I may be some little time …

Paul Norton has a post at LP, summed up by the teaser

current poll support for the election of an Abbott-led Coalition government is soft and brittle. Yet it exists, and persists. And voter opinion of what the Federal Labor government has actually done is not all that unfavourable. Yet people don’t think the government deserves to be reelected. What are we to make of this?

I don’t think it takes a genius to work out that a sufficient explanation for this paradox is the personal unpopularity (among a large group of voters, detestation) of Julia Gillard. Other factors may be relevant, but most of them are exacerbated by the leadership problem. In particular, the Obeid scandal is made worse for Federal Labor by the perception that Gillard is beholden to the same machine operators (Arbib, Bitar, Conroy and ultimately Graeme Richardson) who put Obeid in a position to corrupt the entire NSW Party.

For the sake of argument, let’s grant that this is all the result of misperceptions and bad press and that Gillard is both likeable at a personal level and someone with a “steely determination” to get the job done for Labor. It’s obvious, by now (and regardless of marginal fluctuations in polls) that this perception is not going away within six months. In these circumstances, wouldn’t a leader who cared about her colleagues, or one who was determined to do the best thing for the country, decide that this was the time to talk a walk into the snow, and give the rest of the party a shot at survival?

119 thoughts on “I may be some little time …

  1. @Fran Barlow
    PS. I know your Green comrades are also on about this issue, re better labour market pre-testing which sounds like a good idea, but a sledgehammer approach can only be for the wrong political reasons.

    For the numbers on this issue, the article here gives useful info from DIAC, showing that 457 growth is 7% of total jobs growth since 2006. (I presume the figures are accurate, they’re not handy from elsewhere to me.) SMH March 11 2013 the-government-question-is-it-stupid-or-misleading

    In her ACTU speech Gillard said “Temporary overseas worker numbers are up 20 per cent compared with the same time last year. Employment growth in the same period is around 1 per cent. That in itself is evidence of a problem: the number of people coming here to fill short-term gaps should not be growing twenty times faster than employment overall.” No PM – it’s not evidence.

  2. Yes, at this point Gillard would be wise to resign from the election campaign and allow a different leader to take over.

    However, it’s quite possible that she hasn’t finished her legislative programme yet — and she was very good at getting that done.

  3. @Nathanael
    However, reading the comments I should point out that Rudd would be a *far worse* leader to carry into an election campaign. Rudd’s brilliant, but honestly he’s very bad with politicking and campaigning — Asperger’s perhaps.

    Labor needs a different leader who can win the endorsement of both Gillard and Rudd. But I really can’t expect the party to be lucky enough to have a third person as competent as either of them!

  4. @kevin1

    I know your Green comrades are also on about {457 visa matters}

    My Green comrades are merely seeking to ensure the rules are applied in ways that constrain abuse of the system — which is designed to ensure that local employers cannot cut the pay or conditions of those working under 457s.

    It’s certainly a tricky area of policy and one where the dogwhistle sounds all too easily. I don’t profess to know how much abuse there is within the system — there’s a lot of “anecdata” about.

    I have no problem with 457s, for the record, and The Greens don’t either — though we do want to ensure that suitable arrangements have been made here to ensure that local training is underpinned, that there are actual capacity constraints rather than fantasy ones, and that misrepresentation by employers is not a factor in attracting people to the country to work.

    Gillard certainly was playing wedge politics when she raised the matter, and one can see why. It flows logically enough from her pandering on asylum seekers — something Rudd did as well with his ‘scum of the Earth’ remark.

  5. Is Simon Crean the biggest dill in the Labor party? He waxes lyrical about the need for “process”, getting organised etc., then provokes a spill and says he would vote for Rudd, without even finding out if Rudd had changed his longstanding position of not challenging. Hardly the person to advise Gillard and acolytes about “overreach”, or criticising Rudd for not being a competent manager. By his premature provokation, Labor now looks more divided, and we can expect its vote to go backwards.

    Crean is not so much party “elder” as the media call him, but “tired old man”. The narrative here is pure opportunism: he wants to avoid spending his final term in opposition.

    So we now have a result which settles nothing, because Gillard shows no sign of winning over the public, or of changing anything in order to do so. And Labor MPs face Armageddon with brave face but little conviction – expect more desperate measures.

    The idea that Rudd can just “instruct” his supporters to back off seems fanciful to me: if he becomes the last card for Labor to play, nervous MPs will draft him into it. So far he has behaved without blemish AFAIK; making him a scapegoat is just reality denial. What a pity that G could not bring R back to the front bench and demonstrate unity rather than talk about it.

    Yet today’s apology to those separated at birth was a magnificent event, and looks like an achievement of substance. (While Gillard’s speech hit the right note, don’t give her credit for it – experts probably wrote it. Abbott of course, without the benefit of PS guidance, stuffed up, and demonstrated by his body language and words that he lacks the character for the job. What a rotten PM he would be.)

  6. The problem for the ALP appears to be the men with faces who lack judgement, foresight and ability to recognise their own role in developing Labor’s woes. Even after saying he would go away Joel Fitzgibbon keeps blathering on. It occurs to me that in fact Kevin Rudd is far more interested in revenge than the leadership. He certainly has managed to harm many others this week by failing to communicate his position to those seeking change. With this failure he may also have wreaked terminal harm on all of the others he holds a grudge against. Was it deliberate?

    No-one comes out of the leadership debacle with an enhanced reputation. The media’s reporting encouraged a move by Crean who appears to have his own relevance deprivation issues and who is equally culpable. It seems that the Australian people have a choice between stupid and self destructive and stupid and self serving with the major parties.

  7. @Jill Rush
    You haven’t mentioned Gillard, who will now lead Labor to destruction, and who could (as I said in the OP) have given the party some kind of chance by resigning with dignity. The recent fiasco only sets the seal on an outcome that was already (as almost everyone here concedes) inevitable as long as Gillard remained PM. Do you want to defend her actions?

  8. Gillard was a disloyal traitor who stabbed Rudd in the back. She has also trashed Labor values by siding with the mining oligarchs for their support. Gillard is a Rat.

  9. @John Quiggin

    Switching leaders for election campaigns has a certain tactical credibility.

    If the alternative was anyone-but-Rudd, then this may have worked out differently.

    Bob Carr has the ability but is too wrapped-up in Cold War scare campaigns to be taken seriously in this role.

    Labor’s vote presently, looks like being insufficient to retain coalition-control of the lower house. This is for many factors, not just leadership and significant marginal seats will swing over into the dark side. It would not surprise me if, for the first time, Eden-Monaro ends up with the opposition (in 2014).

    The idiocy of senator Conroy to attempt to negotiate with independents AFTER media changes were proposed, ie not before, is an example of the stupidity of the ALP number crunching Right.

    Seeing these issues purely in terms of leadership is a mistake.

  10. Once Julia Gillard knew that there was no candidate why proceed with the spill? Why did Crean make the prime minister aware of his impending call for a challenge without warning Rudd? I’m aware there had been conversations but the Rudd people insist that Crean acted without warning them. In the course of the annual Julia Gillard ritual slaughter of opponents within her own party she came within 2 votes of losing government in the house and appears to have destroyed her own cabinet. On the occasion of the last ritual slaughter she declared it was over. Apparently now it wasn’t over then but it is over now. Or something.

    And what factors, aside from the leadership, explain the Nielsen poll figures that Gillard Labor would lose by a landslide and Rudd Labor would win by a comfortable majority?

  11. Rudd should make good use of the autumn break: spend it forming his own political party. A moderate, progressive, social democratic party (three schools of thought which Gillard explicitly disowned recently, so why not?) in which there are no formal affiliations with unions or any other lobby groups, candidates for Parliament are selected through primaries, overt factional groupings are banned with caucus choosing the ministry via a totally secret ballot, and the leader is chosen by anyone who holds party membership. He could sell it as “the party that the ALP used to be, but sadly is clearly incapable of ever being again”. The main policy platform could consist of things such as an Emissions Trading Scheme of the sort proposed in 2007, the Resources Super Profit Tax, a return to onshore processing of asylum seekers, genuine pokies reform, and possibly same-sex marriage. Disillusioned Laborites like Faulkner may well follow him into this new party, and it could be potentially be a catalyst for Tanner and/or McKew to run for Parliament again, which would lend the exercise more credibility. I know that the hundred-year-old institutional inertia propping up the big two parties is difficult to overcome, but surely the current national mood is such that a party as I have suggested could at the very least perform quite decently at the election?

  12. Do you want to defend her actions?

    Prof Q, do you want to defend Rudd’s actions? Yesterday was all about the actions of Rudd and his cadre. He seems to me to have been completely gutless, leaving his supporters out to dry, causing them to have to resign en masse after he squibbed the spill. What sort of leader does that?

    Gillard isn’t the one you should be blaming for the implosion of Ruddmentum. Rudd pressed the button himself. I can understand Rudd supporters like you declaring a pox on all houses, but the blame lies squarely at the feet of the man you’ve been spruiking for so long, who has just demonstrated why he can never again lead the ALP.

    It will be interesting to see how the media reacts, since they have lost the thread of narrative that has held up their coverage for the last three years. People like Hartcher and Kenny pinned their careers on the return of Rudd. All they have left is residual hatred of Gillard for exposing the fantasy of their fake narrative that Rudd was always just about to embark on a glorious second coming. Their pieces today reflect nothing but emotions of revenge and despair.

    Don’t join them, Prof Q. Please avoid the temptation to descend into morose nihilism. Gillard’s legislative achievements are rivalling Whitlam’s, she is a PM in the Labour tradition for better or worse. She deserves a fair shot at continuing to build the NBN and investing in infrastructure. Think of all the things Abbott would destroy. Hold your nose if you must, but please abandon all hope of Rudd and embrace reality with some degree of optimism for the future.

  13. @m0nty

    The NBN was a Rudd initiative, as was virtually everything Gillard has done (unless you want to credit the carbon price to the Greens rather than Rudd). Even the NDIS dates back to inquiries commissioned under Rudd. Gillard has been in for three years, and I’m not aware of any positive initiatives (now, or in prospect in the unlikely event that the government survives) that started life under her government.

    That is, unless you count, cash for clunkers, Citizens Council on Climate Change, Manus, more troops for Afghanistan, no UN Observer status for Israel, attacks on single parents, 457 demagoguery, sinking gay marriage etc etc.

    Even with all this, if I thought there was any chance she could beat Abbott, I’d be supporting her. But any chance that she could win vanished months ago.

  14. @John Quiggin

    You’re being grossly unfair. Consenting to US troops in the Northern Territory, proposing that a single ministerial appointee be able to vet media ownership changes, proposing a CBD motorway in Sydney, returning all environmental regulation to the States, and the annual ritual slaughter of opponents within the party are all original Gillard initiatives.

  15. The Murdochratic media heads clearly aren’t happey that their man proved unable to muster the stomach to even try to take the leadership of the ALP. Some, like Paul Murray, have spat the dummy but it seems that the latest talking point around this cesspool is that the ALP needed to install Rudd to ‘save its brand’. I call Ugh!

    The idea that you have to change your leader to protect the integrity of your brand is vacuous and self-evidently contradictory nonsense. You may wish to change your leader to create a new brand, but you can’t protect the old one with it unless you pick someone who represents the old brand.

    By sheer coincidence, I was listening to someone commenting on the comeback of David Bowie and how a simple London Art student — David Jones — regularly changed his brand in order to stay fresh and marketable. It obviously worked, presumably because he’d done the research to work out what images were selling at the time and pitched himself well as a commodity. I used to enjoy listening to Bowie back in the 1970s, although much less so in the 1980s but I can accept that he was indeed pretty good at what the Troy Bramston-Graham Richardson types would see as they key business of ‘whatever it takes‘.

    ‘Bowie’ was of course, merely selling entertainment, so he gets a pass. He need not be accountable for the integrity of Zigi Stardust or the Thin White Duke. No groups of people can be advantaged or disadvantaged in consequence of his marketing choices.

    Yet the ALP has within it people who say that in effect, it should be like David Jones, art student — a mere blank slate onto which every substantial whim, prejudice or fad can be inscribed, so long as it ‘resonates’ with a large enough group of people to secure power, according to measures determined by the party’s enemies after they themselves have framed the target groups of people to so resonate.

    One might well ask — why bother with a party or elections at all if this is how it is done? Why not simply allow a panel of News Limited and its fellow travellers to pick the front man (and it will usually be a man) du jour?

    I do recall that in the run up to the dumping of Rudd in 2010, it was Gillard who was their front ‘man’. No irony at all …

  16. @Ikonoclast
    Gillard should have taken a leaf out of Ted Baillieu’s book and had the self awareness to understand that she has become a liability to the Labor Party. She has lost the trust and respect of her Party and the people. She can’t win the election and she is trashing th ejiont on the way out. She is Tony Abbott’s greatest asset.

  17. @johno

    {Gillard} is Tony Abbott’s greatest asset.

    No. Abbott’s greatest asset is Murdoch’s kennel of baying hounds, and their ad hoc pac of trailing yappy puppies. They make an awful racket, threaten mass mauling, and make it hard for many people to think straight.

    If the choice really were to win with Rudd or lose with Gillard — and this is clearly not the choice as the ALP’s modest chances are measurably less poor with Gillard IMO — then the polity and the ALP would be better off losing with Gillard than winning with Rudd. If venal, misanthropic, gullible and indolent people (or those who tolerate such folk) really are sufficiently ubiquitous to allow Abbott a thumping victory on September 14, then it would be better if the people as a whole get an immediate chance to experience where such ‘thinking’ leads.

    While it is better for people to learn things by reflecting on evidence and modelling the consequences, if this is not possible, then experiencing the consequences is the only remaining option, and no artifice can avoid this. The population just have to do learn the hard way, and hopefully emerge with an enlarged capacity to identify Murdoch-style cant and its agencies and send them back into the cesspool from which they escaped.

    Historically, progress has generally involved, sacrifice, pain and courage. That this is the 21st century doesn’t change that one little bit.

  18. The brand argument is as vacuous as the argument that Julia Gillard’s unpopularity is an artefact of the Murdocracy.

    Whitlam retained his personal electoral standings while a cyclone of media attacks. The people promoting the ‘greater than Whitlam’ meme need to understand that Whitlam didn’t whinge about the press, he answered them, and without the benefit of the array of social media that Gillard employs. He also succeeded in winning a majority in 2 general elections, a feat that has so far eluded Julia Gillard. In the 2010 election Gillard did not get the media treatment she does now. There was a spread in the Women’s Weekly. The reportage of the coup was largely positive. There was a wave of support for the first woman PM. Gillard lost the support of the media int he same way that she lost the support of the labor movement, as opposed to the official structures of the party, by bad policy, badly executed. Now she’s pretty much down to Paul Howes, the George Pell of the labor party.

    The reason that Gillard’s and Labor’s electoral standing is so poor is Gillard is an ineffective advocate for her policies and that the policies she decides to pursue (new freeways! screw single mothers! send environmental regulation back to the states!) are brain-dead, focus group-driven conservative policies. She also has a rather disturbing record of convenient political executions (Rudd, Jenkins, Crean etc etc) that gets resurrected every time some meme-pumper in her office has Swan tell us she is tough as nails.

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