Pursuant to comments yesterday that “all bets would be off” if the minority ALP government made a leadership switch back to Kevin Rudd, federal independent MP Tony Windsor today gave his strongest indication yet that he would support forcing an election should such a change occur.
Nonetheless, Windsor seems determined to keep a foot on either side of the fence; and in the next three paragraphs, I quote contemporaneously from The Australian:
“I’d have to not only look at Kevin Rudd as a potential leader but as to whether it was time for the people to actually have their say, seeing we’ve had our go at determining who could lead for the three years,” Mr Windsor told ABC Radio.
Mr Windsor said if a spill was to occur voters should ultimately be the ones to decide who becomes Prime Minister.
“…maybe it’s time the people had a go of it.”
So what are we to make of that?
It is clear that this wily old political bird — whose career commenced in 1991, when passed over for National Party endorsement for the NSW state seat of Tamworth, which he nevertheless won as an independent — has survived for many years against the odds, with no party structure or organisational backing to lean on.
And it has also seemed quite clear, since the 2010 federal election, that his papers were finally stamped: his support of a Labor/Greens government, as the holder of the highly conservative electorate of New England, had been a betrayal of the very folk who had supported him for two decades and a sellout of their values.
Yet the self-proclaimed “conservative” who essentially backed an old-style socialist government into power appears to be contemplating one final, and colossal, attempt to survive as a parliamentarian.
I’ve no doubt Windsor long ago “sniffed the wind” to use an old political phrase, and realised that he detected the bouquet of effluent headed his way.
How to get out of the political shit-storm he created for himself? What better pretext than a change in the Labor Party leadership.
Mind you, as I said, Windsor appears determined to hedge his bets, keeping one foot on either side of the fence; on the one hand he says that a change of Labor leader would be “a breach…by the Labor Party as to the agreement (for his support);” on the other, he adds, “I quite like Kevin.”
He also reiterated yesterday’s remark that were Gillard to be dumped as PM, then “all bets would be off.”
What we are witnessing in Australian politics at the moment is unprecedented; at the minimum, it is unprecedented since the Gorton/McMahon rivalry of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Malcolm Fraser was lobbing hand grenades at his leader, Gorton, and the country was laughing at Gorton’s replacement, the treacherous, ridiculous Billy McMahon.
Yet the situation is fluid, and moving fast: it may very well be that Windsor has assessed that Kevin Rudd is unlikely to find the numbers with which to topple Gillard and reclaim the Prime Ministership, and is simply making noises to appease the conservative core of his electorate.
Either way, it seems a fair indication that Windsor is giving serious consideration to recontesting his seat at the rapidly approaching election due in a tick over 17 months.
Certainly, were Rudd to return as Labor leader, the withdrawal of Windsor’s support from the government would be crucial in engineering the fresh election ALP types are so fearful of, and which a growing majority of Australians increasingly want.
Yet there is a very big danger for Windsor, and it is this: by trying to play both sides of the game, the result may well be that he ends up pleasing and convincing no-one, but ends up being — to use a current phrase in the vernacular — the biggest loser.
Or, as another wily old political bird, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, once said: “You can’t walk with one foot on either side of a barbed wire fence; it’s uncomfortable.”
As if to reinforce the point, old Joh added: “This is not a bread and butter issue.”
Bread and butter it might not be, but Tony Windsor is clearly dancing with the prospect of political life and death.
Given he has invested every shred of political capital he possesses into trying to make the current arrangements of governance work, would Windsor pull the pin on Labor?
Who knows for sure.
But this, again, is another sign that not only is the endgame underway on the question of the ALP leadership, so too is it likely approaching in terms of the survival of the current Parliament.
I think if push came to shove, Windsor would ignore the influence of his brother-in-law, ALP strategist Bruce Hawker, and support a vote of no-confidence in the government in an attempt to engineer an election — and to attempt to save his seat in the process.
But then again, it isn’t me with one foot on either side of a barbed wire fence.
What do you think?