Thursday, 27 June 2013
Bob Carr: I would expect that our support would bounce back pretty quickly to where it was in 2010.
Tony Jones: What happens when the novelty wears off?
Bob Carr: Well I, er, you know … the novelty? The novelty? The novelty of looking at Tony Abbott?
Lateline 26 June 2013
Yet again the powerbrokers have changed the leader of the government. … in 2007 you voted for Kevin and got Julia. In 2010 you voted for Julia and got Kevin. If you vote for the Labor party in 2013, who knows who you’ll end up with?
Tony Abbott 26 June 2013
Right. Now where were we.
Ultimately Gillard lost the Prime Ministership yesterday because the institutions she represented are redundant. She was installed in June 2010 as a means of the power brokers regaining control of the party. However, having done so, it exposed why they lost it in the first place under Rudd. The lack of social base of the institutions of the Labor party meant that far from recovering its control in 2010, it only hastened their decline and the last three years have been marked by an internal breakdown of the organising institutions of the party which Rudd could exploit. For Gillard, the lack of agenda of her government (as opposed to policy) ultimately accounted for her unpopularity and lack of authority, which by the end, was assuming an unpleasant personal and sexist form around the Prime Minister.
Just as the redundancy of the party’s institutions accounted for Gillard’s unpopularity, so it also accounted for Rudd’s enduring popularity. The more he was ostracised by the party and the Cabinet, the more he appealed to the public’s dislike of the current political system, undoing much of the damage incurred during his last months of compromise and lack of direction in his Prime Ministership. Over the last year, as the popularity of the Gillard government continued to flounder and Rudd’s remained resilient, the party power brokers started increasingly looking at some sort of compromise to bring Rudd in to restore their popularity while maintaining control. This culminated in the aborted coup in March when Crean offered himself as deputy to Rudd, in order to keep him under check. However, by then the breakdown of the party’s factional system was such that room for a compromise solution was no longer possible.
Give this framework, it is possible to sketch a reasonably clear picture of what happened over the last two weeks. The confidence with which Barrie Cassidy and Dennis Atkins could claim that Gillard’s tenure was finished indicated that important power bases in the party were ready to look for a way of bringing Rudd back while retaining control. The erosion of that confidence over last week suggested that they found no room for compromise, possibly a result of the intransigence of the Rudd camp that he be “drafted” to the leadership. By the beginning of this week, press reports were suggesting that the AWU and other unions were actively shoring up support for Gillard and that the Rudd push had “run out of puff”.
In the end, with the opportunities before the election running out and likely to be much harder after a September rout, the Rudd grouping abandoned their demand for a draft and just went for it.
They kicked in a rotting door. Even with what appears to be now a phantom petition for a special caucus, it not only caught out the leadership, but also those who were hedging their bets between the two groups. The obvious example of the latter was Bill Shorten. Some journalists were still sticking to the script of two weeks ago by describing him as a “kingmaker” and his endorsement as critical for Rudd’s success. In reality it was more a last minute jump on the bandwagon that was already moving off. Crean too, had another attempt to keep Rudd in check by running for deputy but, fortunately for Rudd, was roundly rebuffed in favour of Ruddite Albanese.
Nevertheless despite the comfortable victory, Rudd’s position is finely balanced. While the power bases that he is pitched against are in disarray, he is not yet in a position to consolidate his hold on the leadership and clearly distinguish himself from the party’s institutions. His dilemma is that electoral success requires he does so. While journalists are fretting about divisions in the party, Rudd’s real problem is that he is not yet in a position to clearly bring those divisions out.
The danger for Rudd is that without such a clarification, he is exposed to a similar problem that Gillard faced in 2010 when she could find no external justification for her assuming the leadership than lousy polls.
A classic example was Carr’s fairly disastrous Lateline interview last night when, probably like most of the Ministers who have switched from Gillard to Rudd, he was unable to give any really clear reason for the move other than poor polling. Fortunately the interview’s audience would have been largely confined to the beltway given the late hour and the ABC’s fairly chaotic programming last night. But as a message to the rest of the electorate it won’t do.
Rudd’s own speech showed more finesse in distinguishing himself from the party’s power brokers while maintaining a façade of unity for now. He noted that he had been elected in 2007 by the people to imply that his return is really a continuation of that victory and the wrong of 2010’s internal manoeuvres had been righted. He also made much of the young who are turned off by current politics which, like most 50 plus politicians talking of the young, was more an indirect way of having a go at his peers than directly talking to youth.
However, what will help Rudd is not only the weakness of those opposing him in his own party, but also those on the opposite side of the Chamber. One of the grim secrets of the 43rd Parliament is the degree to which Abbott was propped up by Gillard, not only by her unpopularity but also her constant legitimising of Abbott as being in touch with the “real” electorate. Removing that prop may reveal that what we have is not the World’s Most Effective Opposition Leader but an unpopular leader of a party with policies that the electorate doesn’t especially like. Nevertheless, unless Rudd makes it clear that he is distinct from the party brokers, Rudd is almost as vulnerable as Gillard to Abbott’s claim that his return was brought about by the “faceless men” and that they could dump him again.
The litmus test to show that Rudd is starting to move away from the old left and right is the issue that best sums up their insecurities, asylum seekers. Carr’s tactic on Lateline of upping the rhetoric on asylum seekers as only economic refugees was immediately exposed by Tony Jones as contradicting the high proportion that still eventually come through as political refugees. Despite Carr alluding to it, it was a different approach than Rudd adopted a few weeks ago when the emphasis was on working on an arrangement with Indonesia and that without one, Abbott and Labor’s asylum seeker policy was a fraud. When Labor doesn’t feel the need to slap asylum seekers about, it will be a clue that a new political arrangement is falling into place.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 27 June 2013.Filed under State of the parties, Tactics