Butchers papering over the cracks in Caucus
Julia Gillard will need to do more to win over the MPs who have deserted her than the offer of a sizzled sausage and a weekend whiteboard session. The love may have come too late.
With Parliament due to resume in less than two weeks, the fragility of the PM’s leadership will be the issue she most has to deal with. And for her, there can be no moving forward from the horrors of last year, until she gets the monkey off her back.
For that reason, Labor MPs are left with little doubt that the so called special caucus “planning day” scheduled for the Sunday before Parliament resumes, is all about Kevin Rudd.
Gillard sent out the message last week to all 102 MPs that their presence would be required on Sunday February 5 for a three hour brainstorming session. After which, they could all come over to the Lodge for a barbecue.
MPs for the first time will be invited to workshop policy ideas and strategies and come up with new policy ideas for the year. And they will also be asked to raise any concerns they have in their electorates with the PM and the Cabinet directly.
“Yep, we will be getting the butcher paper and textas out and solving the country’s problems,” said one senior MP. And you can’t blame them for being just a little cynical, considering the timing of the session.
Gillard promised when taking office that she would transform the way government worked. She would have a more consultative Cabinet and include caucus in decision making.
Although special caucus meetings have been held on specific policy issues or Cabinet decisions, this is the first of its type to allow the backbench direct input into the policy making of Government.
It has taken almost 18 months for her to fulfil the promise to caucus. So why now?
Gillard knows that her caucus is deeply divided. Her leadership and political judgement have become the key issues of concern now for MPs, who may have once confined their frustrations to single policies.
And she knows the greatest threat to a Gillard Government is not Tony Abbott or the Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie. It is Kevin Rudd.
Gillard knows he will not go away and will be getting reports back from operatives about the strength of numbers he has for a return to the job. There is no doubt that Gillard is planning for war. And her offer to the caucus of a weekend retreat is a not so subtle reminder to them of what life was like under Rudd when he was PM.
But there is another problem with the sudden decision to have a more consultative caucus process – one of image.
The optics of asking the backbench in to help with ideas suggests the executive has run out of them.
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