Thursday, 15 July 2010

Thesis Outline: A Party of One?: A Study of ALP Leadership

Note: Due to the demands of a highly valued reader, I present to you an edited version of my PhD thesis plan. It significantly differs from the earlier version I posted last year.

The thesis seeks to study the relationship between party and democratic leadership. It aims to explore the ways in which the practice of political leadership is subject to a tension between the need to be responsive to a party’s hard core supporters that the leader represents, and as a party leader who needs to be responsive to the electorate at large. This study will focus upon the inherent tension of what the public wants in a Prime Minister, and who a party will elect to be its leader—a topic that in spite of its obvious importance, especially now that the Australian system of government seems to become increasingly presidentialised, has not been adequately covered in the literature.

The research throughout the thesis will be of a theoretical and analytical manner, using secondary source data to ascertain how the tensions in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) between democratic leadership (leading the Australian electorate) and party leadership (leading a party’s organisational wing, and in particular managing its factions) and how these play out in the course of the party’s decision making processes. The study will investigate the tenures of three different ALP leaders: Simon Crean (2001-2003), Mark Latham (2003-2005) and Kevin Rudd (2006-2010) These leadership tenures will be examined to explore, as well as to compare and contrast, how each leader represented three different types of leadership paradigms within the party. All of which were unsuccessful for different reasons, skewing the delicate balance between democratic and party leadership.

Crean, in many respects was an underestimated leader of the ALP. During his leadership, he was able to harmonise the internal mechanisms of the party, and was able to instigate much needed and overdue internal party reform. However his major and fatal failing was that he could not translate his positive internal standing to the electorate at large, unable to convince the voting public that he had the necessary characteristics to be leader of the Australian nation. His direct successor’s rise to the leadership was a direct result of this failing. This thesis argues that Latham was elevated to the leadership of the ALP as a direct result of a factional power play, and as a consequence there was not sufficient consideration of Latham’s potential strength and weaknesses as a figurehead of the ALP. Latham was installed to the leadership at the last minute in order to appease Crean’s factional backers within the party, so that they could ward off a challenge by their factional rivals that were under the leadership of Kim Beazley. The impact of such a hasty decision would have far reaching consequences for the ALP throughout the next parliamentary term.

Initially Latham’s pitch as a populist political leader that was the antithesis of Crean was highly successful. His first few months in the leadership were an example of how the needs of the internal structure of the ALP, and the Australian constituency can work in harmony. However as the political pressure increased and Latham’s unusual personality characteristics began to surface, it became clear that his leadership style was becoming increasing unilateral and autocratic, thus alienating important parts of the ALP’s internal hierarchy. That this process occurred under the intense scrutiny of a Federal Election campaign only increased the damage to both Latham’s leadership and the party in both the short and medium terms.

If both Crean and Latham used the party’s internal machinations to their advantage, Kevin Rudd was able to skillfully bypass these restrictions initially, though this would lead ultimately to his downfall. Rudd is perhaps the purest definition of a populist leader Australia has seen. Yet, ironically his leadership could only be secured through a factional alliance, something that, as this thesis will argue, Rudd seemed to take for granted. Rudd’s trajectory as leader is marked by extraordinary volatility, a fact that indicates that his support as leader was contingent upon his popularity with the electorate. Belonging to the relatively small Queensland Labor Unity faction, he underestimated the power of the bigger and more influential factions had in securing him the party leadership. Up until his resignation as Prime Minister, he still remained popular with the electorate at large, but during the latter stages of his term in office he was an extremely divisive figure within the organisational wing of the ALP, as he managed to put all the major factional bosses offside, thus precipitating the eventual challenge to Rudd’s leadership by his deputy Julia Gillard.

Chapter Structure

1. Introduction

2. Democratic Leadership vs Democratic Leadership
• What Is Democratic Leadership?
• What is Party Leadership?
• Combining the two concepts to create a theoretical framework

3. The Labor Party Structure
• What is the structure?
• Why is it unique?
• The power of the factions

4. The Crean Leadership
• Internal Master
• It’s The Polling!
• Downfall

5. The Latham Leadership
• Shock Leader?
• Honeymoon
• Implosion

6. The Rudd Leadership
• An Uneasy Alliance
• Election Win
• Collapse

7. Conclusion

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