It’s the way the blood spatters that matters
A quarter of a century after Neville Wran showed how it could be done with elegance, the Labor Party still hasn’t settled on a leadership succession process that doesn’t involve embarrassing conflict.
The strange events following the move-on order given to South Australian Premier Mike Rann by his Caucus last Friday shows the ALP is, in fact, capable of coming up with fresh ways to humiliate itself in the eyes of voters.
Leadership change is never easy, but might be considered again by the ALP should Prime Minister Julia Gillard lose internal support by the end of the year.
Ms Gillard’s replacement of Kevin Rudd wasn’t done with skill, and voters are still holding it against her. But that might not mean a move against Ms Gillard would correct that electoral animosity. It might make things worse for Labor.
That’s because for the past 25 years, Labor leadership switches, while in power, have ended up looking like crime scenes. And they have not been effective for long. The progression of tumbling premiers in NSW resolved little.
The number seems small, but not against the tiny tally of Liberals ousted while in power. Labor casualties include Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd, Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees, Peter Dowding, with narrow escapes for Anna Bligh and Paul Lennon.
And now Mike Rann. Having been told he had to hand over the Premier’s suite, he promptly left for India where no doubt he is telling the locals what a friendly place Australia is.
He had expected a hand-over but assumed it would include a “transition period in which he would mentor the chosen leader”.
“I decided that a seamless transition to a new leader was the most appropriate course in the interests of South Australia, and in the interest of stable Government, and to avoid the undignified spectacle that has repeatedly engulfed the Liberal Party,’’ said the Premier in a statement Sunday afternoon.
Yet dignity was the first casualty at the weekend. Here was a Premier in no mood to quit right now, and a Caucus that wanted him out in pretty quick time.
Mr Rann will let people know his plans when he returns, but has made clear that as a lame-duck Premier he would conclude negotiations with BHP Billiton over the Olympic Dam uranium mine extension.
His mate, former NSW Premier Bob Carr, yesterday used his blog to argue that the Premier deserved to stay in the job until late next year.
“He was planning to retire when he made 10 years as Premier in March next year or shortly after. The next election is not until 2014. Going at a time of his choosing should have been seen as his right,” wrote Mr Carr.
It is simply impossible to have a Government and a Premier-in-a-bunker. Either Mr Rann will have to back down or the Caucus will, and neither spectacle will be pretty.
The possibility that Julia Gillard might also get a nudge from Caucus should opinion polling continue downwards hasn’t been discounted by senior Labor figures.
They use the term “pre-positioning”, which means a minister is not challenging Ms Gillard but is establishing personal credentials should a successor to her be needed in the next six months or so.
The two most prominent pre-positioners are Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten and Defence Minister Stephen Smith.
Neither man is actively seeking or agitating for Ms Gillard’s removal and their preferred option would be to follow her into the next election.
However, they also would know that if circumstances worsen for the Gillard government, there cannot be a leadership change unless there is someone to change to.
There is no suggestion of a challenge to her but, as South Australia has shown, within the ALP leadership change has become the default response to bad political times.
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