Kevin could still be Labor’s – Julia’s – saviour

You know, I think Kevin Rudd could save the ALP’s campaign.

Regardless of the fact that it is technically irrelevant, that MPs are entitled to choose their spokesperson (which is all a PM is) at will, and we as voters elect governments, not Prime Ministers – unfortunately for sensible democracy in this country, the media and opposition have successfully ensured that the “issue” of how Rudd was replaced has cut through. Enough voters for it to be a problem have decided that they’re hurt on behalf of Rudd, and they’re going to punish his party by transferring their votes to the conservative mob he has dedicated his career to fighting.

But I reckon Kevin could still turn that around. He could come out and with all the charisma, and charm, and enthusiasm he has ever been able to muster, explain to those angry on his behalf that he wasn’t ever in politics just to be Prime Minister, he was there as part of the Labor team, to devise and vote for good Labor policy. And that that’s what he did, and that that’s what every Labor MP did and does. That parties regularly change leaders. That they even change leaders in government, even after one election (Gorton) or after several successful elections (Hawke). That this is how parliamentary democracy works, and that everyone who goes into it has a thick skin and understands that. That every leader of a political party had to take that mantle from someone else – including Tony, including Julia, including Malcolm, including him. That’s the way it works when you have a collection of talented* individuals all with ideas for the best ways to represent the Australian people.

That regardless of whether the ALP is led by him or Julia, it’s still the team that stands for the principles of social justice**, that stands for fair workplaces, that stands for responsible economic management. The party that saved the country from a recession that every other Western industrial economy suffered. That stands for – pardon the phrase – working families, ordinary Australians, not the big end of town, not the tobacco companies, not huge mining conglomerates.

That he’s Kevin Rudd, and if he, a man who’s experienced the highs and lows of being part of its first exciting time in government, still believes in the party, and still wants to be part of the Labor team – that should tell voters all they need to know about how important the Labor message is, and how vital it is for the country that it be returned to office.

A switch in Prime Ministers from Kevin to Julia is a change in style, but not in substance. Nothing like the disaster that would be a change from Julia to Tony.

Now, admittedly, it would take a really big man to do this. A man who could put his ego to one side for the good of the country, despite the fact that it would be helping the individuals who, on a personal level, undoubtedly hurt him, both in how suddenly they ended his hopes and dreams and how they added insult to injury by using him as a scapegoat afterwards. He could shrug that off as part of the way the world works, and make it clear that he’s not bitter about it at all. He could be the man of principle who can take the biggest beatings political life can hand out, and rise above them. He would have to genuinely believe it, to have genuinely reconciled himself to what happened, to bring those voters along with him – but maybe Kevin Rudd is a big enough person for that.

Imagine if he could find it within himself to do it. Now there would be a Labor hero.

*This is Kevin saying this, not me.
**THIS IS KEVIN SAYING THIS, NOT ME.

UPDATE: This is a start, but not as much as I’m suggesting would be necessary.

UPDATE #2: Samantha Maiden asks a similar question.

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15 responses to “Kevin could still be Labor’s – Julia’s – saviour

  1. Jeremy,
    If you truly believe that parliamentary leaders of the major parties are only spokesmen, how do you explain the significant and wide-ranging differences in policies during different leaders’ tenure?

    The Keating Government had different priorities than the Hawke Government. They were similar, sure, and there was a continuity between them, but to assert that the change of leadership yielded no susbstantive changes is, to my mind, to ignore history. Would the Latham or Beazley Governments have differed from the Rudd Government, or from each other? I believe so. Is the Coalition, under Tony Abbott, espousing different principles and policy stances than under Turnbull or Peacock or Fraser? I believe so.

    This is the new “faceless men” slur, 50 years on, except now Greens like you level it at both sides of politics rather than exclusively Labor.

  2. jordanrastrick

    I love that you need footnotes when writing something vaguely pro-Labor to clarify that you still think they’re a bunch of fascists.

    I’d really like to see you and all of the other pundits out there spend a couple of weeks – just a couple – in the life of a Federal cabinet minister. If you honestly mean to imply that the likes of Turnbull and Gillard and Rudd and Tanner and Abbott (yes, even Abbott) are all talentless, just because you disagree with them, I suggest you might want to consider exactly how much partisanship is good for your intellectual health.

  3. Splatterbottom

    The pressures of being a cabinet minister is the lesser problem. The real problems arise when the cabinet minister has one eye on re-election and the minister has to reassure their colleagues of the electoral popularity of the measures proposed. Just look at current immigration policy.

    Now that Rudd has had his stab-wounds treated and his bile producing organ removed he is being re-inserted into the campaign. He is beginning on his long road to reincarnation, to again find favour with the electorate first hiding his bleeding sores and then at the propitious moment emerging as the leper-messiah. He now faces the daunting yet delicate task of attracting sympathy as a victim without drawing attention to his blood-soaked betrayers.

  4. “If you truly believe that parliamentary leaders of the major parties are only spokesmen, how do you explain the significant and wide-ranging differences in policies during different leaders’ tenure?”

    Because as the numbers change within the parties, the pressure rises to change the “leader”. The ALP of 1991 was somewhat different to the ALP of 1983, hence wanting a new representative.

    When the numbers change, you’d expect the policy priorities to change with them.

    But it’s true that the big parties do like to pretend that the PM is a bit like a President, and play along with it – so long as they don’t get too far out of line.

    “Is the Coalition, under Tony Abbott, espousing different principles and policy stances than under Turnbull or Peacock or Fraser?”

    Yeah, but it’s more that they didn’t want to espouse the principles of Turnbull so they changed the spokesperson.

    Jordan –

    “If you honestly mean to imply that the likes of Turnbull and Gillard and Rudd and Tanner and Abbott (yes, even Abbott) are all talentless, just because you disagree with them,”

    I didn’t. That’s a wilful misreading of what I wrote.

  5. Jeremy,

    You’re right, of course, that leaders don’t have dictatorial powers over his or her party’s policy. Leaders (and often the media) do overstate the extent to which leaders are in control of their party. It would be foolish to believe that leaders exert total control over any aspect of their party’s operation.

    However, in my view it would also be foolish to believe that they are mere spokespeople, figureheads, mere cyphers for the will of an obscure party apparatus, with no control at all over their party or its policy.

    Surely you can acknowledge that the truth, as often is the case, lies between these two extremes; that leaders are not totalitarians nor CEOs, but neither are they powerless in their party rooms. It probably makes a less snappy pro-Greens tweet (“leader lack control over their parties to the extent that is often asserted, although they’re still quite important” is less attractive for your purposes than “major party hacks are all the same”, or whatever).

  6. jordanrastrick

    “I didn’t. That’s a wilful misreading of what I wrote.”

    If its a misreading, I apologise; the tone was supposed to be light-heartedly provocative, because that’s the way things seem to run around here (e.g. obviously I don’t really think that you really think that the ALP are facists, although I could certainly imagine you using the word for dramatic effect).

    But I honestly thought that when you wrote this:

    “That’s the way it works when you have a collection of talented (This is Kevin saying this, not me.) individuals”

    that you were deliberately going out of your way to make it abundantly clear, even if humorously, that while you can imagine Kevin Rudd saying the ALP front bench is talented, you personally dissociate yourselves from such a view – presumably because you believe it to be clearly false, and wouldn’t want anyone to think otherwise. I don’t see what else you could be trying to imply or convey with the footnote.

    There are highly partisan Greens voters, less sophisticated than yourself, who really think Gillard et al. are actually all idiots, as in actually too stupid to realise the obvious correctness (or feasibility) of the Greens’ policy proposals; this is a sadly inevitable consequence of the fact that the Greens have more than a dozen or so people who vote for them.

    Presumably, some such oblivious Greens partisans read your blog – your commentators seem a lot better than average, for the internet… but this is still the internet.

    There doesn’t seem to be any point to your comment (regardless of what your actual beliefs about the Cabinet’s degree of talent) other than to signal your partisanship; fellow Greens voters get to feel self-satisfied, ALP voters get indignant, everyone’s pre-existing opinions get reinforced, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong; even though I’m going into depth about this point I’m not trying to suggest what you said was a remotely big deal or anything like that. Everyone who comments on politics does it (even me!), usually in a less subtle fashion (for an extreme example of an actually published “journalist”, take e.g. Ackerman.)

    But the point stands; and I’ve got a little bit of personal familiarity with the lives of politicians, so I tend to get irritated from time to time at even mild manifestations of the wider public attitude that even the most high achieving are all corrupt, idiotic, incompetent, etc. For a non-ALP/Greens example, while I think Joe Hockey really is a bit thick, its because I’ve a) met him and b) I’ve read long, unintelligent things he’s written and c) I’ve heard as much from people who know him. Whereas I think Abbott is highly intelligent and in some respects quite genuine, but very flawed as a potential PM for a whole bunch of other reasons; so even though I strongly disagree with him, I will get generically cheesed off at people who don’t have the intellect to seriously engage those flaws so instead dismiss him as “stupid” or “crazy.” Etc.

  7. Clearly they have particular political talents, but not necessarily in areas I particularly respect or to which I would apply the positive connotations of that word. But hypothetical Rudd of this post could.

    I don’t think major party politicians are idiots. I think they are at least at some level unprincipled, because their understanding of parliamentary democracy is based on the fundamental lie of big parties pretending to represent inconsistently wide ends of the political spectrum at the same time. And before they join those parties, they promise to vote with them, even knowing they’ll definitely have to vote for things with which they don’t agree. Labor wants both centre-rightists and leftists to vote for it, and join it, although it clearly can’t represent all of us.

    The very design of a big, majority consensus party is based on deceit and trickery.

    I want to vote for a progressive party that’s neither fringe nor trying to pander to the centre-right. A party that’s aiming to represent the say 30% progressive Australians in parliament, and is determined to advocate for us and negotiate on our behalf with the various other party groupings in the place. I’m optimistic, at this stage, that the Greens will be that party.

    I’d like to see the two-party system relegated to history.

    Um, anyway. What were we talking about again?

  8. jordanrastrick

    Well, there are plenty of non-two party systems out there, and in fact lately I’ve been thinking about ideas for a hybrid westminster / proportional electoral model that would give more representation to minor parties but would retain a lot of the stability of what Australia currently has.

    Ultimately though when push comes to shove you need a unified 50% + 1 coalition to form an effective executive; whether the coalition forms before the election in the party room, or after the election in the parliament a.l.a. the Tories and the Lib Dems, people are still going to have to be members of governments who’s decisions they don’t all endorse. That’s democracy.

    I think we were talking about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, but abstract political theory is so much more interesting if you ask me.

  9. “I’ve been thinking about ideas for a hybrid westminster / proportional electoral model that would give more representation to minor parties but would retain a lot of the stability of what Australia currently has.”

    We could have a system with, say, single member electorates and the alternative vote in one chamber, and proportional representation in another chamber…

  10. Better idea. Multi-member electorates in the lower house and a States’ house in the upper chamber.

    “people are still going to have to be members of governments who’s decisions they don’t all endorse. That’s democracy.”

    No, they wouldn’t. They’d vote as they promised their constituents they would.

    How about a multi-party parliament where they all vote on a national leader as their spokesperson, and ministers for particular departments, but that votes divide in different ways depending on the issue in question? Eg the libertarians vote with the lefties on social issues, but with the rightwingers on economic issues, etc.

  11. jordanrastrick

    Personally, a merged Senate / House of Reps for the upper house: so each state gets to elect 1/12 + (1/6 * population proportion) of the chamber. Effectively your “local rep” is half there to look out for your neighbourhood and half there to look out for your state.

    For the lower house, a fully proportional nation wide chamber. However, to protect against the higher chance of hung parliaments, all the ballots get entered into a computer, and you run Meek’s method to elect say 100 candidates. The parties get a couple of days to try and form a government with the lower house’s confidence; if nobody can, then you just rerun the election using the same ballots but upping the number of available seats to say 120. Etc. I haven’t looked into the details of whether it could actually yet, of course.

    As for the relationship between the executive and the legislature, well cabinet ministers drawn from a majority coalition within parliament is at the core of what it means for a system to be Westminster. You can have non-party line parliamentarians in places like America where the executive is directly elected and so the Reps in the legislature feel perfectly free to cross the floor and vote down the bills of their own President if they think that’s what they need to. Its not a magic fix; a President can be held to ransom by a hostile congress, or to frame it another way a congress’ agenda can be obstructed by the President, because unlike with the judiciary the separation between legislative and executive power is not very clean (e.g. if I can’t pass a bill to raise taxes, I can’t wage my war or pay for my hospitals or whatever.)

    Unless you can point to an electoral model in the world that delivers substantially better outcomes and accountability than Australia’s, the two party system for now remains “the worst form of government… except for all the other ones.”

  12. “As for the relationship between the executive and the legislature, well cabinet ministers drawn from a majority coalition within parliament is at the core of what it means for a system to be Westminster.”

    Fine, we’d lose the name.

    “You can have non-party line parliamentarians in places like America where the executive is directly elected and so the Reps in the legislature feel perfectly free to cross the floor and vote down the bills of their own President if they think that’s what they need to.”

    If they’re voting in accordance of the principles of their party, what’s wrong with that? In fact, what would be right if they didn’t do that?

    If I, as a progressive, voted for the ALP to be my representatives, I would want them to vote against right-wing legislation.

    The fact that party loyalty means they can’t is one reason I would never vote for a “broad church” party.

    “Its not a magic fix; a President can be held to ransom by a hostile congress, or to frame it another way a congress’ agenda can be obstructed by the President…”

    Not in the system I’m suggesting, in which the Prime Minister/President is nothing more than a representative of, a spokesperson for, the parliament, who the parliament can change at will.

    “Unless you can point to an electoral model in the world that delivers substantially better outcomes and accountability than Australia’s, the two party system for now remains “the worst form of government… except for all the other ones.””

    The only thing about our system that needs changing is the single-member electorates. The rest is just a matter of voters not giving any party majority control, and forcing them to form coalitions on various issues.

  13. so instead of needing to buy out 2 big parties, business will have to buy out 5 smaller ones…

    some solution

  14. jordanrastrick

    “If they’re voting in accordance of the principles of their party, what’s wrong with that? In fact, what would be right if they didn’t do that?”

    There’s nothing right nor wrong with it. But we can’t vote for “pure parties” – a policy platform will never possibly anticipate how representatives should vote on every piece of legislation that might conceivably come before parliament. We have to elect people, and evaluate post facto whether we think they stood true to the principles we believed they stood for when we elected them.

    Furthermore, in practice, in America, the cross floor votes that matter are where moderate Democrats chase Republican support or vice versa – the exact same “flight to the centre” that you seem to dislike in Australia. Left-wing Democrats and Right-Wing Republicans get the privilege of holding true to their constituents, arguing for their less mainstream positions and going down in gallant minority votes – just as the Greens or One Nation have and can exercise that right, in Australia.

    “The fact that party loyalty means they can’t is one reason I would never vote for a “broad church” party.”

    But *The Greens* are a broad church. Less broad than the ALP, sure, but still broad; that’s why you don’t really agree with their stances on Nuclear medicine or Free trade agreements or reduced migration, any more than I do. In our first conversation on this blog you said, and I quote:

    “I suspect that part of their policy platform will change as more moderate lefties like us, moving from the Democrats, join the party ”

    I.e., you want the party to include more “moderate lefties” like you and me. Presumably you don’t want the Greens to kick out the people who came up with these policies in the first place. This implies you want the Greens to in fact become a broader church than what they already are.

    “Not in the system I’m suggesting, in which the Prime Minister/President is nothing more than a representative of, a spokesperson for, the parliament, who the parliament can change at will.”

    Then you are back to the Westminster system. MPs *can already* change the PM at will as you yourself have been keenly blogging about regarding Gillard. They generally *voluntarily* choose not to, because it is destabilising for the executive branch of government if this happens too often.

    In your ideal world, would the ALP and the Liberal party split into all their constituent sub factions, and would parliament be split more or less equally between these sub-major parties and the current minor parties? You could have the Greens and the Labor Left and the Labor Centre and Labor Right and the Wets and Drys and the Nationals and Family First and the DLP and the LDP, all represented about equally. And maybe you could get a coalition of most of the MPs from four of these groups and a couple of “splitters” and independents from the others to vote for a PM. And then 3 weeks later the PM would get rolled, because some member of the “government” would get cheesed off over some law not passing that really matters to them, and decide to support a no-confidence motion. Wash, rinse, repeat, and bingo, you have an anarchy not a democracy.

    I’m not making this scenario up. This kind of thing really happens in poorly structured systems. Hell, part of what led the Weinmar Republic into… well I won’t say it and invoke Godwin’s law, but it happened. The next time you see one of those novelty value news stories about MPs having fist fights on the floor of parliament in some far away place, say it to yourself: “This is the best model invented so far of my multi-party utopia.”

    If you want to go with more viable systems (i.e. the ones most similar to ours), like modern Germany or Israel, well they have some pros over Australia but equally they have cons.

    If you can’t point to or construct a robust, clearly superior alternative – and “changing [..] single-member electorates” will does not cut it, I’ll go out and find a public choice theory mathematical proof of why not if you really want me to – well I’ll say it again, “the two party system is the worst form of government, except for all the rest”.

  15. Splatterbottom

    Jeremy: “ The fact that party loyalty means they can’t is one reason I would never vote for a “broad church” party.

    Broad churche paries are based on compromise, which is what democracy requires. Party loyalty should never bind the consciences of the members on important issues. In this sense, the US system works better than ours. Here Coalition politicians are more likely to cross the floor than are members of other parties. It is better to support politicians with a modicum of common sense than rather ‘principled’ tyrants with monochrome minds.

    If you are an ideologue you always prefer a party with narrowly focussed ‘principles’, provided they accord with your own, which is why you want to prevent them from compromising. If there is a process of compromise at party level, at cabinet level and in parliament itself, radical change is unlikely. Many of us see this is a good thing. On the other hand ideologues, assorted radicals and retarded ex-communists who, for better or (more likely) for worse, would utterly change the world in a day prefer revolutionary change, which is more likely when opportunities for compromise are minimised.

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