Gillard and the Labor Leadership (part 2)

February 23, 2012

In 2010, I welcomed Gillard’s ascendancy to the Labor leadership but expressed my concern over the circumstances of how she rose to be Prime Minister. Back then, I wrote:

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.

I also wrote in that blog post that I believed Gillard was the right choice for Labor leader, that she would lead Labor to victory in the election, and that Labor would be vulnerable to making future bad leadership decisions due to the toxic, corrosive influence of factions.

With the Labor leadership going to another spill on Monday 27 February at a special caucus meeting, I want to again re-iterate my belief that the leadership election process needs serious and urgent reform:

Labor at a Federal level should reform its rules to expand the franchise of voters in election of Federal Parliamentary Leader.

It is no longer good enough for only the Labor members of parliament to vote for Labor leader — party members and the membership of affiliated unions should also have a say.

Labor will consign itself to the history books after over a century of proud history of social-democratic reform because of the merry-go-round that is the leadership unless something is done. The toxic nature of the factions in Federal Parliament is behind the destabilisation of the last five Labor leaders, from Beasley, Crean, Latham, Rudd and Gillard. The factional parliamentary head kickers have proven that they are incapable of making mature decisions, and that they are fundamentally untrustworthy and self-serving.

The factional leaders like Arbib, Shorten, Conroy and Swan were unfortunately rewarded under Gillard. They are largely responsible for the horrific public relations of the Gillard Government. The media failures and lack of narrative are mostly their fault (and Gillard’s for rewarding them).

Labor urgently needs to modernise so as to become more resilient to the arbitrary exercise of power by a small group within the Parliamentary Party.

And as I said recently on Facebook, in my view, the return of Rudd to the Labor leadership would be a public repudiation of the factions. That said, I expect Gillard will win the vote on Monday.

UPDATE

I think Robert Merkell’s statement over at Larvatus Prodeo is worth repeating:

I don’t have much to add, except to observe that a government which presides over an anomalously healthy economy (by international standards) and, for all its imperfections, made real progress in many important areas, is currently ripping itself itself to bits in a leadership contest between two individuals who do not appear to have any significantly different policy views, in the midst of appalling polling.

Again, this underscores for me the urgent need for Labor to reform its leadership election process.

I think it’s also worth noting that John Quiggan’s view on the leadership debacle has missed the point with regard to the Gillard/Rudd governments’ achievements. Quiggin writes that Gillard has largely been implementing Rudd’s agenda — in fact, both Rudd and Gillard have been implementing the social-democratic Labor agenda. Let’s remove the ridiculous presidential-style commentary from this.

UPDATE 2

While I don’t agree with everything “Piping Shrike” writes about Labor and the labour movement, I think he (or she) has a lot of interesting opinions about the parlous state of Labor and the impact of factional shenanigans have played:

The faction system was the internal structure reflecting Labor’s historical role as the mediation between organised labour and business, which is now over. When Swan invoked the labour movement in his attack on Rudd, he was invoking something that has ceased to exist in any meaningful political sense, and therefore so does the cause Swan is defending. The consequences of that are now finally working its way through the organisation of the ALP. …

This is also why, in attacking Rudd on the TV, there was not a single argument that the pro-Gillard camp had that would have any relevance to their listeners in the general public. Rudd’s not nice to work with? Who cares? In fact, ALP mateyness is these days a bit of a turn off, ask a NSW ex-Labor voter. Lack of consultation with caucus? Who’s worth consulting? Who are these people? Whom do they represent?

It’s unlikely that Rudd will win, but I hope that Gillard uses her victory to implement some of the much needed democratic reforms that the Bracks, Carr, Faulkner Review called for. (I won’t be holding my breath though.)

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Luke Malpass in the AFR grossly misrepresents Labor’s record under Rudd

The Australian Financial Review is a mildly conservative newspaper owned by Fairfax that is normally fairly even handed in its...

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