I’m following up on Victoria’s recent post on what Gillard is up against. Two pieces on the Drum on Thursday 21 February nicely illustrate a couple more of the sorts of attack that Gillard faces. Both articles, though they appear to be something else, are actually attacks on the Prime Minister.
The first is Jonathan Green’s An imminent assassin or Gillard’s final shield, which almost caused me to choke on my muesli. It purports to be an analysis of ALP leadership tensions, and is arguing that Kevin Rudd will not be able to mount a successful challenge to Julia Gillard for the same reason that he lost the prime ministership in the first place. That is, because he has no factional backing in the Labor caucus. But Green goes beyond this to suggest that Gillard is a captive of right wing unions, who would rather see the government defeated than allow someone outside of their power, such as Rudd, to be Prime Minister.
The article begins reasonably enough with a question for the journalists who are spruiking a challenge by Rudd. How would it happen?
If, as almost to a woman they insist, a Rudd challenge to the Gillard prime ministership is all but inevitable, how precisely is this transition supposed to take place?
(Note ‘to a woman’. Green’s little joke.)
He’s right to ask this. A journalistic consensus doesn’t add up to a leadership challenge. There may be many reasons why journalists might like Rudd to offer a contest, such as it would make good political drama, it would be something they’d been right about this time or it would excuse them from having to find something else to write about. But this doesn’t mean Rudd will challenge.
So why does Green think the press is wrong about a challenge?
He doesn’t think it’s anything to do with whether or not Rudd could do a better job. He dismisses the argument that Rudd was removed because he was incompetent. No, he was removed because his ‘presence in positions of power threatens the “faceless” control of traditional party mechanisms’. Is putting ‘faceless’ in inverted commas supposed to be another little in-group joke? And Gillard and Swan, appearing at the AWU National Conference, ‘know precisely who’s buttering their bread’. The AWU in turn support the ‘profoundly unpopular’ Gillard because worse than ‘the hiding that this leadership will bring to the parliamentary party come September 14 … would be the elevation of a leader in the party hostile to various internal interests; a man, like Kevin Rudd, who would work actively to undermine and subvert traditional avenues to power and influence.’ Wow. The Evil Empire at work.
By this reasoning, Gillard and Swan should have nothing to do with the AWU. Green even suggests that there is a ‘sense of taint that might stem from close association to the union seen as being both her faceless coup backers of 2010 and more remotely to the vague but still festering allegations of imprudence from the 1980s (sic)’. Really? What is Green doing here, apart from trying to resurrect the stupid allegations from the 1990s? Suggesting that there is something wrong with a situation where unions like the AWU financially support the Labor Party, which was born out of the union movement? Certainly the relationship between the industrial and political wings of the labour movement has changed beyond recognition since it first arose. But that there is a relationship is as fundamental to the political scene as the relationship between big business and Tony Abbott. I’m sure that the union movement is just as concerned about the prospects of an Abbott government as I am, and will do everything in their power to avert the threat.
I can’t, however, refute Green’s argument. It’s of the kind that says that there are no flying pink elephants at the airport because the flying pink elephant catchers are working well. If there is no challenge, it must be because Gillard is a creature of the right wing unions. Thanks Jonathan.
The second is Tad Tietze’s article ‘Greens in 2013: between a rock and a hard place’. This one purports to be about the difficulties facing the Greens in coming to terms with being part of the parliamentary game, as opposed to being a protest movement.
‘The Greens’ “outsider” status was always destined to clash with their desire to be successful political “insiders”,’ Tietze says. Fair enough. He looks at Christine Milne’s Press Club speech, and her argument that Labor had broken three of the four heads of the agreement Julia Gillard signed with Bob Brown. He asks how it is that the Greens supported so many of the things they are now objecting to – such as the Mineral Rent Resource Tax. He, in my view correctly, identifies the problem at the heart of the Greens political stance – how can they become a major political force, capable of appealing to the middle ground, and at the same time, preserve their distinctive role as a party whose policies are decided by its members, not its politicians, and are true to what he calls the party’s ‘left wing’ orientation. He also points out that their support for Labor comes at a time when Labor is doing badly, but because of the threat of an Abbott government, left of centre voters are as likely to stick with or move back to Labor as to support the Greens. The irony is, he says, ‘that their adaptation to the official political game has not delivered electorally’.
So what’s my problem? First, it’s that the Greens cannot be what he obviously thinks they should be: ‘a clear progressive alternative to Labor’. If you can’t win enough seats in the lower house to form a government, you can’t be a clear progressive alternative to anything. Furthermore, I’ve never seen any real evidence of how the Greens plan to deliver their policy ‘wish list’ while juggling the demands of government. Running a government isn’t as easy as telling people about your ideal world. A lot of the Greens policies are what is called ‘aspirational’; nice ideas, many of which I applaud, but are also entirely impractical. True, some of them are better than the compromises Labor has had to make – but for better or worse, compromise is what politics is about, particularly when you are in a minority government.
Second, it turns out that Tietze is one of those people who think that living under Abbott won’t be all that bad. He says that the Greens’ ‘partisan connection has led them to join Labor in overplaying the horror that will occur if Abbott becomes PM (when in fact his administration is likely to be nasty, but at least as weak and incoherent as Gillard’s). Love that ‘when in fact’. Perhaps it won’t be bad for Mr Tietze. Presumably he isn’t sick or poor, unemployed or likely to be made so. Maybe the NBN doesn’t matter to him, but surely the carbon price does? ‘Weak and incoherent’? It would take another post to list the achievements of this government. I’m happy to acknowledge the contribution made by the Greens, but I think it’s Labor we can thank for our relative prosperity in the face of international economic weakness.
On one hand, this article is just another form of Labor bashing. On the other, is suggests that lots of Greens would probably be happy with an Abbott government; they could revert to their uncompromising agenda, and be damned to the rest of us.
PS. I noted with interest some Greens are into realpolitik; in the WA Legislative Council Agricultural Region, the Greens are preferencing the Shooters and Fishers Party ahead of both Labor and Liberal. Well done Greens. Hunting in national parks forever!
By Kay Rollison