Being a member of a political party is a lot like I imagine a marriage would be. Your love should be unquestioning, unwavering, unfaltering despite what life throws at you. But then there are times where your partner pisses you off so much that you question the purpose of your union in the heat of argument, only to hopefully realise that such an argument is a brief detour in your long and happy partnership. Make no mistake readers, I am disgusted by my party’s actions today, while I pledge to love my party dearly and continue to do so. I am enraged, and for the first time in my eight years of membership, it does not deserve my loyalty. Those words may well come back to haunt me, but the fault of this horrible 24 hours lies not with Kevin Rudd, nor with Julia Gillard, but with the organizational wing of the party, part of which I aspire to one day control.
June 23rd 2010 will go down as a day that will forever change Australian political history. This is our generational equivalent to the Whitlam Government Dismissal, with one major caveat. We are not the martyrs this time around: we are the enemy. I’m struggling to maintain my rage. This change in leadership was not instigated by the electorate, but rather by seven or eight factional heavyweights whom Kevin Rudd has pissed off. By no means am I arguing that Rudd was the perfect leader, far from it. But it is important to remember that we as the Australian nation voted Kevin Rudd in to power just 2.5 years ago. We have not voted for Julia Gillard (yet).
I remember when Bob Hawke resigned in 1991. I had just turned eight, and the Prime Minister whose only identifiable feature to me then was his thick layer of white hair was crying. He was not leading Australia anymore. The only Prime Minister I had known (he was elected eight months before I was born) was gone and he was in tears. Several vital differences between 1991 and today exist. Hawke had successfully won three elections. Rudd will be the only elected Prime Minister not to contest the following election as the country’s leader. There was also significant build up to Keating’s coup of Hawke. Keating had challenged for the leadership six months prior, lost, then challenged again, finally securing the numbers on that warm December night, and had never hidden the fact that he aspired to oust his predecessor.
In this current situation the thing to remember for the non political types reading this is the factions solidify the power for the ALP leader, and not the other way around. The unique thing about Kevin Rudd as a modern (post 1983) Labor Leader was that he did not have solid factional backing, as he is a member of (my own) Queensland Labor Unity faction, which in strategic terms is small in the scheme of things. When he won the leadership in 2006, his factional alliances with the powerful NSW Right faction was a partnership contingent upon his popularity. As soon as this dissipated the partnership was always on unstable ground. Gillard did not seek to challenge Rudd as Prime Minister, the job was offered to her by members of the Parliamentary Labor Party (known as The Caucus) who control the various factions. Once the Victorian Right went from Rudd to Gillard, their South Australian counterparts followed, and then the NSW right, meaning that the rest of the ALP Right Wing across the country moved with them and the game was up. Ironically Gillard is a member of the Victorian ‘Soft’ Left and all the other left factions beside her own were backing Rudd. So essentially the Left were backing the Right Wing Leader, and The Right were backing the Left Wing leader. That’s kind of like all Queenslanders supporting the NSW rugby league team in the State of Origin: wildly implausible and almost unthinkable.
So what to expect from the election? I’ve lost my confidence. Rudd to me was always a better match for Abbott then Gillard despite his failings. An election win under Rudd, which I considered to be a mere certainty yesterday has gone to a toss of a coin under Gillard. The reason: if you can’t govern your party, how can you expect to govern the nation? It’s not enough to be the First Australian Woman Prime Minister; that novelty will wear off quickly. With no Resource Super Profit Tax as Gillard promised in her first Press Conference as Prime Minister, so to goes the budget bottom line that was forever linked with the ability to put the nation’s budget back into surplus, and then goes the ALP’s economic credibility. The one man who will be overjoyed with these developments is Tony Abbott, and this is not good at all.
As for me, my PhD thesis on the ALP’s relationship with its parliamentary leaders just got a lot more interesting. This could very well be the making of my professional career. But in a strange twist of fete it also means that the rose coloured glasses that I once viewed my party in have not just been broken, but smashed.
If Kevin Rudd managed to defeat the Liberal Party’s second longest serving leader (John Howard), and the opinion polls still had him winning the upcoming election by a reasonably comfortable margin, then where to for Gillard when she reaches inevitable crisis? And where to for future Prime Ministers who piss the wrong people off? That is something both Labor and Liberal members should fear. Maybe Malcolm Turnbull wasn’t so crazy after all?
I remember when the ALP won the 2007 Federal Election. The possibilities seemed limitless, the future looked bright. For once I had a leader I respected who had a vision. He wasn’t exciting, he wasn’t extraordinary, but he was smart and he was tough and I knew he was going to be a great Prime Minister. And now the hope has gone, the dream has died, and I am left teetering on the edge. I love my party and yet I cannot stand it right now.
I am a shattered man.