ALP Man’s Perspective On Heavy Kevvie’s Plot To Rule Forever

HERE WE GO AGAIN; it’s sparked a lot of political chatter: Kevin Rudd’s plot to alter ALP rules on the election of its leaders to insulate himself in the post in perpetuity. Today sees a dissenting view from someone who should know. There is a little bonus today, too, but we’ll come to that later.

For someone who spent many years ensconced within the Queensland ALP — nine of them as a federal MP for the Brisbane seat of Petrie between 1987 and 1996 — Gary Johns is one of a unique breed of political figures who has moved on from elected office to provide impartial comments on events that have followed his tenure in Canberra.

And — significantly — his period of deepest involvement in the Queensland ALP overlaps with that of Kevin Rudd, when the latter served in various senior executive level roles (including running the Queensland Public Service) under former Premier Wayne Goss from 1989 until 1996.

It’s reasonable, therefore, to assume he know what he is talking about when he speaks of the ALP’s policies and procedures.

Johns has published an excellent article in The Australian today, which — in light of Rudd’s grand plot to reorganise ALP practices to ensure it is virtually impossible to dump him — makes for a compelling read.

“Full of cant – corniness, insincerity, and tokenism” is how Johns describes him, and I don’t think many people familiar with Rudd (or enraged by his rhetorical tics) would disagree.

Johns makes the case — simply, eloquently, and forcefully — that Rudd can’t do as he wishes on this issue and that in any case, media briefings to the contrary (that have been going on since this crack-brained scheme was announced) are incorrect and misleading.

I have already spent quite a bit of time on this issue — those who haven’t read the relevant articles from last week can do so here and here — and so given one of Rudd’s own flock has published such a well-argued case to the contrary, I thought it appropriate to share it here with readers today.

At the end of the day, it sounds as if the whole thing is likely to fuel Kevvie’s chances of being dumped in the aftermath of any election win.

And — if by some miracle Labor wins the coming election — the chances of Rudd being dumped were already very high, even before this vain and pompous little plot was unveiled.

Whilst we are at it, someone else who knows Rudd well — University of Queensland Professor of Public Administration, Kenneth Wiltshire, who worked under Rudd and Goss in the 1990s — has also published a piece in The Australian today.

The article in its entirety is a damning critique of the Prime Minister and his commitment to education, framed through the prism of Rudd’s status as a senior bureaucrat serving the Goss government. Readers can access this article here.

And just as the overall theme of the article is of great interest to me, one paragraph caught my eye as an ex-Queenslander, articulating something many of us have known (and have been saying openly) for many years:

“It is widely acknowledged in Queensland that Rudd was the principal cause of the Goss government’s loss of office, having cut the premier off from his cabinet ministers and public opinion in general, and centralised policy determination in his own spinning machine.”

Sound familiar?

I am hopeful that with his second coming as Prime Minister will also come a lot more detail of Rudd’s activities during the term of the Goss government, from those who witnessed them first-hand, and that the God-like messiah complex Rudd seems possessed of might finally and irrevocably be destroyed in the process — ironically, by dint of his own actions.

After all, it is Queenslanders such as Johns, Wiltshire, and many more like them who know.

Why Heavy Kevvie Won’t Rule Forever — Or, Perhaps, At All

VOTERS impressed enough with Kevin Rudd’s so-called “reforms” of the ALP to vote Labor should tread warily; Rudd’s moves are no guarantee they’ll get what they vote for, and no guarantee he’ll end the year as PM if re-elected. Readers can do their own research, but here we show where they should look.

Yesterday I wrote about the grand and splendid plot Kevin Rudd has devised to insulate himself from ever again being involuntarily deposed as long as he remains Prime Minister; presented using the populist carrot of rank and file Labor members directly voting on the party leadership, Rudd’s “reforms” are unlikely to ever become reality.

Indeed, Rudd — should Labor win the looming election — is unlikely to be Prime Minister at Christmas time.

It is instructive to commence my remarks this morning with a little perspective; last week — when Rudd’s stunt of the day was a federal intervention into the NSW branch of the ALP — I warned that he had been returned to the Labor leadership for the express purpose of winning an election, and that that was it.

Curiously — for an individual so deeply loathed and reviled by a massive proportion of the people around him — Rudd and his God complex seem genuinely blind to the fact that nobody has forgiven and/or forgotten, and nobody has abandoned old hatreds in a flick of the switch to obsequious capitulation and subservience to Rudd.

They detested him then, they detest him now, and anyone who thinks otherwise does so at their peril.

Including — and especially — Rudd.

I’m not going to talk about the endless, empty bubbles of meaningless hot air Rudd has been running around spruiking; not today, anyway.

But to complete the cycle from my article yesterday, I am going to talk about the changes we discussed in that piece and why they’ll never happen.

Remembering the ALP has supposedly unified behind Rudd for one final, desperate shot at staying in office, it’s telling that cracks are already appearing in the facade.

One Labor backbencher, retiring Bendigo MP Steve Gibbons, has already questioned the provision for a leadership spill under the proposed regime if 75% of the party’s MPs petition for one as unworkable; when it comes to Rudd, where there is one dissenter out in the open, there are many more lurking in the shadows.

One of the party’s vice-presidents — TWU head Tony Sheldon — has publicly indicated his insistence that unions be dealt into the mix along the lines of the British Labour rules, wherein trade unions’ votes are worth 33% in leadership contests.

Its other vice-president, Jane Garrett, “warned” against the British Labour model.

Cabinet minister Joel Fitzgibbon has raised the existence of a little-known Labor Party rule that nobody is a bona fide member of the ALP unless they are also a member of a union.

Whilst Fitzgibbon admits the rule is rarely enforced, the fact it even exists provides a pretext for spurned unions to turn post-election bloodletting at the ALP into a legal circus, raising the prospect of an ugly brawl playing out in Courts across Australia as the validity of memberships are challenged, interpretations of rules questioned, and the whole thing descending into an almighty farce.

Yet all of this pales into oblivion beside a simple reality: any change, irrespective of what people say and agree now, cannot and will not come into effect until it has been ratified by an ALP National Conference: and the next one of those isn’t due until next year.

And there’s the rub.

Even with the hints of disquiet leaching from the supposedly united edifice, everyone at the ALP will at all costs avoid a public fight with Rudd over these changes prior to the election; that is certain.

In turn, this means that Rudd will take his big bold “blueprint” to a Labor caucus meeting on 22 July, and emerge from it with a ringing (and unanimous) endorsement of it.

There will be an enormous amount of showmanship surrounding this event; and a veritable fanfare will be provided by a willing media.

The song and dance act accompanying it will be couched in terms that the changes will happen! Labor is being modernised by Kevin Rudd! Ordinary ALP members will vote for their leader! Union control over Labor will be smashed once and for all! Vote for Rudd and be guaranteed he’ll be Prime Minister for three years! Join the Labor Party NOW!

But behind the scenes and after the event, the story will be rather different.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph is carrying a story today outlining measures Rudd is determined to take after the election to crush once and for all the influence of the NSW ALP over the federal party; in light of its historic role within the Labor movement it is inconceivable these people will sit back and meekly watch as their powerbase is destroyed.

The union movement — which now covers between 13 and 18 percent of the workforce, depending on whose figures you use — might not enjoy the support it once did, but what it still retains is access to power by virtue of its effective 50% stake in the ALP.

These people and these organisations are the ones most hostile of all to Rudd; indeed, the impetus for his removal from office in 2010 was largely the handiwork of many of their standard bearers.

The visceral hatred the unions nurse toward Rudd isn’t going to go away: the hand-picked union candidate in Gillard has been torn down, at least partly as a result of Rudd’s subterranean sabotage of her leadership, and a few glib words that might fool an ordinary voter with little interest in politics will scarcely mollify a battle-hardened trade unionist.

In fact, Rudd’s declaration of war on them in pushing these measures is, in some ways, the final challenge to the unions’ legitimacy as a social, political and economic force; neutered within their own citadel and experiencing incessant decline in the wider community, the clout of the union movement would be as good as finished.

Anyone who has faced off against devout and militant union types knows “capitulation” is a word that simply doesn’t exist for them.

And so, by sheer weight of the circumstances of legality, vested interests, power that still remains (as at today’s date) and of human nature itself, there is absolutely no way Rudd will get these changes through an ALP National Conference.

The sole carrot to sell his “reforms” is the provision of a members’ vote on the leadership.

That carrot is offered with the wager, on Rudd’s part, that people are too stupid or too disinterested to see the fact that all his changes amount to is a guarantee of security for himself.

If implemented, his changes will — one way or the other — create an absolute shitfight for the ALP, and one from which it might never emerge intact, but with Rudd, anything that doesn’t consolidate his perceived entitlement to the Prime Ministership is of no interest.

This is the revenge Rudd seeks: to smash forever those who dared to cross him.

In any case, the “faceless men” whom Rudd seeks to reform out of existence won’t brook it.

If any reader is still in doubt, look at what Rudd will take to the election as his proof these changes will occur.

A meaningless statement of support from his MPs — some of whom won’t be MPs once the election is out of the way — and statements of support from many of the very people who were instrumental in brutally evicting him from the Prime Ministership three years ago.

People like Bill Shorten, who — in a follow-up act to his involvement in that coup — was “loyal” to Julia Gillard’s leadership until about an hour before the ballot she lost to Rudd.

People like AWU heavyweight Paul Howes, who is no friend of Kevin Rudd.

The sort of “support” that is literally subject to change at an hour’s notice.

And as I pointed out last week, if — if — Rudd somehow manages to engineer a Labor win at this year’s election, he’ll be a dead man walking, and quickly removed from office.

Interventions into the NSW ALP and party “reform” might sound good to the uninformed, but the Labor hardheads will never allow it to happen: it is just the nature of the beast.

As for Rudd and his “reforms,” I simply observe that whilst you can’t polish a turd, you can roll it in glitter, and that is all Rudd is doing: it’s all bullshit, but covered in fairy dust and dressed up with a story, he’s betting just enough people might buy it.

If you’re thinking of voting Labor, please — do your homework on the issues I have raised.

ALP Leadership: Heavy Kevvie’s Grand Plot To Rule Forever

KEVIN RUDD claims changes to the process for selecting a Labor leader he proposes will modernise and democratise the ALP. They will do nothing of the sort; but they will entrench Rudd forever, election wins permitting, and far from strengthening Labor in the long run, they will weaken and damage it.

“We have a leader; the matter was settled (in a party room ballot).”

This — in essence — was the defence of Billy Snedden, the affable but ineffectual leader of the Liberal Party from 1972 until 1975, whenever the question of his performance was canvassed among his parliamentary colleagues.

Eventually, of course, Malcolm Fraser put him out of his misery; successful on his second challenge in March 1975, Fraser’s ascension to the Liberal leadership revitalised the Liberal Party, and sealed the fate the Whitlam government would suffer whenever it returned to the polls (which, as we all know, happened sooner rather than later).

The point is that even in 1975, it is unlikely Fraser would have ever won a leadership vote among the rank and file of the Liberal Party; and even if he could, under proposals Kevin Rudd seeks to implement in the ALP, Fraser would have had to wait until Snedden had fought (and probably lost) another election against Gough Whitlam.

I start with this story because it is one of many in Australian political history, on both sides of politics, that make proposals Rudd is pushing on leadership ballot procedures in the ALP look like the paranoid, egomaniacal and control-freak measures they are.

It is understandable that even now — and despite his protestations to the contrary — Rudd still smarts from the knife wound inflicted in the midnight coup that deposed him from the ALP leadership and Prime Ministership three years ago.

He has said that revenge doesn’t motivate him: a threadbare claim beyond ludicrous.

Even so, the measures he seems hellbent on ramming through to permanently alter the mechanisms by which a Labor leader may be removed aren’t modern, aren’t democratic, and can only be interpreted as a naked attempt to rule forever — and to hell with the long-term consequences for his party.

For those unaware of these or to recap, simply stated, they are:

  • A Labor leader who wins an election is guaranteed to serve a full term in office, death or resignation notwithstanding;
  • Such a leader will only face a leadership ballot if they either call one or a petition for a vote is signed by 75% of Labor MPs;
  • Any leadership candidate at such a ballot will need to be nominated by 20% of the party’s MPs before their nomination is deemed to be in order;
  • Leadership voting for the ALP leadership will be equally weighted between the party’s MPs and its rank and file membership, with each bloc having a 50% stake in the selection of a leader.

It is unclear what — if any — differential mechanism is proposed for a leadership switch during periods Labor is in opposition. But given Rudd is mainly preoccupied with the retention of the Prime Ministership, he probably doesn’t care about scenarios involving opposition or the mess his changes could create for his party after it loses government.

And in any case, based on what is known, it seems there is no provision whatsoever for the rank and file members to instigate a leadership ballot, which is a big pointer to the fact that whilst Rudd’s rhetoric is dressed up in concerns that the membership should have a vote, they don’t have the right to demand one of their own volition.

Rudd’s changes would have precluded him from reclaiming the Prime Ministership two weeks ago: unless he could convince 20 more MPs than the 57 who voted for him to sign a petition, the ballot would never have occurred: Julia Gillard would have had no obligation to call one.

Paul Keating would never have become Prime Minister; Bob Hawke would simply have limped along to a massive election defeat in 1993, and whilst John Hewson would have been a fairly ordinary Prime Minister, helping Labor to return to government within a couple of terms, such hypotheticals can’t be foretold with any confidence.

And as there is no word of how leadership votes in opposition would work, under Rudd’s system it’s possible Hawke would never have become Prime Minister in the first place.

Drover’s dogs notwithstanding, of course.

But Rudd doesn’t care for such niceties; the objective is purely to entrench himself.

And just to prove it, here are four killer points — working, in order, down the four dot points listed above — that make a mockery of anything Rudd says otherwise.

  • Nobody can be removed for poor performance — and Rudd’s shambolic first period as Prime Minister was likely to end in electoral defeat had he not been overthrown;
  • Except for the handful of occasions on which party leadership votes were unanimous, the only instance I can think of on either side of politics of a candidate mustering 75% of MPs in any sense pertaining to leadership contests was in 1990, when Hewson scored 62 of 80 votes to beat second placegetter Peter Reith for the Liberal leadership;
  • The requirement for 20% of MPs to nominate each leadership candidate, at the minimum, restricts the number of people who can stand in leadership ballots (assuming, of course, people are honourable enough to support the nomination of one candidate only); and
  • The 50/50 weighting between the parliamentary party and the grassroots membership seems so blatantly contrived as a tool to bypass MPs who are a wake-up to Rudd, and who hate his living, breathing guts, to allow the members who never see the man behind the mask to disproportionately prop him up to scarcely need to even say so.

And of course, the fact the newly “empowered” membership would be incapable of doing anything about a leader taking the party over the electoral cliff just puts the tin hat on it.

The thing is that the changes Rudd seeks to implement put enormous weight on the party making the correct decision every time it has to elect a leader.

Could Mark Latham have overthrown Simon Crean in 2003, when it seemed Crean was positioning the Labor Party for an electoral belting?

(Latham, of course, being a study of sorts in his own right).

Could Rudd himself have overthrown Kim Beazley in 2006, when the prospect of a fifth Howard election victory still loomed as a distinct possibility?

And if the ALP ever found itself, in government, saddled with an utter loser or lunatic (Rudd being absented from consideration for a second), how could the party be assured of getting rid of such a creature?

In short, Rudd’s “reforms” address none of this.

Which is why, barring an election loss, all of this seems to be for his own benefit: to remain Prime Minister for as long as Labor might win at the polls, and to rule the country and his party indefinitely.

It isn’t good for the Labor Party, and it isn’t good for Australia.

And whilst Rudd has been at pains to point out he isn’t advocating the model used in Britain — and why would he, given the unions’ votes are worth a third of the contest there, and the unions were instrumental in removing Rudd in 2010 — it remains the case that what he proposes is a recipe for entrenched mediocrity whenever the ALP elects a leader.

The British system is still the closest to what Rudd advocates.

And its last two products were the hopeless Gordon Brown, who led Labour to its worst election defeat since the massacre it suffered at the hands of Margaret Thatcher in 1983; and the facile Ed Miliband, whose modest present opinion poll lead is dependent on UKIP continuing to leach Tory support from the Conservative Party, and there are signs that UKIP’s support may have peaked, with the Labour lead rapidly shrinking.

You can’t ignore any of this. And if I were a member of the ALP, I’d be aghast at what Rudd is doing.

Mortgaging Labor’s future political choices to secure Rudd’s personal position today will bankrupt the political effectiveness of the Labor Party in the future.

But at the end of the day, Kevin will have what Kevin wants, and if the “reforms” he is pushing are formally adopted, the Labor movement will rue the day it signed onto them.

 

 

Threats From Faceless Hacks And Thugs: Shorten Must Stand Firm

AS THE intrigue within the ALP intensifies over its leadership, pressure is piling onto the man seen as the heir apparent after an election loss — shadow minister and powerbroker Bill Shorten — to persuade Julia Gillard to stand down before the event. The tactics are abominable, and Shorten must resist.

In case anyone is wondering, I haven’t gone soft on Gillard or the ALP; I wish them no succour in the face of the political and electoral predicament in which they find themselves.

Shorten either, for that matter.

But as backroom machinations over the Labor leadership whirr up a notch, it’s instructive to make some rather obvious observations in light of what can only be described as bullying and thuggery now being deployed in Shorten’s direction.

It might be a truism to say so, but what the ALP is fighting over is the Prime Ministership of Australia; it’s not some cushy taxpayer sinecure to be doled out to a “ma-a-a-ate,” or a similarly ill-gotten bauble to buy someone off and/or purchase their silence and complicity.

And Labor has been openly warring over the Prime Ministership for at least three years, and for much longer behind the scenes before the coup against Kevin Rudd in June 2010.

Now, in rare evidence of a spine, “Independent” MP Tony Windsor — who for three years has sanctioned and waved through the entire farce of minority government — has said that if the Labor leadership changed now, the pact to support Labor would be “null and void.”

”The arrangement is with her, if she disappears for some reason, there is no arrangement, that’s the sum total of it,” he was quoted in the Murdoch press as telling ABC radio.

Of course, it could be a moot point: the agreement between the Independents and the Gillard government extends only to confidence and supply.

The budget has already passed the House of Representatives, and if a leadership switch occurs late in the final sitting fortnight before the election (which commences next week), there will be no prospect of confidence in the government being tested on the floor of the House.

So Windsor and his sabre-rattling may be irrelevant. Even so, he’s boasted of honouring an agreement with Gillard “in good faith” whilst ignoring the overwhelming mood for a change of government that has echoed across the country, for most of this Parliamentary term.

It would be an indictment on any so-called “Independent” with the ability to do something about it, and that indictment applies equally to Rob Oakeshott.

(Especially when it’s remembered that Windsor in 1992 — as a crossbench state MP in NSW — had little compunction about being party to the removal of Liberal Premier Nick Greiner before an ICAC inquiry into his conduct cleared him just days later).

But in Windsor’s case it is worse because he has bragged about it, taunted and sought to publicly belittle Tony Abbott with it, and made no secret of the fact his agreement is as much an anti-Liberal Party pact as it is one to support Gillard.

Even so, it should provide pause for thought for the mutterers and plotters in the ALP.

And this brings me neatly to Bill Shorten and the role he must play in the latest round of Labor leadership shenanigans.

Depending on who you listen to, Shorten — and the votes he can swing behind a leadership candidate, variously estimated at between seven and ten of the 102 ALP caucus members — is the pivotal link in any leadership switch.

Kevin Rudd has consistently stated he will not challenge for the leadership, and his refusal to contest the position in March (when Gillard herself declared it vacant) can be construed as honouring his pledge (even if it was also a consequence of a shortfall in support).

For Gillard to be replaced, then, two preconditions must be met: a majority of Labor’s MPs must overcome their visceral hatred of Rudd to restore him to the role; and someone has to convince Gillard to step aside.

Again, Shorten would seem the obvious candidate to do so — or so one might think.

I actually think Shorten, who is clearly conflicted as he considers the appropriate course to take, would be best served by standing firm. And so would the ALP in the long term.

Given Labor has stood behind Gillard so resolutely and for so long, it’s obvious that the party won’t entertain the notion of Rudd leading it for a nanosecond longer than it has to.

I have warned previously that were Rudd to be restored the leadership, and if — if — by some chance he were able to lead the ALP to an election win, the party would dispense with his services virtually immediately — and probably in Shorten’s favour.

Then Bill Shorten would really have something to agonise over.

But many commentators in the mainstream press over the long weekend have made the observation that in Gillard, Labor’s union wing has a leader who is one of them, with whom it can work, and who it can control.

In Rudd they would have no such thing — indeed, they would be saddled with a figurehead almost determined to give the metaphoric finger to the unions, in jubilant defiance of those of their number who were so instrumental in ripping him down in the first place.

Shorten, remember, is a union man through and through.

There is no guarantee Kevin Rudd will lead Labor to victory. In fact, the only way he might do so is if the Liberal Party were to panic and replace Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull.

Such a scenario might seem implausible, but it bears noting that just as opinion polls have consistently shown Rudd to be a public favourite as Labor leader, they have recorded similar sentiments — in almost identical numbers — about Turnbull and the Liberals.

Rudd might have led a shambolic and ineffectual government, but his poll dominance over Turnbull and the issues that underpinned it are the reasons Turnbull was replaced.

And Abbott, let’s not forget, has already torn Kevin Rudd’s political position apart once; strategists in the Liberal bunker are almost certainly sharpening their knives to ensure any second crack they get at the job inflicts terminal damage.

And there is another consideration in rolling Gillard that few people have picked up on: unpopular she may be, but there is a sizeable contingent of Left-inclined female voters who would be outraged at the notion of the first female Prime Minister being dispatched from office in what would amount to a coup against her.

Never mind the circumstances of Gillard’s own ascension.

These are votes that will be lost to the Communist Party Greens if Labor dumps Gillard; and whilst they mightn’t be a huge chunk of Labor’s remaining base, however many of them there are constitute the number of additional votes Rudd would need to win back simply to start off on an even keel.

Publicly, Shorten is resisting the pressure, so far, to intervene. But it is well known that privately he is considering his options.

With that in mind, The Australian reported yesterday that “a strategy” was being acted upon,¬†threatening to sheet home blame to Shorten for electoral annihilation under Gillard by claiming he could have prevented it.

“He has to be part of it, he has to be the one to tell her,” one MP close to Shorten was quoted as saying.¬†“He will now be the one responsible for whether Tony Abbott becomes Prime Minister or not.”

Needless to say, whoever the MP was didn’t have the balls to go on the record.

And that’s part of the point: the faceless, nameless thugs and hacks who’ve made the Prime Ministership of this country their plaything for six years need to get back in their boxes.

Presumably, these are the same people who have tried to sheet home blame for Labor’s failures in government to Kevin Rudd, and tried to personally crucify him over them; now they seek to apply the same treatment to Shorten to get what they want which, idiotically and unbelievably, is the return of the very man they have spent years trying to destroy.

Something Shorten might consider is that irrespective of how many MPs the ALP is left with after the election — be it 30 or 60 — a majority are either likely to have remained loyal to Gillard outright, or to have supported Rudd only to save their own necks despite their private hatred of him.

In other words, Shorten could be rendering himself an injury by turning on Gillard now.

If Gillard takes Labor to an election and the magnitude of the slaughter is such that it loses 40 of its 72 seats — as private and published polls now suggest — there will be more scope for Shorten to act as a reformer of his party than there would be if a modest defeat left open the prospect of a return to office within three years.

Such an outcome would probably also buy Shorten two chances to win back government, rather than just the one he would almost certainly be restricted to if this year’s election leaves the ALP with 60 or more seats, and thus within striking distance on paper.

It is true that Gillard leading Labor into an abyss would well serve the Liberal Party’s objectives, and I am mindful readers will recognise that I relish such a prospect.

But Labor is broken; it needs a thorough overhaul, not a spell in the paddock simply to wait for the tide to turn back in its favour.

The past six years have proven that that is all it did between 1996 and 2007.

The failures that have beset the ALP in minority government will resurface, if left unaddressed, when it next forms majority government: and if anyone doubts it, they need look no further than the 2007 election result, and the relative state of the parties when Gillard engaged in the midnight murder of a sitting Prime Minister.

Bill Shorten might have his faults, and only time will tell if he makes a reasonable fist of the job as leader of the Labor Party — and opposition leader — that awaits him.

But whether he does or not, he is nobody’s fool; which is why, as he contemplates which way to jump now, he must ignore the thugs and hacks and their threats of “accountability” and ensure that Gillard leads Labor to the electoral bloodbath its conduct in office has earned, and ensure his party deals with the defects it has papered over for far too long.

Why UK Labour MP David Miliband’s Resignation Should Alarm The ALP

BRITISH Labour lost one of its brightest MPs yesterday, with David Miliband — brother of Labour leader Ed Miliband — quitting the House of Commons to take up a post running a charity in New York. For the ALP, soon to return to opposition, it carries a message that should ring alarm bells.

It’s a salutary lesson in why elected MPs should elect their own parliamentary leader.

In 2010 — after 13 years in office, its reputation for economic management in ruins, and saddled with a deeply unpopular Prime Minister in Gordon Brown — the British Labour Party lost an election for the first time since 1992.

The Conservative Party didn’t win, mind; a poor campaign by its leader, David Cameron, saw it finish with 306 of the 650 seats* in the House of Commons, and 18 seats short of a majority was forced into coalition with the centrist Liberal Democrats.

But whilst the Tories didn’t win outright, Labour certainly lost; down almost 100 seats on its 2005 result, it returned to opposition: and the first item of business was a new leader.

The Labour Party in Britain, since the contest in 1994 that made Tony Blair opposition leader after the death of John Smith, has used an electoral college in determining its leadership: the parliamentary Labour Party, the rank-and-file membership, and the affiliated trade unions are all entitled to vote, and each of these three blocs are weighted so the votes from each are worth exactly a third of the total.

In 2010, five candidates stood for the Labour leadership to replace the outgoing Brown, and the two leading contenders throughout the four-ballot process were David Miliband, who was Foreign minister in the previous government, and his younger brother, Ed.

Whilst Labour conducts its leadership ballots using preferential voting (the “alternative vote,” as it is known in the UK), David Miliband was the preferred choice of both the parliamentary party and the membership throughout the process, whilst his younger brother — from the Labour Left — was the clear choice of the affiliated unions.

And so it came to pass: in the final round — head to head — the combined votes of the parliamentary party and the membership saw David leading Ed, 37% to 30%, but the left-wing Ed was the unions’ candidate, and an emphatic showing there pushed Ed over the line — narrowly — to become Labour leader.

In the three years since, Ed Miliband has rated very poorly with the British public; and despite the fact Labour leads the Conservatives in voting intention, the lead is soft: generally less than ten points ahead in Britain’s first past the post voting system, the Labour lead is nothing like the 20 and 30-point mid-term leads that have generally pointed toward a change of government in the UK in recent times.

And there is a further consideration here; the broad Left-Right split in voting intention, as measured by reputable polls, is no better for Labour than at the 2010 election; indeed, were the Tories not losing support to the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), it is dubious as to whether Labour would even have a lead at all.

(As an aside, a firm change in Conservative Party policy or a change in its leadership could well knock UKIP on the head, but that is a discussion for another time).

The point is that Labour is saddled with an unpopular leader, who is arguably not the best prospect to lead the Party, and the defeated David Miliband is now leaving the Parliament, in part to help give his younger brother clear air and to ensure his leadership isn’t subjected to destabilising speculation, innuendo or undue plotting.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

The Conservative Party, too, moved to a system where the rank and file are the final arbiters in deciding the leadership of its parliamentary wing about ten years ago; theoretically, MPs go through however many rounds of balloting needed to produce two final candidates who are then voted upon by the membership.

The requirement for a ballot of the membership was circumvented in 2005, when the Conservative Party — trailing desperately in the polls, and likely to go backward under then-leader Iain Duncan Smith — closed ranks around a single candidate, former Home Secretary Michael Howard, who was declared to be unanimously elected.

But at the other two ballots that have occurred under these rules (and had the matter been decided purely by MPs), it is arguable that IDS would not/should not have become Tory leader in 2001, and with the benefit of hindsight, David Cameron was probably the wrong choice in 2005 as well.

The point is that by opening decisions on the parliamentary leadership to the membership, or to a bloc of trade unions, or other affiliated blocs, there is great potential for parties to find themselves led by individuals that may enjoy popularity in sections of the party, or are beholden to a particular faction, but are the wrong footsoldiers to send out to the electorate from a purely political standpoint.

And it’s directly relevant to the ALP — especially in the current climate.

In the wake of the nonsense Labor got up to last week, culminating in an uncontested leadership ballot and a great deal of egg on the party’s collective face, some elements in the ALP have openly pondered reforming its leadership ballots to move to an electoral college system.

It’s unclear as to precisely what form such a change would take, whether an electoral college along the lines of British Labour, or a membership vote on final candidates as the Conservative Party does, or whether the matter would be determined by the membership altogether.

But I contend that whichever way you look at these options, they are all vastly inferior to allowing MPs to decide among themselves who should lead them.

Certainly, party room decisions on both sides of the spectrum have produced some truly shocking leadership figures in recent times.

But there are Australian precedents too; the Australian Democrats (remember them?) used to determine their leadership by a vote of the membership; the process threw up some reasonably good people, like Janine Haines and Meg Lees, but it also produced some absolute shockers (John Coulter and Janet Powell, take a bow).

It also produced a leader in the form of Natasha Stott Despoya: popular with the rank and file, telegenic and articulate, she was nonetheless far too left-wing for the wider body of Democrats support in the electorate to stomach, and led the party into virtual oblivion at the 2004 election.

Would Paul Keating, reviled but respected, have ever become Prime Minister if an electoral college was used by the ALP in the 1990s? Could John Howard have ever become Liberal leader a second time, after earning the moniker “Mr 18%” during the first? Would Tony Abbott be nearing a thumping election win at all if forced to face the highly popular but politically less-adept Malcolm Turnbull in a membership vote?

The position of leader within a political party is precisely that: a political one; and with no disrespect to the rank and file membership of any party, the decision on who should lead ought to be made by the elected parliamentary representatives that the rank and file have endorsed in the first place.

And whilst it is arguable the rank and file would have supported Kevin Rudd had last week’s mischief included them, the reality is that the unions, given a bloc vote, would have fallen in solidly behind Gillard anyway, buttressed in their support by that of a majority of Labor’s MPs.

Rudd would have been beaten anyway.

And changing the mechanisms by which leaders are elected (usually to support a given agenda at a given time, rather than as the result of any long-term strategic, political or positively reformist notions) offers even greater potential to throw up “leaders” who might tick the boxes for those who install them, but who singularly and utterly fail to connect to the intended audience: the wider electorate.

In British politics, the Conservative Party is a leadership change away from fixing its politics, reclaiming most of the votes it has lost to UKIP, and eliminating Labour’s lead in the polls.

Labour, meantime, is stuck with an unpopular leader who may be incapable of sealing the deal at an election, and this week has seen its best long-term prospect simply walk away.

The Conservative Party may or may not find the cojones to replace David Cameron, but if it does — and if that change is managed prudently — then British Labour may yet find that the 2015 election is no foregone conclusion.

Here in Australia, Labor types would be well-served in observing the situation and heeding its import: after this year’s election, the likely candidates for its leadership are Bill Shorten and Greg Combet; neither passes muster on an objective analysis of their broad appeal electorally, but if the matter is opened up to the membership and (especially) the unions, Combet will prevail by a mile.

Under such a scenario, Labor really would dwell in the worst of all worlds; a parliamentary rump led by an inoffensive but unappealing trade unionist, and little prospect of redeeming itself from such a self-inflicted would in the short to medium term.

The ALP is going to have a tough enough time over the next five to ten years without indulging in jingoistic, trendy “reforms” to justify such an injurious course of action.

If the ALP wants to engage in meaningful reform, it should be looking at ways to slash the internal influence of its union allies, or to cut formal ties with them altogether — not instituting additional methods of further entrenching their reach.

But screwing around with discredited mechanisms for conducting leadership ballots will only be of interest to its insiders, vested interests, and the faceless hacks who already control Labor, and who would view such a change as a simple way to exert even more control — even if it further alienated the party as a whole from the general public.

*In practice, the total is 646 seats; four Sinn Fein MPs from Northern Ireland invariably refuse to take up their seats at Westminster, making “a majority” 324 seats, not 326.

Galaxy Poll: The Road To Nowhere For Labor

GALAXY has released a poll for the Sunday Murdoch papers, taken after the culmination of the ALP’s antics on Thursday; it shows Labor remaining behind the Coalition 45-55, growing support for Tony Abbott’s call for an immediate election, and the Labor Party speeding down a road to nowhere.

With the benefit of 24 additional hours to reflect on what took place in Australian politics this week, I’m still shaking my head in disbelief; I have seen a lot in politics over almost 30 years, and nothing surprises or shocks me, but this was something else.

Whichever way you cut it, I’m absolutely certain the ALP signed its own death warrant on Thursday: that is, of course, if its exit papers weren’t already well and truly stamped, which they probably were.

The disunity, the bickering, the simmering tensions and the hostility — to say nothing of the plotting and scheming and intrigue going on behind (supposedly) closed doors — betrays a deeply dysfunctional political outfit that will be lucky to hold together following the coming poleaxing it is set to receive at the hands of fed-up and angry voters.

And we all know that Labor is hardly adept at governing in its present state.

With these initial observations in mind, Galaxy has a poll taken to gauge the public response to this week’s shenanigans, and if your politics are of the Labor stripe, the message isn’t pleasant and the picture is not a pretty sight.

It finds primary support for the ALP at bang on 32% — exactly the level sacked minister Simon Crean stipulated it was impossible to win an election from, and which level could not be consistently recorded merely as the result of ongoing leadership instability.

He’s right, of course; the ALP’s problems are more deeply seated than that, but we go on.

Support for the Coalition sits at 47% (-1% since the last Galaxy survey a fortnight ago); the Greens are on 12% (+1) with “Others” unchanged at 9%.

On one level, you could take the kindly view and say it could be worse for the ALP in the circumstances; but a 55-45 lead to the Coalition — replicated at an election — would still hand Tony Abbott 96 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, and the consequent 44-seat majority would be enough to ensure at least two terms, and possibly three, before the ALP could even get within cooee of again forming government.

Galaxy finds Tony Abbott leading Julia Gillard, 37-33, on the “preferred Prime Minister” measure; the relatively high “undecided” vote (between two leaders who have faced off against each other for three years) tends to underscore the presence of Kevin Rudd in respondents’ calculations — which reflects more on Gillard than on Abbott.

But where this poll starts to get interesting is when it begins to drill down into respondents’ preferences, having regard to the brouhaha we witnessed this week over an abortive potential coup to remove Gillard and replace her with Rudd.

Asked who would lead the ALP to the election, 59% overall nominated Gillard against just 21% for Rudd, which is fair enough given the coup attempt was botched (by Rudd’s lieutenants) and given Rudd has now essentially ruled out ever contesting the Labor leadership again (not that he had any alternative).

Asked whether Labor did the right thing replacing Rudd with Gillard in 2010, 32% said yes and 53% said no, which predictably enough is coloured by 28% of Coalition voters saying it did, and 61% that it didn’t.

Ask the Labor voters though, and 46% said replacing Rudd with Gillard was the right thing to do, and 43% said it wasn’t — very evenly split.

Respondents were asked whether they thought the Office of Prime Minister had been damaged by ALP leadership instability; 71% said yes and 21% said no, but it was much closer with Labor voters, who returned a 56-39 answer to the question.

Asked whether Gillard is now the only legitimate leader of the ALP or a lame duck, the overall result (26% saying she was the only legitimate leader, with 60% saying she’s a lame duck) was again a closer affair among Labor-inclined people, who split 47-39 in favour of Gillard’s legitimacy.

And finally, questioned about whether Rudd has been honourable and true to his word in relation to the leadership — or whether he is acting like a prima donna — the overall result of 55-29 in favour of Rudd being an honourable chap was actually reflected, within a few points, across all parties’ support, even Labor’s.

The point is that this Galaxy poll points to a Labor Party deeply divided down the middle, if its findings are in fact reflective of Labor sympathies in the electorate at large.

In many ways, Rudd vs Gillard is Labor’s own version of Howard vs Peacock in the 1980s; in that rivalry, the support of the party oscillated between the two, but the real reason it caused the Liberal Party so much damage is that the party was riven right down the middle for a decade.

Just like Labor is now.

As I have been writing — and harking back to my opening remarks, shaking my head in disbelief — I have been trying to think of an episode as pointless, destructive and as devoid in any logic or rational strategic thought as what occurred this week.

Howard and Peacock provide the answer.

After Malcolm Fraser lost the 1983 election, Peacock and Howard contested the Liberal leadership, with the urbane, more experienced Peacock beating Howard 36 votes to 20.

The rivalry between the two men dated back to their time as ministers under Fraser, and the relationship between Peacock as leader and Howard as his deputy was an uneasy one; Howard himself has since publicly stated that Fraser urged him to challenge Peacock after the 1984 election was called to “knock him off.”

Instead, Peacock faced Hawke in 1984, and won back some ground for the Coalition. But tension was never far beneath the surface, and in September 1985 Peacock confronted Howard in the party room, alleging Howard had been insufficiently loyal after a comment he had made to the press.

Effectively, Peacock challenged his own deputy: in a vote intended to replace Howard with Queenslander John Moore, Howard prevailed; Peacock resigned, Howard was elected leader, and the rest of the political world gasped in astonishment at what had transpired.

It had been mindless, brainless, inexplicable, and it had already been simmering away for years; the end result was to keep the Liberals from power for 13 years until Howard — ironically — led them from the wilderness in 1996, having been deposed himself by Peacock seven years earlier.

Those who recall will know the feud didn’t end with Peacock’s defeat in 1990, either.

It’s not widely known outside political circles, for example, that John Hewson’s leadership was backed by Peacock (to help block Howard ally Peter Reith), or that Alexander Downer’s ill-fated stint leading the Liberals carried the explicit imprimatur of Howard, who pragmatically backed an ally believing his own time might have passed, before returning as leader himself in 1995.

The reason I tell this story is because right now, the ALP is in a virtually identical position; the Rudd-Gillard rivalry was alive and well some years before the pair led Labor to office in 2007, and as Howard and Peacock showed, opposition — where Labor will soon dwell — is no bar to a fight over the spoils of electoral failure.

I tend to think the ALP will continue its stolid, stoic march toward defeat; fighting quietly behind the scenes and leaking gently but lethally when indicated, the party is little more than a rabble, and one set to be dealt a harsh lesson by voters very soon.

Simon Crean was right — Labor couldn’t continue the way it has done in recent times, and expect to win. But it will, and it won’t, respectively.

And the generation of Liberals 20, 30 years ago provide a reasonable indicator of how the ALP’s bickering might pan out.

In the meantime, on Monday night there is Newspoll; it’s almost guaranteed to be a shocker for Labor, and its message of electoral Armageddon artificially amplified by the fact that the previous Newspoll — a relatively cosy 48-52 deficit to the Coalition — was a rogue.

Indeed — in light of the non-coup which Labor undertook on Thursday — I described the coming Newspoll that night as “a barrel of fun for the ALP about which it is now effectively hamstrung from doing anything.”

So it will be, and it’s inconceivable that the poor polling experienced by Labor can do anything but continue apace now until it is removed from office.

So we wait for Monday night; I will post as soon as I see the figures.

In the meantime — and speaking personally — it would be nice to post about a different subject tomorrow night! We’ll see what the day brings.

But I leave readers with the thought that the next test for Gillard Labor is her reshuffle; based on the systematic removal (voluntarily or otherwise) of an increasing number of the MPs loyal to Rudd from consideration, that too promises to be an exercise fraught with danger, and seemingly an open invitation to Gillard to do herself even more damage.

AND ANOTHER THING: Kevin Rudd may have promised, effectively, to never contest the ALP leadership again; following John Howard’s defeat at the 1987 election, Andrew Peacock said publicly — having been beaten, 41-28, by a Liberal Party re-endorsing Howard as its leader — that he might be interested in becoming Liberal leader again in “10, 20 years’ time.” The reality is that less than two years later, Peacock’s allies instigated a brutal overnight coup, ousting Howard, and Peacock went on to lose the “unloseable” 1990 election to Bob Hawke. Think about it…Labor is on the same slippery slope.

Lemmings Search For The Cliff: ALP Unanimously Re-Elects Gillard

JULIA GILLARD was today reaffirmed — unopposed — as Labor leader and Prime Minister, in a “spill” aimed at flushing former PM Kevin Rudd out of cover; the ALP is now beholden to a failure as leader, unable to replace her, and rocketing toward the cliff and an election that heralds its doom.

I have to confess, it was all a bit of an anti-climax really; the weeks and months of simmering leadership tension that finally bubbled over this week…into nothing.

It has long been obvious to virtually everyone outside the ALP that under Julia Gillard’s leadership, Labor is doomed; the public can barely stand her, and as Prime Ministers go, Gillard is one of the most inept to have ever occupied the role.

Moreover — and this is an old story — she is dishonest, manipulative, untrustworthy, deceptive, a schemer and a hypocrite; she has proven she possesses these characteristics in spades in the three years since knifing Kevin Rudd to seize his job.

Not that one has any sympathy for Rudd, mind — far from it. Readers of this column will be very well aware that when it comes to the former PM, there are few praiseworthy words that can be summoned to fill column inches at The Red And The Blue.

Tonight, it seems, the country and the Labor Party are stuck with the worst of all worlds.

Australia remains saddled with the Gillard government — for now — and this means, in practice, that the instability and backgrounding and dysfunction with which the government has conducted itself is set to continue.

It means that in a little over six weeks’ time, the country will be subjected to a budget that is either filled with pre-election sweeteners that are neither costed nor affordable, or — more likely — a horror budget that ratchets up the financial pain on middle Australia, with tax rises and steep cuts to initiatives such as the private health rebate and the family tax benefit.

The worst government in Australia’s history is now primed to make one final sprint to the end of its term; unmolested by the likes of Kevin Rudd and his ambitions, it will get on with the job of entrenching union rights, savaging families and small businesses, and running up the national debt to levels typical of a myriad of economically moribund EU countries.

It is difficult to ascertain why — rent asunder with leadership tensions and plumbing the lowest echelons of public opinion — after almost uninterrupted leadership speculation since the last failed Rudd challenge a year ago, the ALP has proven unable to find an alternative.

The failure of Rudd to challenge Gillard today had nothing to do with honour, or pledges of non-aggression, or any of the similarly lofty excuses given; it was very simply the case that he couldn’t put the numbers together.

Which is unsurprising: Rudd is an odious and noxious specimen who carefully and systemically alienated most of his parliamentary colleagues during his shambolic reign as Prime Minister.

His reputed misdeeds are of an ilk seldom forgiven, let alone forgotten.

Similarly — with the recognition the ALP cannot and will not stomach a return to Rudd under any circumstances — it beggars belief that an alternative could not be found.

For a little while over the past 48 hours, it seemed Simon Crean would be presented as precisely that; in the end, however, Crean was sacrificed.

I have no issue with what Crean did this afternoon, in engineering a fresh vote on the leadership and in stating publicly what everyone knows anyway: that Labor cannot win an election in its current state, and that Labor is effectively at a stalemate in terms of its leadership and the internal convulsions it has undergone over the subject.

For his trouble, Crean got himself fired from the ministry for disloyalty; it may have been a shade harsh, but it seems Gillard will brook no dissent now from anyone aligned with Rudd, and Crean — for reasons best known to himself — saw fit today to repudiate a year of vocal criticism of Rudd, and threw his lot in with him.

Harsh or not, the move deprives Gillard of an effective Minister in a Cabinet boasting relatively few such specimens.

And it comes as no surprise that at time of writing, no fewer than four other Labor frontbenchers aligned to Kevin Rudd have also resigned, and gone to the backbench.

It remains to be seen whether or not the true spirit of vindictiveness appears in the form of the sacking of other known Rudd adherents, but such a move would have to be regarded as plausible, if not highly likely.

Some will applaud Gillard for pulling on a leadership vote to crush any suggestion of a challenge once and for all; she did it last year, and scored a resounding win over Rudd.

The problem is that circumstances have changed: there is now just six months until an election, as opposed to almost two years; and the performance of Gillard, and that of her government, has since been woeful at best, and truly abysmal at worst.

The reservations held about Gillard a year ago appear to have now solidified into final judgements; with the exception of rogue polls — and the despicable “misogyny” stunt late last year — nothing Gillard says or does makes an iota of difference to the government’s standing; the poll numbers simply refuse to budge.

And Labor has handed Tony Abbott potent new weapons with which to bludgeon the government to death.

The suite of so-called media reforms is an excellent case in point, as they now allow the conservative parties to paint Labor as the party of censorship, state control, and the muzzling of free speech.

It doesn’t matter if these attempted laws never see the light of day again; the Liberals will forever be able to brand Labor as the censorship party, whilst holding itself out as the defender of freedom, liberty, and free speech.

As I said this afternoon, it’s one hell of an own goal to kick.

And all the while, as Australia cries out for strong, stable and competent government, the ALP today offered up yet more proof that it is capable of providing nothing of the sort.

The leadership chatter will not die off; everything that was wrong with Gillard and her government this morning is still wrong with them tonight.

Every opinion poll is going to receive the same treatment those that precede them have elicited to date: the political class and the commentariat awaiting each one, with bated breath, looking for the sign that Gillard may finally record the numbers that are fatal.

The next Newspoll — coming hot on the heels of a rogue last week, and after this week’s fiasco in Canberra — will be a barrel of fun for the ALP about which it is now effectively hamstrung from doing anything.

Labor is stuck with Gillard now; it’s a brilliant outcome for the Liberal Party, the fulfilment of whose wish list is missing only the narrow victory over Rudd in a contested ballot that would have signalled even more political odium and chaos for the ALP.

Still, I don’t know very many Liberals who aren’t cock-a-hoop with delight tonight.

And so far from achieving some brilliant triumph in pulling on today’s vote, Gillard has probably hammered the final nail into her own — and her government’s — coffin.

I make the point that this government has made governing Australia very much a secondary concern; for too long now, it has been completely self-obsessed, caring only about the feathering of its own nest and those in the Labor tent most closely allied to it.

When the likes of former Labor Senator (and master headkicker and numbers man) Graham Richardson — not a man given to hyperbole — describes today as possibly the blackest day in ALP history, then the party has a problem.

The gutless mutterers were too gutless to show their faces today, and that’s their right.

But the columns of lemmings in the Labor Party room opted to do nothing either; too afraid to commit to anything other than more of the same, and too lily-livered to utter a syllable in dissent, they lined up to cheer Gillard on, and endorsed her without qualification.

The end result is that the ALP has sealed its fate today, and guaranteed that the election loss it suffers under Gillard in September will be spectacular.

Its survivors will have many wounds to lick, and the recovery of the Labor Party is likely to take many, many years of hard toil in the wilderness of opposition.

If, indeed, it recovers from its defeat at all.

Yes, it’s been a good day for the Prime Minister.