If only politics were exciting…
What a day, a day which no one saw coming. No one. The entire media contingent in Parliament House missed it until 7pm when Chris Uhlman broke the story. Consider Denis Shanahan, who has been banging on and on for weeks about how Rudd was in danger of being challenged by Gillard. Here he was writing yesterday in The Oz:
PM's position is secure, party's is not
The battle, the tough time, the big challenges for Labor are all there but the school of thought that it would be suicide to engineer a leadership change has prevailed.
As well, Julia Gillard would not move against the Prime Minister.
Rudd seems safe to lead Labor through to the election, whether parliament resumes in August or not and whether the election is in September or October.
I write this not to have a go at Shanahan, because I wrote this on Monday:
I said a couple weeks back that “for Julia to seriously be considered, the ALP would need to be down around 44-45% in Newspoll”. They are a loooong way from that. The media really needs to settle down.
So what the hell happened? Well internal polling was bad… yeah well so what, that often happens, and you hold your nerve. I think this was more about personality than polls. Rudd wasn’t liked by enough people in the Parliamentary Labor Party. The voted for him because he could defeat Howard, but they never viewed him as one of them. And he did not do anything to help himself either. His office pissed off the media, and pissed off the caucus. (And it is never good to piss off both – one you can get away with, but not both).
What seems to be clear is that this was not Julia Gillard’s doing, it was Bill Shorten, David Feeney and Mark Arbib who made the move. They decided to push her to act, but it does not appear to have been under her instructions that moves would be made.
But once it was clear it was on, she took control and took ownership.
And she won.
Now there are a couple things to consider. Firstly was this a good move by the ALP?
I honestly believe no one has any idea. The ALP hard heads may think they knew that Kevin Rudd was on the nose, but there is not a lot of evidence suggesting the public has been counting down the days for Julia Gillard to take over. Sure there may be many ALP supporters who love Julia and think she’ll be great (and I’m one of them), but those ALP supporters were going to vote for the ALP anyway. The key is the 15% of the Greens supporters. If we go by the fairly reasonable assumption that the Greens will end up getting 8-10% of the vote, that means there is 5-7% of the vote up for grabs; 5-7% who have gone to the Greens in the last 8 weeks due to Kevin Rudd.
Would they have come back in preferences? I think very likely they would have. Will they come back now in primary votes? Ah that is a bigger question. The hard heads of the ALP are betting they will. And if they do, that puts the ALP on around 40-42%, and that will definitely win them Government – and maybe even pick up some seats (especially if 1-2% of those more conservative swinging voters who had given up on Rudd but don’t like the Greens will come back from the Liberal Party – that is a harder task).
So for mine, the ALP has chosen to take a huge risk at a time when they didn’t need to, purely because a) they didn’t like the way Kevin Rudd operated (professionally and personally), and b) they are worried there would be coming a time when they would need to take a huge risk, so why wait.
The reality is once the decision was taken yesterday to make a move, there was no alternative but to dump him. There is no argument in favour of voting for Rudd over Julia in a spill; the argument is whether or not they should have gone down that path in the first place.
The one good thing is the way to was done. If you’re going to do it, do it quickly and do it as decisively as possible. The is absolutely ruthless in its efficiency.
The second thing to consider is where will Julia do well electorally? Well here’s her fourth sentence of her acceptance speech:
I grew up in the great state of South Australia.
I think Julia will certainly raise the ALP’s stocks in SA. Yes they did very well there last time round, but South Australians are to Australia like Australian are to the rest of the world. They will claim anyone as their own no matter how tenuous the link to SA. South Australia have never had a PM. Yeah Hawke was born at Bordertown, but he didn’t grow up in SA. Julia did. And yes she now lives in Victoria, but SA understands that - its best footballers used to all head across the border to play. And ok, she supports the Bulldogs, but that doesn't matter – the key is she supports AFL. And she mentions with pride growing up in SA. That’s gold.
I think Adelaide voters will view her as their daughter and flood to her. The country areas? Not so much – like much of the rural areas, she’ll probably be seen as a communist (yes, I know). But in most of the electorates she’ll be the local girl done good – after all her parents still live in Adelaide, so that’s all that matters. She’s a Croweater. Chris Pyne, you should be worried. Boothby? Get someone in better than Nicole Cornes and it’s in serious play.
What about QLD? The problem there of course is the local boy has been deposed. The issue though is maybe the locals were getting embarrassed about the fact he was a local boy. Western Australia? Not sure. So long as she doesn’t demote Stephen Smith (which shouldn’t happen) it hard to say whether or not she is personally more or less preferred. And the way she is going about the RSPT talks is very, very smart. She forced the mining companies to dump their adverts – and they did straight away. A brilliant tactical move, and augers well for a compromise to be reached. I just hope the compromise remains good policy…
Victoria won’t see much change – the ALP was strongest there. Ditto Tasmania. NSW is interesting. Will the voters there see this coup as a bit too NSW Labor-like? There’s a big chance they will. The only thing in Julia’s favour is she has a very strong personal reputation and thus (regardless of the truth) she is seen as less a factional puppet as is Kristina Kenneally or was Nathan Rees.
The final thing to consider is Rudd versus Julia as PM. I, like many ALP supporters, have long thought she would be a much better PM. But does the way she has gained the leadership cruel her chances? Will she be ever able to assume legitimacy?
From her performance in parliament today I would say yes. She dealt with Abbott with ease, and she fairly well destroyed Julie Bishop. Bishop asked her about the RSPT referring to “today’s unprecedented political assassination of the former Prime Minister” and asked if it was an example of “a new face, but same old Labor, same old tax”. Julia stood and responded by thanking “the same old Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question and wish her well as she serves her third leader.'”
In debating the MPI against Abbott, she was supreme. After 2 years of Rudd’s “can I just say” and on the question of”, her speech was like a drink of cool water on a hot summer’s day.
The problem is most people don’t watch Parliament, and there are no more sitting days till mid-September, meaning she won’t get opportunities to get a 15 second grab on the 6 o’clock news showing her destroying the opposition.
And now to Rudd. I think he was a good PM, who ran a better Government than he was PM. I think it was great that he was a PM who loved policy and evidence, but it was bad that he was too interested in knowing all the policy and all the evidence (the good folk in the Department of PM and Cabinet will be cheering tonight, knowing that their brief will now be about 75% shorter in length).
He made an amazing speech when he apologised to the Stolen Generations. A great speech. One to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But he also introduced us to “programmatic specificity”. And in the end that is what killed him. He could not explain his policy decisions to the public. It wasn't just not being able to explain things like the RSPT; he couldn’t explain clearly why he was shelving the ETS. He just couldn’t sell things. He couldn't sell the debt and deficit, and so that became an issue. He couldn’t sell the insulation scheme, and so that became bungled” (remember the facts people – reduced risks of injury, reduced incidence of fires). He went on the 7:30 Report and acknowledged the negative; but he never could sell the positives.
And thus the polls went down, and so too his support in the party.
With Julia Gillard we have a communicator who turns every negative into a positive. Just compare how she has handled the bullshit story upon bullshit story to do with the BER to how Rudd has handled criticism. She is a communicator. He is not.
Unfortunately you need to be in this day and age (actually you pretty much always have had to be).
And as is always the case with dumped leaders, he made his best speech in ages when conceding. Just have a look at the speech:
It’s heartfelt and passionate. But look at the lines:
I’m proud of the fact that we kept Australia out of the global economic recession. I’m proud of the fact that had we not done so we would have had a half a million Australians out there out of work, because that’s what happened around the rest of the world.
I’m proud of the fact that we got rid of Workchoices and restored decency to the workplace.
I’m proud of the fact that we started to build the nation’s infrastructure including a National Broadband Network which I fundamentally believe will transform this economy in ways which we have yet to conceive, fundamentally transform our businesses and the way in which Governments operate, health services are delivered and the way in which education is delivered in our classrooms. The missing piece of 21st century kit for our country.
That’s great stuff – and what about this wonderful bit:
I’m proud of the fact that we are building 20 regional cancer centres right across our country. You know if you go out there and people are suffering from cancer, it does alter your priorities. Many of those folk have never had decent cancers services before, never, and I was always stunned by the fact that people out there are three times more likely to die in the first years of their diagnosis through the lack of services. We’ve done something to change that, and it’s big. It’s the biggest investment in cancer services our nation has ever seen.
I’m proud of the fact, and some people have probably never heard of this one, that we have a National Organ Transplant Authority. As somebody who borrowed someone else’s aortic valve I feel a particular responsibility for that. There’s nothing like having a bit of somebody else in you, it focuses the mind and in my case also focuses the heart. What I’m really pleased about in the last two months is the organ donation rates for the first time have started to rise. People now are getting transplants because we chose to make a difference.
That’s the funny thing about health isn’t it, has an effect on you.
That’s Rudd at his best. But he really only did it once this year – the Health debate. He was brilliant during that – he talked to people, connected with them. And they loved him. But the problem is were the debate held now, no one would be listening. If anyone has ever seen him do his community cabinets you’d also have seen him in this mode – he loved chatting to people about things being done. He loved it. He loved holding the microphone and standing on the stage. And he could connect with people. But too often he also spewed out a load of verbal sludge that left people trying to work out which was the real Kevin – the community cabinet Kevin, or the programmatic specificity Kevin. After he dumped the ETS (and more importantly the way he dumped it) they decided it was the latter version. And they didn’t like it.
That he decided not to force a vote shows that he is perhaps more a party man than the party hard heads gave him credit. His staying on in Griffith also I think shows that he is perhaps not as ego driven as people think. That he turned up to Question Time today showed that he is not as cowardly as people believe.
It was sad to see him go the way he did, but that’s the cruel game of politics – I was more sad to see Beazley go the way he did.
I was even sadder to see Lindsay Tanner go today. In fact his announcement today that he would not stand at the next election ruined the day for me. He is leaving in order to spend more time with his family. That he did so ironically makes him exactly the type of person we need more of in Parliament.
He leaves a huge hole in the ALP ministry. He is incredibly intelligent on policy and politics. He is a brilliant speaker and media performer. And he is a tough political nut. His leaving pretty much ensures the Greens will win his seat. But this won’t matter anymore – the main reason the ALP truly did not want to lose Melbourne was because of Tanner. If it should ever come to it, the Greens will side with the ALP in the House, so that won’t affect the chances of the Government winning the election at all. Yes they’d like to win it, but if you’re not losing a Tanner, then there is no real loss.
Julia now has the problem of having to fill his position with someone who will not be better. She also has to fill her own positions as Minister for Education and Minister for Employment and Work Place Relations with two people who will not be better than she. This will seriously test the depth of the ALP. Bill Shorten will obviously get a promotion – and so he should. He is wasted where he is. Maxine McKew supported Kevin Rudd, but she too should be promoted.
It is an understatement to say this was an interesting time in politics. In some ways I think politics has become akin to the movie industry. 25 years ago, back in the 1980s films were still given time to build and audience, you could release small and then increase the number of screens as the word of mouth grew. Back then 15% of a films box office would come from the opening weekend. Now every film needs to open big; there’s no time to build an audience, and if you open small you’ll be pushed out by the next block-buster opening in the next weekend. Now the opening weekend accounts for 28-33% of the total box office gross of most films.
Twenty five years ago Rudd would not have been rolled. The party would have stood by him, stayed calmer and kept the faith that come the election the Government would survive. Now they dump him because of a 2 months dip in the polls, during which he remains the preferred PM! From 1983 to 1990 the Liberal Party changed leaders three times (Peacock to Howard to Peacock). Now the Liberal Party has three leaders in two years.
And so to those wondering what will happen next, and whether or not this will be good for the ALP or good for the Liberal Party, I say that we should steal the line from William Goldman when he wrote of what those in Hollywood knew about what it took to make a hit movie: “Nobody knows anything”.