Labor’s panicky caucus

The Labor Party’s capacity to talk itself into a crisis is quite amazing. Here they are, tracking reasonably well in the polls, and what do they decide to do? Yes, have a leadership spill.

I actually wrote that on 1 December 2006, the day Rudd challenged Beazley. But I could have written it last night. Labor’s caucus is still traumatised by their long period of opposition and panics when the polls look too close – though as Pollytics blog has pointed out more than once recently Labor is still in front in most surveys of voting intention.

That said, the initial political judgment of the caucus on Rudd was much better than mine. I didn’t think the public would like Rudd, but in fact he had very high ratings for a long period of time. I found it baffling. I can understand why he fell from favour much more easily than how he won so much favour in the first place. High expectations are easily disappointed.

By contrast, I can see why people like Gillard. A sense of humour is a big plus. She’s always calm. She deals with other people well. Though she must have a big ego to do what she does, she keeps it under check. I like her myself at a personal level – though from my political perspective her ministerial record isn’t great. Given my record in predicting how voters will respond to Labor leaders, I will be more cautious this time. But I think aside from her personal qualities Gillard starts with expectations about her government brought down to realistically low levels.

One reason expectations should be low are the caucus attitudes and behaviour that led to today’s leadership spill. A Prime Minister who doesn’t believe her party will back her through hard decisions will not be inclined to make them.