Roll up, roll up, for a peek inside the Labor circus
It is no secret that former Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and current Prime Minister Julia Gillard are not close.
Tanner of course, announced he was quitting politics on the very day Ms Gillard became prime minister.
If that gesture rubbed some the wrong way, it was nothing compared to the abrasions caused by his new book.
As well as rehearsing a well-worn critique of the ALP as in thrall to careerists and lacking a wider purpose, it provides an inside account of his time in the “gang of four,’’ or the Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee.
This, you will remember, was Rudd’s tactical response team comprising the then Deputy Prime Minister Ms Gillard, Treasurer Wayne Swan, and Mr Tanner.
While it pre-dated the GFC, its prime task was to steer the economy through the crisis once it hit in 2008.
The four senior ministers were able to meet at short notice and for extremely long sessions.
While it worked well, it also became a focal point of frustrations over decision-making under Mr Rudd.
Low-level grumbling that cabinet and caucus had been sidelined became both the foundation for the leadership dissatisfaction and publicly at least, an after-the-fact justification for the change-over.
In a bid to limit the damage, Ms Gillard initially said “a good government had lost its way’’ - an inadequate explanation that was subsequently turbo-charged in February this year to kill off a Rudd challenge. Senior ministers unloaded describing a government mired in chaos, utterly dysfunctional, and beholden to a thousand unlandable ideas.
Mr Tanner kept his own counsel during that challenge but his book - and a slew of interviews to promote it - has brought it all back with a vengeance.
His thesis is that Ms Gillard’s supporters exaggerated Mr Rudd’s shortcomings to justify the unjustifiable.
He says that process in turn seriously damaged the government by robbing it of its successful sandbagging operation against the GFC. Further he says that Mr Rudd would have won the 2010 election had the Caucus not panicked.
Of course, that is unknowable but if you think Government members are not happy with all this being revisited right now, just when those polls are finally looking up, well, you don’t know the half of it.
A senior Labor figure intimately involved in the “kitchen cabinet’’ says it is Mr Tanner who has re-written history.
“Look Lindsay was probably the least influential of the gang of four,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Ministers and officials learned early on not to tell him everything.
“He was as critical of the chaotic process as anyone, but from time to time, Kevin would tickle his tummy and get him back on-side.
“The fact Lindsay can simultaneously say ‘don’t bag the former leader because it reflects badly on the party’ and, that Labor has no remaining purpose, speaks volumes about his preference for attention over consistency.”
No room for ambiguity there.
Mr Tanner dismisses the criticisms as both wrong and predictable.
“If I was as critical of Kevin Rudd as the conspirators, why didn’t they seek my support for their move against him?’” he asks.
All of this is a gift for Tony Abbott whose one-track anti-carbon tax campaign has flagged recently leaving him just a little exposed.
He did not need to be invited twice.
“Lindsay Tanner knew from day one that he couldn’t trust Julia Gillard - unfortunately the rest of us have had to learn the hard way,” he said.
The extent to which these tensions show up in the polls in coming months is difficult to estimate.
Obviously this is largely “inside the beltway” stuff. Voters will not be reading Mr Tanner’s book in sufficient numbers to make any impact there but the return of disunity over Kevin Rudd cannot help the Government.
The former leader and foreign minister was back in the news again this week doing a Radio National interview from Beijing to remind people it was his idea to seek an Australian seat on the UN Security Council.
That tells us two things. First, that the numbers in the UN may indeed be tipping Australia’s way to deliver an unlikely success.
And second, that Julia Gillard will be forced to share any credit for that success should it happen.
The reverberations of the June 2010 coup show no signs of disappearing.
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