The battle for the leadership of the Labor Party between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese could not be more different from that which raged between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard only weeks ago. If Rudd versus Gillard was pistols at dawn, Albanese and Shorten is akin to a polite argument over who should eat the last Tim Tam at afternoon tea.
Granted, there are a few key differences. Rudd and Gillard were fighting bitterly over the Prime Ministership of Australia, whilst ‘Albo’ and Shorten are vying for the poisoned chalice that is the leadership of a first-term opposition.
The other major difference is that, in the current round, the party faithful get their say. Those 40,000 bedraggled Labor members who have continued to stump up their annual fee, despite the fact that their political representatives occasionally appeared to be trying to drive them away, are now holding 50% of the vote in their hot little hands.
It’s fair to say that, while the caucus may continue to vote along factional lines and in accordance with certain backroom deals, the rank and file members feel no such pressure. Therefore, one could argue that 50% of the vote will be made up of people who are actually going to vote for the person that they want to lead their party. This is a crucial point – they aren’t going to vote for the person who they think will save them the most furniture based on polling (Kevin Rudd) and they aren’t going to vote for someone, anyone who isn’t Kevin Rudd (Julia Gillard, obviously). They are going to choose the person whom they believe will best lead the Australian Labor Party in from the cold and away from the land of faceless men, grandiose narcissists, forgotten moral challenges and remembered taxes.
Hence the reason for civility.
Albanese and Shorten are also very much aware that a bitter scrap over the remnants of the leadership would only prolong Labor’s voter-imposed stint in the naughty corner for demonstrating that the party hasn’t yet learnt its lesson. This is particularly important for Shorten, whose involvement in the previous two leadership changes is still fresh in the mind of the public.
The other reason that neither candidate is openly criticising the other in their attempt to get ahead is that I suspect neither of them will be terribly disappointed to not be chosen. The role is a very important one, as the leader will be responsible for some serious renovation work on the structure and integrity of the party – however, the very nature of the work will earn this person enemies within the party (reform is never easy and political apparatchiks have long memories).
With the first of two public debates scheduled for Sydney tonight, it will be interesting to see just how reluctant each of the candidates is to make definitive statements regarding their opinion of the other. I suspect that it will be something of a love-in, with the only distinctions being drawn along the lines of exactly how they intend to rebuild.
It’s a pity, really. I do love an Albanese rant. He’s rather good at them.