Gillard and the Labor leadership
June 24, 2010
Gillard makes history as Australia’s first woman prime-minister. Today marks an important historical milestone for Australian politics and civil society.
Julia Gillard is without a doubt Labor’s best political operative and most effective communicator. She has shown she can cut through. Ultimately, this is what sealed Kevin Rudd’s fate. Rudd was only able to communicate during campaign set-pieces – like the health debate with Abbott or during the election campaign. For the last two years he has mostly sounded like a technocrat – and Australia stopped listening.
While I welcome Julia’s prime ministership, I am deeply concerned about the circumstances surrounding her ascendancy.
The New South Wales Right faction demonstrated its dangerous level of clout. Sick of being ignored, they turned on the man they installed over Beasley. They have shown a remarkable tendancy to quickly do in the leaders that do not treat them with almost slavish attention – Nathan Rees, Morris Iemma and now Kevin Rudd. Rudd largely ignored the factions – now they have strongly reasserted themselves as central to the exercise of power in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party.
The fact that the parliamentary leadership of the Labor Party is determined by the vote of only Members of Parliament is now shown to be open to the manipulation of powerful, unaccountable factional forces. The destabilisation of Simon Crean in 2003-04 is also testament to this, as was the dumping of Bob Hawke. Rudd’s downfall is testament to the fact that leaders can too easily be destabilised.
Australian Labor needs to broaden the pool of people involved in the election of the leader.
The UK Labour Party has a vote of Parliamentarians, union affiliates and members. Not only do MPs vote, but (of course) their Members of European Parliament vote, as do local “constituency” Labor Parties and affiliated socialist societies. A third of the vote goes to MPs and MEPs, individual party members and affiliated organisations.
This seems to me to be a far better system, ensuring a far greater mandate for the elected leader, as well as ensuring greater stability.
Federal Labor has had some terrible leadership tensions in the past (thankfully avoided in this current very quick leadership change).
Fundamentally Labor needs to modernise so as to become more resilient to the arbitrary exercise of power by a sole group within the Parliamentary Party.
Gillard is the right choice for Labor leader. She will lead Labor to victory. It is just as well that the NSW Right has made the correct decision in this case. But they will not always do so, and Labor as an organisation must secure itself against the possibility of future bad decisions.