THE RUTHLESSNESS with which the ALP has tackled the question of its parliamentary leadership for 30 years means that after sustained abysmal polling — particularly, this week’s Newspoll — Bill Shorten’s resignation is not a matter of “if,” but “when;” and should he attempt to defy the consistent message that voters can’t stand the sight of him, that resignation — deferred for now, but not averted — will soon be involuntarily obtained.
In taking the highly unusual — and foolish — step for a political “leader” of offering journalists analysis and comment on Labor’s disastrous numbers in the Newspoll published in The Australian this week, Bill Shorten inadvertently highlighted the fatal truth that must spell the end of his tenure in Labor’s top job.
Desperately seeking to deflect attention from his shocking personal approval figure of just 23% — and the humiliating finding that just 14% of Newspoll respondents preferred him to Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister — Shorten announced to a press pack yesterday that “Labor’s vote is 47-53 (sic) and I think the two-party preferred vote is relevant.”
It is, and therein lies the rub.
A two-party result of 47% at an election (which would be a swing to Labor since 2013 of 0.6%) translates to the ALP winning just three of the 21 seats it needs to reclaim if it is to form a government; such a result would leave the ALP with just 58 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and facing the very real prospect of at least a further two terms in opposition before winning government became a realistic proposition.
Such a result would mean that, in round terms, Labor would have completely failed to rebuild after its landslide defeat in 2013.
And that’s assuming the swing was uniform; a 53-47 result at an election could very well see the Turnbull government win a handful of additional seats once state-by-state factors are taken into account.
Six weeks ago, I revealed in this column that Shorten was set to resign his “leadership” of the ALP; clearly that has not as yet happened, despite the (impeccable) information I received suggesting this would occur in November or early this month, and one or two left-leaning readers who clearly regarded it as their mission to split hairs over literal interpretations of dates and events tried, without success, to divert discussion in this column down the tangent of MEAA guidelines and “unfair” representations of Shorten’s position, blissfully oblivious to the fact politics — no matter how immovable some things might seem — is an eternally fluid business.
Indeed, I have been emphatic ever since that as reliable as my sources invariably are, the potential for events to intervene was real: and it isn’t a great stretch to assert that had the twin issues of Ian Macfarlane’s attempted defection from the Liberals to the Nationals and the brouhaha over Mal Brough’s alleged involvement in the Peter Slipper/James Ashby matter not materialised, Shorten may have already been pushed onto his sword.
Yet the party that sacrificed its leader the day an election was called in 1983 to seal a victory that was probably a certainty anyway has shown no tolerance toward likely losers ever since: and having executed many of his predecessors since then, Shorten is unlikely to escape an identical fate.
It has grown abundantly, and increasingly, clear that voters just can’t stand the sight of Bill Shorten: with his approval rating now situated in the toilet at 23% and his disapproval rating at 61%, he is as unpopular as Tony Abbott ever was; preferred as Prime Minister over Turnbull by just 14% of Newspoll respondents, not even the paltry 33% who said they would give their first preference vote to the ALP supports him for the job.
These are damning findings, to be sure. But alarmingly for Shorten and Labor, there remains room for him to fall further, and drag the party down with him.
As a conservative — and notwithstanding my well-documented concerns about Malcolm Turnbull leading the Liberal Party — I would like nothing more than to see Shorten “lead” the ALP into an election campaign; the consequent disaster would be no less than he deserves, and an appropriate return on the spiteful, deceptive rhetoric and destructive tactics he has employed ever since securing his position through a union-controlled vote of MPs that saw him triumph over the wishes of the Labor rank and file.
But the decision isn’t mine, of course, and the ALP — which has shown itself to be utterly ruthless in sacrificing leaders it believes will shepherd its flock to electoral slaughter — is unlikely to permit Shorten to continue in the post much longer.
There is a school of thought that has been given some air of late that having been comprehensively beaten in 2013, Labor will “stand behind” Shorten on the basis all of its existing MPs would hold their seats at an election under his stewardship, but such a contention is based on a false premise.
And in any case, the latest Newspoll was taken at the end of a torrid fortnight for Turnbull and his government: not only did Shorten go backwards at one of the more propitious times Labor has encountered under his “leadership,” but his party failed completely to make any headway whatsoever against the government.
Which takes us neatly back to Shorten’s pronouncement that Newspoll’s key finding was that ALP support, after preferences, sits at 47%.
If — after Mal Brough, Ian Macfarlane, the North Sydney by-election, and lingering distaste for Malcolm Turnbull among the Liberal Party’s more conservative supporters — 47% of the two-party vote is the best Shorten can rustle up, there is absolutely nowhere for him to hide.
Ominously, given his deep and inextricable links to the union movement, the Royal Commission into the unions hasn’t even reported yet, although key figures — most recently CFMEU Victoria chief John Setka — are already being prosecuted on charges arising from evidence the Commission has uncovered.
The inquiry may well have declared that Shorten personally has no case at law to answer as a result of its deliberations, but the potential for him (and Labor) to be hit hard by collateral damage is real, virtually inevitable, and will only be mitigated by a switch to a leader far less personally enmeshed with Trades Hall than Shorten is.
In other words — before we even factor in the lack of any meaningful policy agenda — the prospect things will get worse for Labor under Shorten is all but certain.
Far be it for this column to advocate in the best interests of the ALP, for I couldn’t care less where such considerations are concerned.
But irrespective of whatever delusional ambition or fatally misplaced belief in his suitability as a candidate for high office he fortifies himself with, the simple — and irrefutable — truth is that if Shorten genuinely gives two hoots about his party beyond what he thinks is its capacity to inflict him on this country as its Prime Minister, then his resignation is already past due.
The 47% two-party result Shorten has tried to parade as vindication for his “leadership” should, in fact, be used to crucify him; and Anthony Albanese — already supported by 63% of the Labor membership, which we know from the ballot that took place two years ago — could scarcely manage worse.
As surely as night follows day, the change will come; Shorten’s execution might have been stayed, but has not been averted; and if he won’t go voluntarily, the brutal ruthlessness of the ALP where questions of leadership are concerned points to the matter being taken out of his hands when Parliament — and the ALP caucus — reconvenes in early February.
It’s time to go, Mr Shorten.