The ALP leadership turmoil has been one of the most frustrating politic sagas I have ever seen. Not because it’s happening, nor because I think Kevin Rudd should go quietly into the shadows, but because of the complete lack of substance around the turmoil in the first place.
At the end of last week there were Julia Gillard supporters across the web cheering on how she had managed to ‘hold off’ another challenge. We were told that Gillard has won three challenges now with great margins. Compare that to Tony Abbott, who only won his by one vote, and you can see a woman of great strength and character.
This analysis misses the real point about leadership challenges, and the point of governing. When people criticise Tony Abbott for his leadership spill, questioning why he doesn’t get as criticised as much as Julia Gillard for hers, I think they are missing an essential element – that the Abbott challenge was all about policy, and had nothing to do with politics. Abbott wasn’t happy with the policy direction of the Coalition, and took up the challenge to see an ideological shift in the party.
Gillard’s prime ministership has never had anything like this to hang off. Her challenge was based on personality and polling, and nothing to do with policy. And whilst she determined to ‘fix’ issues like asylum seekers, the mining tax and climate change, she never provided any ideological reasons for these ‘fixes’ – they were all political.
That is what I see to be one of the major problems of Gillard’s term of leadership – a complete lack of ideological substance. Now many will come back and say ‘she has passed so much legislation’, and that is great. The country continues to function. But whilst the government has been passing legislation, there has been no true ideological basis behind any of it. The rise of Gillard – and the fall of Rudd – was all about power, and nothing to do with an ideological shift.
And the end of last week I felt a strange depression about the result of the Labor turmoil. On reflection, I think I can pin point this down to a shift I’ve seen in the Labor Party since they were elected in 2007 – a shift from a substantive desire to overturn Howard era policies, to one based solely on staying in power – internally and externally. It is the depressive nature of the ALP turmoil.