Friday, 22 March 2013
Sales: is today’s outcome what you had in mind?
Crean: No, but it’s an outcome. I said that what I wanted was a circuit-breaker, it’s not the circuit breaker … I thought, but it is a circuit breaker.
Crean on 730
Welcome to party reform. Over the last couple of years, Labor’s problems have spawned a raft of contributions on how it can be reformed, the latest being Latham’s in the Quarterly Essay (review coming). They are thoughtful, considered pieces, chock full of insightful advice how Labor can reconnect to the electorate and revive itself. However, the problem they all share is that they assume the process is under Labor’s control. Yesterday showed that it is not.
There was a lot that happened in yesterday’s first ever spill without a challenger that didn’t make sense. But what was especially odd was the event that kicked it off, Crean’s press conference calling for a spill.
For someone who was recommending that Labor dump its current leader for Rudd, it was hardly an endorsement. Indeed while Crean said that he would be voting for him, he seemed to be determined to discourage anyone else from doing so.
Crean had nothing positive to say about Rudd. He even refused under questioning to say that Rudd was more likely than Gillard to win an election. Indeed, the main takeaway from Crean’s press conference was that Rudd’s destabilisation was undermining the government and the cause of its unpopularity, something hardly likely to win him votes in Caucus. Given such an “endorsement”, perhaps that might account for Crean’s odd inability to bring across the handful of “Creanites” that he is supposed to lead in the Victorian right to also support Rudd. Stranger still, Crean wouldn’t even say whether he thought Rudd would win the ballot.
However, the most peculiar feature of Crean’s statement, for which he disappointingly was not questioned later on 730 was why he wanted to put himself forward as deputy (a bid later withdrawn). Crean and Rudd could hardly be thought of as a team. Crean has spent much of the last couple of years trashing Rudd and his lack of “discipline” and there appeared no change to this view yesterday. Indeed it seemed that it was Rudd’s lack of discipline was why Crean wanted to be his deputy. But it was clarified in this revealing exchange:
Crean: It was important in arriving at this decision that I was convinced him to be what I’ve referred to on other occasions as a changed Kevin. Or if you like, a more disciplined asset. Now I’m satisfied with the response that I’ve had, but I believe that it’s important that he continues to be held to it, that’s why I’ve put my name forward for the deputy position. I hope that’s a view that the party shares.
Journalist: to put a check on him?
Crean: No I don’t say to put a check on him, I say to use the authority of the office of the leadership group, to actually get better balance into decision-making as we go forward. Now anyone who knows me knows that while I might have strong views, I’m also an inclusive person, so I don’t say this is another narrow group. The criticism of his government was that it was too concentrated. I want it to become more inclusive. I think from this position I can guarantee that.
This gets to the nub of the issue, and clarifies all this guff about Rudd being “impossible to work with” etc. etc. The real issue is that behind the Gillard-Rudd tussle is an institutional one on how the party is run. Backing Gillard are the party power brokers, while Rudd is using his electoral popularity to challenge it. Since such a challenge is only possible because the institutions the power brokers represent have lost their social base, inevitably there is nothing for Rudd to replace the power brokers with than himself and the coterie around him.
At one level, Crean was doing what he did in February last year, drawing Rudd out to challenge before numbers had built to take him over the line. But if Rudd did succeed, then Crean was there as deputy to put a check on Rudd to ensure that the party’s traditional power brokers did not totally lose control. On the other hand, Crean’s call for Labor to go back to its Hawke-Keating roots was also targeted at a Parliamentary leadership increasingly reliant on union backers for survival.
Crean was trying to find a compromise between a party power structure that has lost its relevance and a challenger whose popularity rests on not being part of it. It failed because things have gone past the point where a compromise is possible. All that happened yesterday is to polarise it even more with Rudd backers now deserting or being pushed from their government posts and leaving Crean no longer the Minister of whatever it was.
Commentators were falling over each other to say that Rudd was finished, lacked bottle etc. etc. – but then they said that after the last spill. Rudd was supposed to be fatally damaged after being excoriated by the cabinet, but remains if anything as popular as ever. Suggesting that Rudd might have lost credibility for not taking the wonderful gift of the Labor leadership right now implies that Labor is more popular than Rudd. Labor’s dilemma is that this is increasingly not the case.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Friday, 22 March 2013.Filed under Tactics