LABOR’S LEADERSHIP contest seems destined to descend into a bitter fight over process, and Labor itself into a rabble; the stink bomb left behind in the shape of “reforms” by Kevin Rudd has the potential to rip the ALP apart, and now two of its best strategic brains face off on opposite sides of the abyss.
If this column were to adhere to its conservative political outlook in its truest form, I should be relishing this; the path the ALP appears determined to tread has put it on the front page of all the newspapers — for all the wrong reasons.
We’ve spoken often now about so-called “reforms” Kevin Rudd foisted on a meekly compliant ALP during his latest ten week stint as Prime Minister — most recently, yesterday — and why the changes to the way Labor chooses its leaders he sought is such a bad, bad idea (their intent to entrench Rudd in office forever notwithstanding, of course).
I’ve been flicking through today’s papers this morning, and two articles in The Australian neatly sum up the arguments that threaten to rent the Labor Party asunder.
It astonishes me how much I agree with Graham Richardson since he retired from the Senate, but — political preferences aside — he talks good, old-fashioned common sense.
On the other hand, master strategist Bruce Hawker (who has caused so much angst for my party over many years) is nonetheless a shrewd operator and — politics aside — not a bad bloke.
But I’ve felt for a long time that Hawker has some sort of blind spot when it comes to Kevin Rudd; how such an intelligent individual could tolerate such an imbecile is beyond me.
And why — why? — Hawker continues to nail his colours to the Rudd mast, when Rudd has finally been shown up as the electoral failure he was always destined to be, simply beggars belief.
It is these two gentlemen who form the basis for today’s discussion piece.
Hawker is first; in an article by Ben Packham (which links to the blog post by Hawker, in which he fully outlines his case), the most obvious element of his argument is the shrill, histrionic, almost melodramatic fashion in which that argument is framed.
The “reforms” introduced by Rudd, Hawker argues, are “critical;” to abrogate them would be to ensure that “these democratic reforms are stillborn.”
“That would be a travesty and set back Labor’s move to modernise and democratise itself,” Hawker says.
And in his blog post, Hawker points to the fact that other parties — conservative and “progressive” — around the world use rank-and-file balloting to elect a leader, suggesting the ALP has “lagged well behind” leading parties in countries such as the UK, US, France, Italy, and Canada.
What he neglects to say, of course, is that British Labour is led by a union stooge, for whom the better, losing candidate (his brother) quit politics in disgust; that the Conservative Party is led by someone so obsessed with being all things to everyone that he’s sold out his party’s core constituency; that the US process works so well it takes nine months to select presidential candidates; that Italy has been virtually ungovernable for decades…and on it goes.
Hawker does make a valid point in that the unions have too much influence over the ALP, with 50% control over the party in the face of representing “just 18% of the Australian workforce” (his representation figures are a bit generous there, but we’ll use them).
It was suggested to me recently by an ALP activist that the unions should have their representation at ALP conferences cut to 25% — which includes a premium over and above their level of workforce representation, in deference to their role in the ALP historically — which could later be increased in return for solid increases in union membership.
As much as I detest the union movement, I can’t fault his logic.
But I do think Hawker may be confusing two issues here; the method for selecting a parliamentary leader on one hand, and the internal ALP structures that apportion delegates to conferences, factional representation, and so forth on the other.
If Hawker wanted to throw his weight behind a “democratisation” of the ALP internally, along the lines he suggests, I don’t think anyone would object (except, of course, the hapless unionists themselves).
But Hawker wasn’t and isn’t advocating that — he’s stoutly defending the cack-brained “reforms” over the election of a parliamentary leader that Rudd introduced in a brazen attempt to remain in power forever.
And that brings me to Graham Richardson, who — as an ALP insider, former Senator and minister, and powerbroker stretching back decades — has mounted the best rebuttal of the so-called “reforms” I have seen from anyone on either side of the argument to date.
In fact, it’s a demolition, and to my mind there is no credible response to it.
Richo covers it all: the farce of the MPs versus the membership; the protracted period Labor is set to be leaderless; the potential for these “reforms” to destroy a prospective leader (Shorten) before he’s even assumed the role; and all the while (as I opined yesterday) handing the Liberals a potent weapon in the process, and one they would be certain to exploit ruthlessly and mercilessly.
Richardson even gets right into the nooks and crannies of the issue — like how to actually conduct a ballot of a predominantly aged members who do not or will not use a computer — and the particular complexities such detailed practicalities throw up.
Hawker doesn’t deal with specifics, of course, although that reflects more on Rudd: detail isn’t a concern, if you’re Rudd, you simply gloss over it if it’s inconvenient; his chequered history of policy on the run is strewn with examples of it, and this is just another.
The one thing that surprises me that nobody in the ALP has mentioned is the possibility — a very real possibility — that somewhere along the line, the ALP could find itself in Court over these changes.
It is known that for the Rudd “reforms” to be binding, they need to be endorsed in a vote of the ALP national conference, which isn’t scheduled until next year.
If the party proceeds with a leadership election based on the “reforms,” and if those “reforms” breach Labor’s constitution, it only takes one aggrieved, disaffected party to haul the ALP into Court — and then it’s game on.
From there the outcome could, literally, be anything.
But even if the ALP simply expelled the proponent/s of any litigation — which would probably be the party’s instinctive response — the matter would simply grow uglier, as the petitioner/s became more embittered and hostile, and the resultant media circus inflicted weeks (if not months) of adverse press scrutiny on the ALP.
That once-great party truly would become, in the classic sense of the word, a rabble.
I urge readers to read the articles from The Australian and the post from Hawker’s blog.
And as I said at the outset, if strictly true to my conservative leanings, I should be encouraging all of this, not warning against it.
The fact is that a government needs an opposition; in any case, some day — however distant — Labor will form a government once more, and when that time comes this nonsense will impact all Australians, not just the kids in the red corner who want to throw shit at each other and fight among themselves instead of doing what they were elected to do.
And at the end of the day, the reality is that Labor is quite capable of behaving like an irresponsible rabble at the best of times.
It hardly needs to be “reformed” by Kevin Rudd to make a certainty of it.