No direction home for the ALP

How did it ever come to this? A cartoon monster brawl, ministers of Australia’s oldest political party tearing the blood from each other’s eye sockets over nothing so august as policy or ideological principles, but a struggle of ambition and personal revenge to rival anything in ancient Rome.


I must hand it to the Australian Labor Party. It took some effort, but with their current round of ridiculously self-destructive parlour games, they’ve managed to make even a proud and practised cynic like myself sick to the stomach.

There is no decent way out of this for the ALP, no direction home.

Anybody with an ounce of personal insight can see Rudd is most, if not all, of what his former colleagues label him. Selfish, vain, power hungry and perhaps sociopathic. From his excruciatingly contrived folksy demeanour of the boy from country Queensland, to the masterfully cunning way he manoeuvred into an underdog role by resigning as foreign minister, not to mention his obsession with media exposure and Cheshire grin networking on the world stage, everything Rudd does in public life has the artificial sheen of a carnival preacher.

In principle, the idea of Kevin’s return has a certain appeal and sense of justice. His first-term removal as prime minister appeared from the outside as the inexplicably short sighted and craven act of a party running scared from the polls and desperate to find a quick fix solution instead of playing the long game. The ultimate symbol of our modern social environment. But now, having seen the way Rudd positioned himself as the innocent victim against all common sense, along with that same insufferably robotic look and tone, it becomes that much clearer just why so much of Labor’s caucus turned against him when the polls went south.

The funny thing is, of course, that Labor’s problems aren’t really a matter of leadership, but style and substance. On that front, Rudd and Gillard are tarred with the same risk-averse, poll-driven brush that is part and parcel of all third-way politics. The only difference being that such a robotic, calculating approach to political leadership and professional relationships probably comes more naturally to Kevin Rudd, the reformed nerd from middle-Australian Nambour. You get the sense he looks down on people, not particularly because he feels more intelligent, broader of vision or more critical of thought (the charge usually leveled against so-called inner city intellectuals, meaning smart people), but simply because everyone else in the world teased him as a child and now, it’s payback time.

What irony, that after making a personal crusade of criticising Labor’s faceless men and their unprincipled politics Rudd now seems, more than ever, to fill the void of a bureaucratic hollow man better than most. Yes, Gillard adopts her bizarre speech affectation that manages to be neither South Australian free settler nor true blue, working class Victorian but some horrible, other mixture of nasal drawl and dead snails pace repetition. Yet you feel it’s not her voice at all but the sound of modern political non-speak.

When Rudd speaks in not merely emotionless, but utterly dull binary code, you believe it’s really him.

So we return to the choice facing Labor MPs on Monday and the reason they are stuck in a bloody political hell of their party’s own cowardly making. A Rudd ministry would be laughably decimated, with not only Gillard herself but also Wayne Swan, Tony Burke, Simon Crean, Steven Conroy and Craig Emerson ruling themselves well and truly out. Not to mention the likes of Bill Shorten and others in the union movement who orchestrated the original coup. Even if they did find a way to work together for mutual benefit, the hypocrisy and naked personal ambition driving any such deal would make their government publicly intolerably.

But the reason there’s even a suggestion that changing leaders once more would be a good idea is the same reason they made the mistake first time around and, in fact, the same reason why Rudd was made leader and prime minister despite his obvious personal deficiencies. Modern politics is the business of trying to please everybody, which is why soft poll numbers are valued over genuine political conviction.

The language used against Rudd by many of his former cabinet has been extraordinarily vicious. Conroy spluttered that Prime Minister Rudd had contempt not just for cabinet and caucus, but the Australian people too. Whatever the truth of such accusations, they will ultimately destroy both sides of the battle. It’s on the verge of being Mark Latham MK II. If Rudd was indeed so terrible first time around, why did it take Labor so long to realize?

Because their eyes were on the polls, of course, not on details of policy or its implementation. It’s probably true that Rudd was dropped on numbers much higher than Gillard’s current ones because of his bad personal standing within the party. But the problem remains.

The Labor Party Right likes to speak about winning elections by tapping into popular concerns, understanding the problem of average, working Australians. They like to side with the conservative opinion makers in vilifying progressives for placing “fringe issues” like gay marriage, humane refugee policy and so forth ahead of gas bills and mortgage rates.

But you know what average people really admire? Guts. Balls. Conviction. “Never  mistake motion for action”, said Hemingway. The ALP has been spinning its wheels in the mud for almost 5 years now, but damn if they’ve actually done much of anything that wasn’t driven by the polls first and unions second, with principle and conviction somewhere far, far behind.

Most people aren’t that well educated on politics. They don’t know the ins and outs of policy. They don’t know what neo-liberal economics means, they don’t know any gay people and they drink Bundaberg rum.

Most Australians don’t really care what you stand for, so long as its something.

Labor isn’t clinging to government by the skin of its teeth because the Australian population is naturally conservative – though in many ways they are.

Nor will the current leadership crisis be the main reason Labor is wiped out at the next election by a socially puritanical, economically protectionist and xenophobic almost-Catholic-priest who should rightfully find no favour with either genuine liberals, economic free marketeers or true Christians who actually pity the poor immigrants.

No, the reason Australian Labor finds itself in these dire straights is because they listened to factional sell-outs in boring suits who said the way to win elections was find out what the crowd believed, and then do that.

Nobody understood the real truth: the crowd never believes anything until somebody with guts, brains, time and opportunity figures out a good argument and asks for their trust.

Generally, they’re too busy barbecuing lamb chops and drinking Bundy to say no.

Tony Abbott rocked up to the party and that will be enough for him to win government. The ALP is having a punch up on the street outside and will soon be escorted away for drunk and disorderly. They’ll wake up in the morning feeling very queasy and wonder what on earth went wrong.


1 Comment

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One response to “No direction home for the ALP

  1. Luke

    I don’t think you’re giving Abbott enough credit for the initial attack on Rudd. His smashing attack caused much of what has followed, of which he’s been very much a silent beneficiary. But otherwise, a good analysis. Fair enough 5 years in power, but DO SOMETHING!

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