16 September 2011

Consolidate or disintegrate

It won't be easy
You'll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel
That I still need your love
After all that I've done
You won't believe me
All you will see
Is a girl you once knew
Although she's dressed up to the nines
At sixes and sevens with you

I had to let it happen
I had to change
Couldn't stay all my life down at heel
Looking out of the window
Staying out of the sun
So I chose freedom
Running around trying everything new
But nothing impressed me at all
I never expected it to

Don't cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

And as for fortune and as for fame
I never invited them in
Though it seemed to the world
They were all I desired
They are illusions
They're not the solutions
They promise to be
The answer was here all the time
I love you and hope you love me ...

- Andrew Lloyd Webber Don't Cry For Me Argentina
The only word in those lyrics that doesn't apply to Julia Gillard is the foreign country. In this and that we see the Prime Minister has realised what all successful politicians come to realise: they get to a point where their base isn't coming with them, so they have to rally the base and only then can they truly move forward.

The last Labor government combined programs that helped working people (e.g. Medicare, superannuation) with those that didn't (e.g. euthanasing inefficient, labour-intensive industries), such that Labor people at least gave it the benefit of the doubt. Rudd and Gillard have done plenty that gets the rank-n-file going (e.g. apologising to Stolen Generation Aborigines, increasing the role of unions under FairWork as a make-work scheme for union staffers) and those that get them upset (e.g. perpetuating the Northern Territory Intervention, maintaining the ABCC), so that it's as irrelevant to them as it is to the non-committed whether or not this government survives.

Gillard has gotten too far out in front of her supporters. Labor people who complain about factional goings-on at the branch or conference level aren't impressed by someone who got where she is by a factional fix. People who volunteer their time and effort aren't impressed by someone who gets up early and drones on and on, full of ... jargon. Factional hacks that are imposed on Labor people do that sort of thing: why should the Prime Minister of Australia carry on like an indifferent union undersecretary or a forgettable candidate for state parliament? Gillard needed a change, and to her credit she is starting to make that change.

This speech is the start of Labor's consolidation, where Gillard rallies the disaffected in her own party. As I've said, the legislative battle over the Malaysian solution is another example where Gillard is setting herself up well. The media has (again) fallen for Abbott's pantomime of "will I or won't I ... umm, after careful consideration, no". The real story is that, for the first time, Gillard has a backup plan; one that engages Labor people.

When (not if, press gallery clowns) the Coalition knocks back the Malaysian solution, Gillard will announce onshore processing of refugee applications. In doing so, she will throw herself on the mercy of the ALP. There will be tears, there will be mea culpa and hugs and forgiveness, emotive politics of a kind we haven't seen since Bob Hawke at his peak.

The slight possibility that Kevin Rudd might return to lead the ALP will be closed by this outpouring of emotion. Factional heavies are always wary of groundswells that might sweep them out of office, but they put the PM where she is and if the punters love the PM then their positions are safe (so long as they dump ideas of bringing back someone they were never keen on: no big loss). Labor loves all that sentimental redemption stuff, and Gillard will dish it up to them.

This isn't to say Gillard will go all soppy, all Giving and Learning like some light Oprah. She needs to keep on snarling at those who will never vote for her. She did it once with Abbott's relentless negativity, and while it would be counterproductive to do it too often she needs to do it more often. She needs to go back on the Alan Jones show and put him in his box: Jones fans will be appalled at "that woman", but no more so than they are already. Next time someone calls her a liar to her face she should go them: not too hard, but enough to show who's boss, enough to show the mongrel that Labor people need to see in someone standing up for their interests.

The solutions themselves aren't much chop: US-style primaries, e-whatsits and the idea that collective wisdom isn't the only wisdom. It is actually quite surprising that it hasn't been dismissed out of hand by press gallery groupthink. Coming on top of a few rebarbative performances in parliament, and a lot of backgrounding that Labor's powers-that-be are locked in behind Gillard, the idea of Gillard is some sort of punchline is starting to fade.

By about mid 2012 Gillard will be absolutely adored by Labor people, however hesitant uncommitted voters might still be then. By that time Abbott's hubris will have run away with him. Abbott is utterly confirmed that everything he says and does is working. In his mind he can do no wrong. Anyone who says anything he doesn't want to hear, whether Peter Reith or one of the tougher-minded journalists, is wasting their time in the hope of changing Abbott's mind. The High-Speed Train to Hubris has left the Liberal station. As it recedes into the distance all people like Reith can do is shake their fists at it.

Abbott reckons he can simply avoid debates that don't suit him, or that he can smarm his way through them. Until recently, this was a fair assumption, but it just doesn't cut it any more. He's being outflanked by an opponent who's smarter than he is and who won't just sit there and cop it any more.

The media continue to cover Abbott and Gillard as though the structural changes haven't taken place, as though Gillard is on the knife-edge while Abbott is PM in waiting. Abbott won't survive the trip to hubris but it will be fascinating to see how the journosphere crawls out of that wreckage. Toot toot!
... Don't cry for me Argentina
The truth is I never left you
All through my wild days
My mad existence
I kept my promise
Don't keep your distance

Have I said too much?
There's nothing more I can think of to say to you
But all you have to do
Is look at me to know
That every word is true.


  1. It had crossed my mind that Gillard was setting Abbott up with the legislation changes.

    If that is the plan, no doubt the MSM will widely report that the failure to introduce the legislation (the first piece to fail) is the sign of a crumbling government with no right to govern (rhetoric ad nauseam)

  2. Good article! You probably won't be surprised to see that people like Carney are reporting this is a big Abbott triumph for no other reason than that he's already ahead in the polls. http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/abbott-in-a-winwin-position-as-gillard-outsources-policy-20110916-1kdub.html

  3. For Gillard it's down to a coin toss, you know, heads you win, tails I loose.
    For Abbott, hubris is the new black. It is said that under his leadership, journos will follow him anywhere, if only to see what he will do next.

  4. Hillbilly Skeleton18/9/11 12:34 pm

    Please,please,please deconstruct the Carney article, Andrew, the smug bustard deserves it.

  5. I really appreciate your insights - you manage to break through all of the MSM noise to present alternative perceptions of events. Great reading.

  6. Thank you all - but HS I'm a big Carney fan, I sincerely believe that he should be in the last dozen or so left at Fairfax to turn off the lights etc. Still, I'll give it a read.