Monday, 24 June 2013 

Well, you can see Newspoll, you can see AC Nielsen, you can see Essential Research, and you can see some internal research and research that the unions have done that clearly says at the moment if we had an election today it’s more likely than not that Tony Abbott would become the next prime minister; and that’s why, you know, it is not with any particular joy, it’s not with any particular happiness, that our union changed our position because we want to ensure that Labor continues to govern in the interests of all Australians and that working people get a fair go and we can only do that if Labor’s re-elected at the next election.

Political strategist Paul Howes, 23 June 2010

Who cares what Newspoll comes out with?

Union leader Paul Howes, 19 June 2013

If Rudd is Labor leader by the end of this week, it will be because one of two unlikely things will have happened. Either caucus splits away from the union and faction leadership and takes matters into their own hands by reinstalling Rudd. Or, the union and faction leadership cobble together some compromise where Rudd is installed, but in a manner that guarantees their position remains intact.

The latter is probably the more likely from the party leadership’s side and mimics what Crean tried to do in March with his call for Rudd to challenge, but with himself as deputy to keep Rudd in check. But as Crean found out then, there is little room for compromise. Crean’s unenthusiastic endorsement, and the all-round breakdown of caucus groupings, meant he couldn’t bring anyone else over to support Rudd. Now, with electoral disaster looming closer, it is likely to be Rudd that is more wary of such botched deals that mean he would be stuck with a defeat.

The electoral problem with such a compromise is precisely the same one that has brought the Labor leadership to the current mess: they are redundant and discredited. It is why their attacks on Rudd have backfired and only helped his popularity. Conversely, being seen to having reached some deal with the power brokers will do Rudd little good in the eyes of the electorate. Variants on this refusal to admit basic reality are journalists who claim that a blow-out of leading lights in the cabinet if Rudd returns will somehow be an electoral negative, the same assumption that leads Conroy to proclaim that he wouldn’t serve under Rudd as though it’s a negotiating weapon. They just don’t get it. They are the problem.

The confidence with which Labor power broker mouthpiece, Barrie Cassidy, could say on Insiders last week that Gillard would not be leading Labor to the next election sounded like there was an attempt by the leadership to see whether there was room for compromise, possibly with the Man of the Hour, Shorten, playing a pivotal role. Cassidy was noticeably less forthcoming this week. Dennis Atkins, someone who also has close ties with the Queensland unions, and was similarly saying that something appeared to be moving last week, was back-tracking even faster. This Sunday he doubted a spill would even happen. It sounds like the attempt to reach a compromise has reached a dead end.

The only other option is for caucus to break away from the factional system and ignore its union leadership and do the job themselves. But while the factional hold over caucus has broken down, especially over the last three years, it is quite a different thing to say it has been replaced by a mechanism that will throw out a sitting Prime Minister.

Nevertheless the problem remains for the union and party leadership of regaining control of a Parliamentary party that is slipping from its grip. NSW may provide a clue on what to do.

Much has been made over the last few years of the “NSW disease” as a reason for not dumping Gillard, usually by those who dumped Rudd in the first place and even had a major role in the original NSW fiasco. But there are some similarities. The changes in NSW leaders was driven by internal wrestling of control over the Parliamentary party as a result of the ructions with the union leadership over electricity privatisation. The factions almost lost control with Rees – however Rees is not Rudd, had no leverage in the electorate and hence caucus, and was easily replaced with someone more compliant.

The result, of course, was a historic defeat. Such a defeat had one benefit for the union and faction leadership – it shifts the balance towards safer seats where their pre-selection hold is strongest. As we see with the edifying sight in Batman, control over the safe seats by the power bases remains critical and it is where internal over electoral considerations have most sway. So, lo and behold, in NSW after the defeat we have John Roberson leading the party and the traditional power bases are very much back in the driving seat. So no sign of electoral recovery there. For the union and factional leadership at the federal level, this would suggest the obvious path to recovering control over the party. Turn it into a parliamentary rump.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 24 June 2013.

Filed under State of the parties, Tactics

Tags: , ,


8 responses to “Control”

  1. F on 24th June 2013 9:11 am

    Pretty much what I came to realise when you wrote this piece back in March:

    How will this safe seat union death grip go if Rudd rebuffs their overtures and continues to campaign for his backers in their seats? Without the leadership will Rudd be able to hold up the votes in those seats if its a wipe-out?

    Insiders yesterday was truly bizarre. I find it hard to believe that these so called “insiders” would be so myopic. Watching them talk about what they think is happening is almost heart-breaking, so wrong do they have it. Even my old unionist father, who cares more about the AFL, understands what is going down. Dennis Atkins, and his ilk, are PAID to know what is going on, and then to relate that to the public. What a completely useless bunch of losers.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 24th June 2013 9:33 am

    I doubt Rudd will make much difference in the seats he campaigns in. It was more to make the point for the caucus and the media.

    It had to be the oddest Insiders I have ever watched. The psychobabble was excruciating.

  3. Nottrampis on 24th June 2013 10:06 am

    pretty spot on.

    it is amusing to see those squirm about now given the plls are saying a large defeat is looming whereas it was entirely different in 2010

  4. atomou on 24th June 2013 6:11 pm

    It’s party time for the TAB and the likes of Tom-fifteen-to-two-Waterhouse!

    The betting permutations available from this saga are enormous: Will there be a challenge? Who will do it? How many for, how many against? Who’ll win, by how much? Will there be other hats thrown in the ring? Will it be a two up? Closed ballot/open ballot? Who’ll go for a piss during the ballot? Who’ll be puking on the floor? Will Clive Palmer be listening outside the door? Which of the media stars will first say, “I told you so?” etc, etc, etc

    It’s about the only time I ever wished I were a bookie!

  5. David Rohde on 24th June 2013 6:44 pm


    using self interest to explain what is going on is difficult but you seem to manage it quite convincingly…

    In terms of the deputy this seems to confirm your compromise candidate theory:

  6. atomou on 25th June 2013 5:01 pm

    Look, you lot!
    There’s a very logical and easy way to undo this Gordian knot: Go back to 2007 and pretend nothing’s happened since then: Rudd is the PM and Gillard his Deputy!

    (Just thought I’d make a funny!)

  7. Godfrey on 27th June 2013 3:21 pm

    I hate it when unions becomes a word that really means a few leaders of a few leaders like Sheldon, Howes etc.

    It does a disservice to a lot of other people.

  8. Godfrey on 27th June 2013 3:25 pm

    I hate it when unions becomes a word that really means a few leaders of a few unions like Sheldon, Howes etc.

    It does a disservice to a lot of other people.

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