4 Jul 2013

Two Cheers For Leadership Instability

By Ben Pobjie
Dozens of future Prime Ministers
Dozens of future Prime Ministers

Gillard got a bounce in the polls when she knifed Rudd. Now that Rudd's back, the ALP is up again. Ben Pobjie proposes the unthinkable - could a permanently rotating leadership save the ALP?

Polls are funny things, aren’t they? That was a joke, of course – polls aren’t funny, they’re unbelievably boring and awful. But if you take “funny” not to mean “amusing”, but rather “weird and unsettling”, polls actually are pretty funny. They behave in strange ways.

Take Julia Gillard’s polls. They were incredibly low, even though a lot of very clever people with blogs pointed out that in fact she was not only an excellent prime minister, but a kind-hearted and generous lady who would probably give you a cuddle if you ever met her. The government was doing all kinds of good things, too, but somehow the polls remained as firmly fixed to rock bottom as a barnacle that someone spilled cement on. It was almost as if political popularity had, at some point in the last three years, ceased to have any relation to performance.

So what are we to make of this alarming development, the first time in political history that a politician has been treated unfairly by the public? First of all, we must accept that Kevin Rudd is right. About everything. Seriously, we have to or he might hurt us. Look into his eyes: it’s terrifying. God only knows what he’ll do to us if we try to disagree with him.

Perhaps what Kevin Rudd was most right about was that by making him prime minister again, we could have a fighting chance at avoiding the prospect of an Abbott government, something that 90 percent of major world religions officially recognise as a harbinger of the opening of Hell. The simply fact is that since Rudd unseated Gillard in a charisma-less coup, the polls have rebounded as if Rudd, indeed, was rubber and Abbott, indeed, was glue, and Gillard, indeed, was the weird kid who smells a bit funny and wears prescription shoes to school.

The fact is that Labor’s sudden leadership change has caught Abbott off guard. He had settled into a nice anti-Gillard rhythm over the last three years, a comfortable groove where he barely even had to think, a situation that suits his talents perfectly. By the end he was campaigning more by muscle memory than conscious action, his reflexes belting out “liar” and “call an election” and “my wife thinks I’m pretty great” almost involuntarily.

But Rudd has thrown him for a loop. Abbott knew how to handle Gillard: by allowing people to read the newspapers. With Rudd, he doesn’t know what’s up or what’s down. Telling Rudd he needs to make an honest woman of himself just sounds silly. What’s more, it’s almost impossible for Abbott to remember what he can call the prime minister a liar for anymore.

And there is the key to Labor’s election victory: confusion. The Opposition is in a flap. They know what the Government has done wrong, but it’s getting more and more difficult to keep straight which government did which thing. Was it the first Rudd government that lied about the carbon tax, or was it the Gillard government? Which one stuffed up the mining tax? Was the mining tax a bad thing to start with, or did Gillard make it bad by not making it big enough? Or did Rudd make it bad by making it too big? Which one out of Gillard and Rudd has murdered more refugees? You see how the bewilderment grows and grows.

And Labor can capitalise on this, but only if it is bold, and avoids the mistakes of the past. The main mistake they need to avoid is the obvious one: In the last six years they’ve had two leaders, each of which hung around for years. It is imperative that the party not stagnate in this way again. Rudd has always been a fan of evidence-based policy: well, the evidence is in; people like it when the prime minister changes.

It’s worked twice now. Gillard got a bump when she knocked Rudd off, and Rudd’s got one for knocking Gillard off. Gillard’s mistake was in hanging around more than a few weeks. Rudd can’t fall into the same trap. Labor must call another leadership spill by the end of July at the latest.

Now, for this next spill, it’s OK to play it safe. It will be acceptable to give Gillard another go – after all, Rudd got one. But after she’s had a turn for a fortnight or so, they need to bring in some fresh blood. I recommend Bill Shorten – not just because he lusts for power and has a slightly mad look in his eye, but also because his mother-in-law is the governor-general and she can pull some tricky moves if Abbott wins the election.

Post-election, of course, Shorten will need to make way for the next person. Probably this will be Anthony Albanese. It’s vital to let Albanese have a go at being PM because it will allow everyone in the press gallery to call him “Albo” several dozen times a day, and thus pacify them and stop them breaking big damaging news stories like what colour nail polish Anna Burke wore in Question Time.

After Albo goes, it’ll be getting into the warmer months, so it’ll be apt to give the government a breezy, summery feel by giving Tanya Plibersek the prime ministership. She’s the perfect PM for lazy hot days down by the swimming hole.

But naturally Labor will need to change again by Christmas: the festive season requires a festive prime minister, and so for the month of December the PM will be Dick Adams. In fact, it’d be good to create a tradition whereby Adams is PM every Christmas. People love traditions, and his jolly bearded face will remind everybody that Labor is the natural party of Santa Claus, whereas the Liberals are the natural party of hating children and joy.

Back to business in January though, and time for Chris Bowen to take the reins in order to create a sense of calm, stately stewardship. From there they can play it by ear: the pattern will be established and the populace will be solidly on side. In fact the change of leader every three weeks will bring a feeling of adventure and fun to public life, and people will enjoy the excitingly fluid new paradigm. Not to mention the billions flowing into government coffers thanks to the range of new markets that bookmakers can offer odds on.

And most importantly of all, the Libs will be flummoxed. Switching from Rudd to Gillard caught them on the hop, but going back to Rudd has floored them. Going back to Gillard, and then to Shorten, and then to Albanese, and then to Plibersek, and then to Adams, and then to Bowen, and then to Ed Husic, and then to Mark Dreyfus, and then to Amanda Rishworth, and then to Shorten again, and then to Rudd again, and then to Mark Butler, and then most unexpectedly to Malcolm Fraser, and then to Penny Wong’s baby, will leave the Opposition in no fit state to even stand up straight, let alone provide a viable alternative government.

We've all seen the polls. This is what the people want. The fate of this nation, and the very principle of representative democracy, demands that the Australian Labor Party listen to voters, and deliver strong, effective, and constantly changing leadership.

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Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 13:44

Seriously, I think Ben is right. Change leaders every 3 years - give the media something to talk about. Why not have an internal Opposition, then they can switch the whole cabinet around too, like a grid-iron team - offence, then defence, and back to offence. Meanwhile, just keep implementing Labor policy. It's all good.

Gordon Comisari
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 14:11

Seriously, I think Ben is funny. Just for a moment I try to imagine journalists providing the public with accurate and factual  information. I wonder what the polls would look like. Nah, ain't gonna happen!


Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 14:32

Better yet, let both sides elect the Prime Minister every few months!  When you get to try before you buy (consider buying electing one side or the other outright) the voters might realise that they don't want that loon Tony in the Lodge.

Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 15:06

Clever Rudd and his supporters have capitalised on the unpopularity of Gillard, all in the name of saving the Labor Party some seats at the next election, whenever it is.

This retribution and reinstatement of Rudd, coupled with the immediate bounce in the polls, will give heart to the Labor faithful and must concern the Coalition.

That's funny!

Abbott may regret going so hard to prove Gillard unfit for office,  as he could be 'hoisted by his own batard' now he has the much more popular and rejuvenated Rudd to contest, who by all appearances has become more consultative eg. re: 457 visas he was talked into approving need to advertise jobs for 4 months by Albanese.


Claudette Palmer
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 15:09

Seriously, perhaps the printed press needs to counter the radio shock jocks and move the issues, not to personality, but to policy. I will vote Labor because of Policy and I am sorry Julia Gillard has gone. Her energy and focus was for the people of Australia. She is a great loss to our nation. Hopefully, her achieviments will survive. They will continue to benefit Australia into the distant future.

Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 17:16

Claudette, I agree the loss of Julia Gillard is a great loss to the Nation, however don't be to sure about her achievements surviving, Kevin Rudd has aready started to meddle with his sticky fingers into her policies so that he can claim the victory.  It is what one calls airbrushing from history.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Mercurial
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 17:27

'Hoisted by his own batard' !!  That would happen to a Baker, but not an Abbot, don't you think??  Or are you referring to his illegitimate son?

Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 19:03

I believe the phrase is "hoist with his own petard."  A petard is actually an explosive device.  The phrase was used in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Interestingly, "Petard" refers to Middle French, from peter to break wind, from pet expulsion of intestinal gas, from Latin peditum, from neuter of peditus,past participle of pedere to break wind; akin to Greek bdeinto break wind. (From the Merriam-Webster dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/petard?show=0&t=1372928196)

As well as being a type of bread, a “batard” is French word for the English "bastard."

Ben - I leave it to you to take up the possibilities!

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 19:12

Oops, I should have guessed the Guardian would stuff up its IT – sending me a month-old piece of Ben's today!

Or maybe they were just testing if I was paying attention…

Posted Friday, July 5, 2013 - 17:58

I think Ben is right on the money. I have, in my wisdom, been splitting infinitives and suggesting a revolving Chair for Cabinet for years. I am totally opposed to the egomaniacs referring to the Australian Government as the Keating/Howard/Rudd/Gillard/Rudd govment. It is sheer presumption and Ben's idea, like mine of the revolving chair, means that by the time the press gallery has caught up with precisely who has their bum on the seat, it will be another bum. So they have a choice of referring to it as the Australian Government or, more precisely, the Bum Steer. Of course the process of change will be referred to as the Bum's Rush. And the person caught on the throne at any time the Gallery catches up will be referred to as the A.........e - or words to that effect.