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.

14 thoughts on “Labor’s panicky caucus

  1. “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.”

    All too true, I fear.


  2. I’ll give this an honest crack.
    back in the mid-naughties, I didn’t think much of Labour. I thought Beasely was a good bloke, but lacked a certain ‘ruthlessness’ to be a leader. I thought Crean was actually a fair bloke, but lacked the charisma. I also thought that the media didn’t really give Crean a proper crack at the cherry. They saw his smirk and said nup, we don’t like you. He was hamstrung from day one. On Rudd, I thought he would do ok. He used to come across as energetic, normal and not coming from the union mould was a plus. But I didn’t think he would do so well so quickly.
    Back in 07, Rudd promised the world. I knew that would come back to haunt him. He also repeatedly lied, and was a fraud. e.g. the economic conservative thing. My take is that I don’t like interventionist economic policy. But if you believe in government intervention, well at least have the balls to say so.
    Since in power, he has been all over the shop. He’s achieved nothing of note, except for wasting money and weakening the borders. Joe Public could have put up with that for another term, but when he embarked on the super tax and put increased risks on the economy, that all changed. He was bound to get kicked out, just that it has happened sooner.
    As for Gillard, don’t forget her background. She is fundamentally a communist / union hack. The last few years, she’s been softening up her image, but underneath she’s still the same old barren commo. Against that, I will admit she is sharp, and presents pretty well.
    My take is that she could do pretty well in the short term. She’ll try and present a safe pair of hands, and she’ll be the first woman to the job. I also think that Abbott lacks the common man touch. Whether its the Catholic thing or something else, he just seems a little awkard, especially when Gillard is around.
    Nonetheless, Labour has proven time and time again that they are very poor administrators (see Whitlam, keating, kirner, carr iemma et al). These people are just not up to the job, and I’m sorry, but their base economic and social philospohies (intervention) just don’t work. Whether Labour wins this election, they will be out on the next one.

    And this is not ‘tribalism’ speaking. Just a hard cold assesment.


  3. Idon’t know what Baz had in mind with the reference to Julia as a “communist” but insofar as this chestnut has a kernel of truth to it, it is that Julia Gillard became involved in the Australian Union Students at a time when the factional politics of that organisation meant that people across the political spectrum found themselves having to form some kind of relationship with one or another of the communist factions in order to be effective (e.g. Peter Costello and Tony Abbott were in a de facto alliance with the pro-Chinese communist faction).


  4. The 2 greatest influences on the ALP since Gough Whitlam have been Bob Hawke and John Howard. Kevin Rudd was the first of the Labor hierarchy to finally get that second influence. I think Gillard gets the 1st and 2nd. She should do very, very well. I hope so. I love her.

    You Go Girl!


  5. I think the Labor caucus has made the right decision. Rudd was an appalling administrator: a domineering control freak. He was simply bad at the job precisely because he was such a domineering control freak. As I posted in another place, he was the Pointy-haired Boss as PM.

    Also, the polls were moving the wrong way. At this point in the election cycle, things should be firming for the incumbent Government, not weakening.

    The senior bureaucracy will be pleased: they found dealing with Julia much better than Kevin–Julia actually listens. The new PM’s biggest single problem will be whatever time bombs are yet to go off in Kevin-directed spending.


  6. I notice she’s still committed to a budget surplus in 2013, so not much room for compromise on the RSPT. But if she can make it look like there is in between now and the election she might just pull this off.
    I’ve never liked Rudd but since Abbott’s ascension I’ve been put off by the Liberal’s playing the “boat-people” card. Also, the Libs own website has an ideas section where there’s overwhelming support for gay marriage ( ) but they seem to have no interest in risking ANY conservative votes by appealing to actual liberals. So Gillard’s probably going to get my vote but I doubt it will matter much over here in WA.


  7. Mitch after all the new expenditure the ‘extra revenue the RSPT brings in is $635m in the first year the budget is in the black.
    The next financial year it brings in $3b.

    Thus in neither year is it necessary for the budget to be in the black.

    moreover IF commodity prices are around the levels forecast by the RBA the budget will be in surplus next financial year given the very conservative assumptions Treasury have used.


  8. Surely Julia Gillard’s ousting of spin-master Kevin Rudd is not a panic but a tried and tested Labor Party strategy.

    Labor’s reliance on spin in state government was an innovation from the time of Bob Carr’s election in NSW in 1995 (British Labour’s Tony Blair visited him prior to his own 1997 election), refined by Wayne Goss’s team in Queensland (where Rudd cut his political backroom teeth) and then implemented by Labor in every other Australian state and territory as it dominated regional politics over 15 years.

    Whenever spin lost its impact in a state and defeat loomed, Labor’s ruthless but successful solution has been to dump the leader and take a ‘fresh’ team to the election.

    “I’ll clean up the mess of the previous government,” says the ‘new’ Premier..

    Obviously the strategy has been running out of steam: Western Australia lost in 2008; the governments in South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Terriory only scraped home in their subsequent elections; Victoria could possibly fall later this year; and NSW definitely will in early 2011.

    With only a few local media ‘chooks to feed’, Labor’s game has seen long terms in state office but a crisis in only two and half years in the federal arena under broader scrutiny.


  9. BB&B: Given I have never lived in any other country, yes, I remember 1998 and bad polls for Howard. Some points:
    (1) Howard was proposing a big new tax on everyone, an obvious electoral difficulty, having won an election promising no GST.
    (2) Check the direction the polls were heading in 1998 compared to now. That is the issue, not merely that the Opposition was getting ahead.
    Oppositions are normally ahead in the polls, it is having the incumbent Government’s poll support weakening significantly this close to an election which is the danger sign.


  10. sorry old son the polls were showing a comfortable ALP victory here for Rudd , they didn’t show that for howard


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