Since the release of the latest opinion poll results I have yet to see any serious or detailed analysis as to why there has been an improvement in Labor’s position. The column inches and on-air time have been devoted to the ‘lifeline to Gillard’ approach when reporting what was an unexpected statistically significant shift in support for both the Prime Minister and the Labor Government over the Christmas break.
There would certainly have been two groups who must have been bitterly disappointed at the results. The first being the media who are enjoying the feeding frenzy that a possible leadership spill provides. The second is Kevin Rudd because I suspect his timetable has been somewhat disrupted. Actually Abbott may have broken out in a little sweat but at this stage it will be nothing of significance.
Julia Gillard is one tough operator. She may yet survive the relentless political pressure she is under. If these poll figures continue to improve there is every likelihood this could happen. Everything is on such a political knife edge for the Government: the independents’ support in the House, the nervousness in the caucus, the perceptions of the public, the global economic situation and, of course, the media. Despite this precarious backdrop the Government has a legislative agenda that would be considered daunting if governing in its own right rather than as a minority government teetering on the brink.
There is the assumption that if a leadership change was to occur in the Government that it would be inevitable that Kevin Rudd would be the automatic goto guy. The mainstream media certainly expects it. Yet it would be foolish of them to make this assumption. The ‘anyone but Rudd’ faction has the numbers, and, apart from his core group of supporters, the majority of members are not prepared to revisit a Rudd leadership. Labor has been down this path. Members know where it leads and the likely experience the return journey would give.
Kevin Rudd reminds me of a duplicitous Cheshire Cat. He is there one minute, and when the going gets tough for the Government, poof; he disappears except for a large smile lingering awhile to remind us all that he is still there, but really not.
Of course it goes without saying that the position of the independents must also be taken into account. The Greens would work with Rudd; they’ll work with anybody. The independents, however, may be different kettle of fish, and remember it only takes one of them to upset the apple cart. The key is Windsor, a man of integrity and humour, and for whom I have considerable time and respect.
Gillard is now in the position that everything, and I mean everything, must work in her favour resulting in improved polling numbers.
The Gillard/Rudd speculation has blocked any focus being placed on the underlying leadership tensions that exist within the Coalition. Apparently the media can only look at one leadership issue at a time given its seeming inability to walk, talk and chew gum simultaneously. Make no mistake, concern about Abbott’s style of leadership is there simmering away, but currently under the radar.
While the Coalition continues to have a comfortable election-winning lead Abbott will remain as Leader despite his appalling personal numbers. If the gap between the two major parties continues to narrow attention will turn to his position. There are many within the conservative side of politics who are uncomfortable with the tea party style approach to both policy and strategy that Abbott has adopted.
The key spotlight that is thrown on anyone who occupies the position of Prime Minister is much brighter and more critical than the lights that shine on other key members of parliament, including the Leader of the Opposition. Choosing a leader is a kissing frogs exercise. A candidate, who you would wager would be a great leader, can fall at the first hurdle especially during times of criss. Menzies is a good example. He was hopeless as a leader in war time, and went on to prove that it’s easier appearing great when times are great. Curtin, the quiet, unassuming, door-mouse like character was the most unexpectedly successful leader for this country at a time of dire need.
Rudd is a known quantity found wanting under this critical spot light of leadership. The Labor Party can’t drink at this well again. The water was found to be too brackish.
POSTSCRIPT 15th February 2012
The political situation facing the Labor Government is becoming increasingly intolerable. Irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the current situation and the double standards of the overall media coverage, the political reality is that the Prime Minister cannot continue in this role. The analysis can come later. Labor needs to look at a successor.
I’ve been asked, given the last two blog posts, what my view is. Here is my view for what it is worth.
Rudd is not to be considered. There is a large cross-factional faction who, having previously experienced his leadership style, will not return for another visit.
What is left is the three S solution: Swan, Smith and Shorten.
I will deal with each briefly. Bill Shorten, Member for Maribyrnong since 2007, is well known, competent but has yet to get the miles into his legs. He hasn’t sufficient experience. He will be a future Labor leader, but not this year.
My friend, Bob Ellis, included Anthony Albanese in the equation. I wish. He has been the most effective performer on the floor of the House this past year, however, he has to be dismissed from any real consideration. Why? One word: Faction. Two words: wrong faction. I would be ecstatic if proved wrong.
This leaves Stephen Smith, the Member for Perth and Wayne Swan, Member for Lilley, both elected to Federal Parliament in 1993. Wayne Swan has been a brilliant Treasurer. He has grown into this job now occupying it with a calm, assured and authoritative aura that he brings to the public debate. If circumstances were normal I’d be happy for him to take over the leadership, but they are not. Europe and US economies are still balancing on a knife edge. Swan needs to remain where he is, on top of the fiscal and economic plot. It is essential there is a strong and competent Treasurer guiding the debate over the next few years. Another certainty is that neither he , nor anyone-else, can do both jobs. The Prime Ministerial position will require full attention
My preference, therefore, is Stephen Smith, another highly competent front-bench performer. He has done more than has been asked of him. Like Swan, Smith too, has a similar steely quiet, knowledgeable and authoritative air. It would not be the first time that Australia has had a Prime Minister from Western Australia at a difficult time. I’d have both men in the top two jobs. From a psephological perspective, and somewhat serendipitously, it can only help Labor that Smith’s from Western Australia and Swan’s from Queensland .