis which the party is being run at the moment, for internal reasons, it is easier to see why it happened.
Gillard is facing internal destabilisation. The source of that is not just Rudd, as it is almost purely discussed in the media. But rather the breakdown of the factional system of which Rudd is a chief beneficiary. As Gillard found when she replaced Arbib in the Senate and floated the idea of Smith as Foreign Minister last year, the prospect of a factional row has the potential to destabilise her own leadership as well.
This is likely to be why she waited until she announced the election date well in advance – a lousy tactic externally for someone so far behind – but an attempt to lock in the party behind her before attempting to deal with the Senate vacancy and minimising the time it could become a destabilising faction fight.
In many ways, Gillard’s announcement of an election date has echoes of Howard’s decision to announce his retirement before the 2007 election. It was designed to deal with internal pressures by keep Costello off his back in the short term, but it was a disastrous move electorally because it crystallised Howard’s problem to the electorate.
In Labor’s case it is more institutional. Gillard has come in on the back of the factions reasserting control, but faces the breakdown of the system below her, yet without being in a position to over-ride it. It is the problem with Peter Van Onselen’s call for Rudd’s return this morning. First because the barriers to Rudd’s return are institutional, not a matter of electoral mathematics. Secondly without a thorough breaking down of the factional system, under the guise of “party democracy”, Rudd would find any electoral advantage would be undermined away as well.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 4 February 2013.Filed under Tactics