Shorten Get Down, Good Lord

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As Margaret Thatcher once said – in the face of all the recent scrutiny centred on the leadership of the Labor Party, there really was no alternative. Thatcher may not have been referring specifically to Bill Shorten rising to the rank of opposition leader when she first uttered these words; however I daresay she would have agreed.

After much refreshing of my Twitter feed and email on Sunday afternoon, it was finally announced that Shorten had won the contest against Anthony Albanese. With just over 60% of the caucus vote and 40% of the party members, Shorten triumphed with a final count of 52.5%. That’s not much, granted, but compared to the winning ‘margins’ of some new Australian Senators – it’s a positive landslide. These two results were nothing if not easily predictable. Shorten was always going to win the caucus vote. At the same time, it was clear that the party members were not going to be easily convinced that they should forget about his (very recent) past as a ‘faceless man’.

Shorten’s campaign in the lead up to the vote and the announcement that followed was a little bit chaotic. It wasn’t quite Kevin Rudd in the final week of the election campaign, but there were some definite thought bubbles expelled along the way. His lack of experience in campaigning for the public vote was clear – he’s only been in parliament since 2007 after all. That’s three elections in total. One win, one loss and one … well, 2010. Albanese, on the other hand, is a veteran of 17 years.

Where Shorten does excel, is in negotiating results. Hence the solid caucus vote (and his subsequent choice of deputy).

I feel sorry for Albanese. I daresay that he would have done a solid job as a reformer within the ALP and a valiant Tory fighter in Parliament. He’s so genuine, the ultimate underdog. But that’s just the reason it’s best he didn’t win. Albanese would have just been another step on the road to the inevitable ascension of Shorten. The Labor leadership speculation would have just continued, day in, day out. It’s been common knowledge for years now that Bill Shorten is Labor’s Prime Minister in waiting – speculation that Shorten himself has done little to dispel.

The results of the Labor leadership election will certainly prove problematic for Bill. Not having support of the party members (and having this known as fact, rather than just as speculation or the result of polling) will be seized upon by the Coalition. Christopher Pyne has already gleefully touched upon this during an interview with Annabel Crabb on 7:30.

Shorten needs to nix this one immediately and get down (no diggity) to the business of being in opposition. Questions about his family, likewise, need to be briefly addressed and then closed off. Governor General Quentin Bryce’s offer to resign following his ascension was not a smart move in my opinion. As far as conflicts of interest go in Australian business and politics, being related by marriage is not high on the rap sheet. Bryce’s offer only gave credence to anyone who had suggested that it compromised her, or his, position.

The fact that it was Tony Abbott who rejected her resignation isn’t much of a help. I may be biased in this particular matter, but it was refreshing to see that not all incoming governments immediately sack the current head of state when presented with the opportunity.

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Labor of Love

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.

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