Loyalty isn’t always the most honourable route for an MP
The Liberal leadership was his for the taking but Peter Costello thought better of it judging he would spend two terms in opposition and maybe more.
Now however, as Kevin Rudd’s star plummets earthward, it is arguable that Costello might have been happily ensconced in The Lodge by the coming summer. He of course walked away but for those there now, such “what might have been” frustrations are small beer.
Labor’s hapless backbenchers know the real thing. With their careers on the line, they have real skin in the game yet about as much say in Government strategy and policy as the former Liberal treasurer - to wit, none. The question is: what should they do about it?
Speaking to voters directly every day, they know what is working in voter land and what is not. They know the Government is bleeding support over its perceived weakness to asylum seekers, its bungled insulation program, and its poorly explained and needlessly messy mining super profits tax.
Should they risk the ire of their seniors and speak up now urging a change of course, or forever hold their silence? Would publicly breaking ranks be a prudent exercise of their power involving a bit of pain now to avoid much worse later? Or would it just be more pain?
The by-words in politics these days are unity and discipline. Policies, smart or otherwise, are delivered from the top down. Good or bad, they are to be blindly embraced - anything else is disloyal.
The lot of a backbencher is to make up the numbers, tow the line and hopefully, one day become a frontbencher.
The value of obedience was drummed in again in Labor Caucus yesterday as things look increasingly pear-shaped for the Government. Ministers from the Prime Minister down, thanked MPs for keeping schtum under the current trying circumstances. Of course, the real purpose of the pep-talk was not to convey gratitude but to reinforce the need for continued protection of the leadership above all else.
The last thing a beseiged Kevin Rudd wants at present is the embarrassment of his own MPs publicly criticising him.
Yet sometimes, a crisis, however unwelcome is what is needed to force a change in direction. Scroll forward in time to election night and, for the sake of argument, imagine a Liberal win.
You can hear Kevin Rudd’s concession speech now: ``As leader, I take full responsibility for the decisions taken and for the subsequent defeat.’‘
It would no doubt be dignified and all very honourable. But what would that responsibility actually amount to? Cold comfort if you just lost your seat.
In any event, it would not be merely he who was ``responsible’‘. Those who stayed silent when policies with which they disagreed were pursued, must also shoulder the blame.
Like the lemmings who stuck with John Howard as he led them over the cliff in 2007, the current crop of Labor MPs feel much gratitude to Kevin Rudd for their win in that same election.
Such loyalty is understandable but it should not be blind or unconditional.
Rather, if there is a case to amend the super profits tax for example, by upwardly adjusting the profit level at which it cuts in, from its proposed 6 per cent to twice that, then now would be a good time to say so. If pressure applied within is ignored, then perhaps a little applied publicly might prove more persuasive.
The alternative, if the PM is to be taken at his word, is open-ended, essentially faux negotiations drifting on for months, robbing the Government of the oxygen needed to talk about its strengths and considerable achievements.
Surely MPs at the retail end of the business deserve more respect than that. They might have to take it.
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