IN THE AFTERMATH of our article on Tuesday, opposition “leader” Bill Shorten is being urged by ALP strategists to “pick a fight” with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to save his “leadership” and give Labor a chance to win the looming federal election; it is a last-gasp strategy born of terminal desperation. Labor’s chosen fight starters are tired and predictable, and will cut no ice with a fed-up electorate virtually begging for Shorten to quit his post.
Following the article published in this column on Tuesday, I should just note that the response, online and offline, has been considerable; opinion among readers has been divided — presumably along lines of party support — with one contingent professing satisfaction at Labor “leader” Bill Shorten’s prospective demise, and the other claiming the reports are baseless.
Rather disturbingly, a sizeable proportion of the latter camp has truculently insisted on the naming and publication of the identities of the sources used for the piece, and whilst I intend to dismiss those entreaties with the contempt they deserve — confidential sources are and will remain precisely that, thank you very much — the lynch mob mentality betrayed by this clamouring for insiders with information to be publicly named (and, presumably, abused and pilloried) is a symptom of the sickness that emanates from the political Left in this country today, and its determination to crucify anything or anyone who opposes with it or contrives to derail its “historic” mission of illiberalism, thought dictation, and the imposition of its positions on a cynical and wary electorate.
Even so, just about the best defence of Shorten that has come from these quarters is that opinion polls are no guide to political behaviour — which in the current environment is a ridiculous view to take — and that if Shorten remains where he is beyond 30 November I (and the sources of information used) will have been shown to be wrong.
Yet politics is a febrile business; we are talking about events that are set to occur over the next four to five weeks. If Shorten goes in early December, will the want of a few days make us look silly? Hardly. And if he somehow elects to stubbornly cling to his post a little longer — with enough time between now and then to decide to do so — it will simply mean that when the time to fall on his sword early next year belatedly arrives, Shorten will be even more damaged in public estimation than he is now.
There is nothing so abjectly pathetic as a dud political “leader” continuing, zombie-like, to stumble in circles, comatose, well past the end point of their political usefulness: Shorten has already passed that marker (if he was ever of political use to the ALP at all), and whilst I am in no way favourably disposed toward the ALP, the move to remove from around its neck the electoral millstone that Shorten constitutes is one time when someone inside that party at least is 100% right for once.
Having said all of that, a typically repugnant “last stand” appears to be under way around Shorten, with reports yesterday that Labor strategists are urging him to “pick a fight” with Malcolm Turnbull to save his leadership and to give the ALP “a chance” to win the coming election.
The suggestion smacks of some of the very worst judgements that emanated from the bunker of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the watch of his infamous chief of staff, Peta Credlin. The declaration that last year had been “a year of achievement,” for example, springs to mind in that regard.
(Even those reports, it should be noted, suggest Shorten is unlikely to face a challenge: exactly as we reported here on Tuesday. But they do not rule out a move to a new Labor leader by other means).
It is difficult to see what “fight” Shorten could pick that might prolong his miserable tenure as Labor “leader,” but it is impossible to see how Labor could win an election on his watch: not now, not next year, and not ever.
His attempt to “pick a fight” over Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s not-inconsiderable wealth, dismissed by most as a brazen class-based assault guided by envy and resentment of success, hardly went well.
So what issue is the magic bullet that will infuse life into Shorten’s undead, brain-dead “leadership?”
Industrial relations? Labor is gearing up to fight its fourth consecutive election campaign over WorkChoices. The Coalition is powering ahead in the polls with a full-blown debate over penalty rate reform — the kiss of political death, according to the ALP — in full swing. No, WorkChoices was the gift that gave to Labor just once, in 2007. The world has moved on.
Education? The issue resonates less than Labor thinks. But at some point, the emphasis of any debate over Education is going to be moved decisively away from the raw dollar funding pledges Labor is so fond of to one over value for money. If and when that happens, Labor — which, mindful of the clout of powerful teacher unions, refuses to allow discussion of falling literacy and numeracy rates to be tied to teachers’ ability and training — won’t have so much as a fig leaf for cover.
Health? Labor wants to abolish the private health insurance rebate. Good luck justifying that, or the consequences for public healthcare that would flow from it.
A continued attack on Turnbull’s wealth? The article I’ve linked today suggests this will resonate in outer suburbs and regional areas, making Turnbull “appear less connected” in those places. I would suggest it would instead be interpreted as an insinuation that voters in those areas are too stupid to identify with an aspirational and entrepreneurial Prime Minister. Such a campaign would backfire as badly as Labor’s first ill-advised attack on Turnbull’s wealth did last week.
Shorten took aim yesterday at Tony Abbott’s speech on Tuesday night (AEDT) to British conservatives on asylum seekers, stating that Europe “did not need” Tony Abbott. But Abbott is no longer Prime Minister, and his views are now only that: his views. It is difficult to see how Shorten’s political resurgence might derive from such an attack.
The Labor sources quoted in the piece I’ve linked insist Shorten must be more confrontational: bipartisanship doesn’t work for us, they say. Tony Abbott wanted a fight over everything whereas Malcolm Turnbull wants to agree on everything, they say. But Shorten has spent two years opposing everything and being wantonly bloody-minded on Coalition legislation as it is. How confrontational do ALP hardheads think Shorten should be?
And then there is, of course, the small matter of the Royal Commission into the unions, which seems certain to tip a bucket of excrement all over the ALP; not only will the political fallout damage Labor by association — it is, after all, chock-full of union hacks, and largely bankrolled out of Trades Hall — but Shorten in particular stands to be badly damaged irrespective of whether he faces further action on account of his past status at the head of a union himself.
Just as Tony Abbott had Peta Credlin, her husband (and Liberal federal director) Brian Loughnane, a contingent of Liberal MPs and considerable organisational support behind him even as he was being removed from office so, it follows, will Shorten enjoy a similar quotient of support within the ALP even as the clock ticks down on his doomed “leadership” of that party.
But the strategy — if you could call it that — of picking fights with everyone and everything in sight isn’t the path to salvation.
Ironically, were Shorten to deploy that strategy in his own back yard — taking aim at Labor’s unhealthy reliance on the unions, confronting the vested interests that dictate to Labor in return for donation money, and exploring new positions in areas regarded as sacred cows like Education and Industrial Relations — he might in fact find a credible point of differentiation for the ALP that could win broad public support.
But he won’t. He can’t. The forces in the ALP that Shorten is beholden to — the unions — would never permit it. As a unionist himself, he would never sanction it.
In the end, the “pick a fight” call is no more than a desperate last stand from the dwindling support base of a terminally compromised “leader:” and irrespective of whether Shorten goes next month, in early December, or scratches out the silly season before he accepts the inevitable and quits, it won’t help him at all.
And given nothing along these lines has worked for Labor at all in the past two years — a judgement we can make now its vilified hate figure Tony Abbott has himself departed the political centre stage, robbing the ALP of perhaps its sole political positive — there is no reason to believe it will work now either.