Monday, April 30, 2012

How and WHY!!!

It's hard to know where to start. Where to trace the threads back to. How it all happened.

To say nothing of why. Why why why why WHY (shrieking) WHYYY!!! WHHHYY!!! WHHHHYYYY!!!!!!

In fact yes, best say nothing whatever of 'why,' for that's clearly too painful. Besides which, my girlfriend's asleep and she has a cold and I don't want to wake her up. And 'why' may be unknowable in any case.

Come to think of it, I don't feel much like focussing on 'how' either. That's really not much better than 'why,' and with 'how' you're just going back over painful details that were bad enough the first time around. So yeah, let's forget that one too.

Which leaves us with what, exactly? Oh right... 'what,' exactly.

'What' at least has the advantage of simplicity.

The Federal Labor Party appears to be in ruins at this time.

The signs are everywhere.

Our Prime Minister, the fiestiness she has shown since she saw off Kevin Rudd's leadership challenge nowhere in sight, anxiously ringing her hands as she made yet another public backflip to the press yesterday. The tired, miserable expression on the faces of her senior ministers as they then tried to defend what she had just announced. The leery headlines in the Murdoch and, yes, even the more sensible outlets among the media as they called for Gillard's resignation and wondered just who the ALP might throw up as their next leader. The obligatory K.Rudd story, where unnamed sources (with the initials K.Rudd) confirmed that the little fella would be willing to step into the leadership breach, if asked (or, more realistically, if the palace guards haven't lifted the drawbridge and barricaded the doors by the time he arrives).

And, perhaps most chilling of all, the tone of voice of my Labor inclined work colleagues, as they huddled around the water cooler and tried to comprehend the reality of Tony Abbott, PM:

'We're fucked aren't we?'

Which seems as good a summation of the ALP's current state as any.

If an election were held now, the Labor Party would be obliterated by a holocaust so total, that the one in 'T2' would seem like a sunny day at the park in comparison:

Terminator 2 - nuclear attack from cpucomplexx on Vimeo.

Only the very safest Labor seats would be safe, if the current state of the polls is to be believed, and after what happened in the recent election in Queensland, where Labor candidates on margins of 15% lost their spots, not even all of those. The Libs, you would think, would probably fancy their chances in any seat in the nation right now.

So, while I already stated that I wouldn't get into the how and the why of this parlous state of events in this piece, in the spirit of the Gillard Prime Ministership, let me do exactly that.

Yesterday, our PM went to the press to announce that she had asked federal Labor back bencher Craig Thompson to stand down from the the ALP and sit in Parliament as in independent. Thompson, the parliamentarian currently under investigation for fraud and misconduct from his time as head of the Health Services Union, had been toughing it out, denying the allegations while waiting for the investigation into his affairs to be concluded. In doing so, he had had pretty staunch support from his Prime Minister, who had made numerous public comments about the 'presumption of innocence' and 'not commenting on an ongoing police investigation' and who had given every indication that nothing short of Thompson being charged with something criminal would get her to withdraw that support. As mentioned, this had been her very solid, very unchangeable, very public position, repeated on the record any number of times...

...until yesterday, when her new public position was that Thomson no longer deserved his place in Labor caucus and would be removed from it until the investigation was over. He would not be asked to resign from parliament, or forced to do so, and he could still sit in Parliament and vote for the ALP if he felt like it but, and this was crucial, he would have to sit in a different spot to the rest of them. A new chair, you see. And... a new desk! Access to his old chair and desk would be withheld, until it was known whether or not he would have to go to prison.

Gillard said she had asked Thomson to do this to 'uphold the dignity of the Parliament.'

And this brings us back to where we started; with outrage from the Opposition, mockery from the press and numb shock from Labor's dwindling band of supporters. 

While the removal of Thomson is the right idea, the PM has gone about it in such a way that she has come out of the affair with her reputation severely tarnished. Under normal circumstances, Thomson would have been forced to resign a long time ago. While the police investigation is still ongoing, based on the information already in the public domain Thomson is, at the very least, hopelessly incompetent. At worst, he is a petty criminal and will be professionally ruined, as well as having to serve some jail time. Either way, he's not the sort of person that a large political party can afford to count among it's number. But because of Labor's perilous numbers in parliament, they sit on a majority of one even with Thomson, Gillard felt she had to defend him, tying his fate to hers. Once she stood by him, and stated she would not act until the police had done, it was really too late for her to change her mind. 

If Gillard had wanted Thomson out of the party, even temporarily, then the time to act was early, so as to underline her authority and allow some claim to the high moral ground. Since she didn't do this, then she really needed to wait until there was some evidence of wrongdoing before having Thompson removed. By procrastinating, defending Thomson and then abandoning him, and then lurching to a sort of half way punishment, Gillard has managed to create the impression, once again, that she has no idea what she is doing. Worse, what she has underlined instead of her authority is the impression in the minds of the public that she makes decisions day to day, or even minute to minute, based on whatever she thinks is politically expedient and doesn't believe anything that comes out of her own mouth.

There's more than a hint of the 'Real Julia' debacle from the last election campaign about all of this. 

There, Gillard sort-of called a halt to her faltering campaign about halfway through and attempted to reset the whole thing, claiming she had thrown off the shackles of her evil spin doctors and media staff. We were set to see 'The Real Julia' from that point onwards. Sadly, while her election campaign didn't change that much, this has actually proved to be the case, as there are echoes of the The Real Julia approach in many of her decisions since, a lot of them conforming to a fairly obvious pattern.
  • Make a decision.
  • Defend it aggressively.
  • Abandon it suddenly, for no obvious reason.
  • Do the opposite of what you originally stated.
  • Never mention any of it again.
Craig Thomson is merely the latest example of this process.

But there are plenty of others - carbon tax, mining tax, people's forum, green loans, refugee processing in East Timor, cash for clunkers, Peter Slipper... sweet jesus, I haven't even mentioned him! - enough, you would think, to bring Gillard down as leader. Her credibility is at an end, her popularity is non existant and it's difficult to see how Labor can keep going, with things as they are, without doing something.

Whether that is replacing Gillard with another leader, or merely outing her as Tony Abbott's long term secret friend and double agent, only time will tell.... But not that much time, you wouldn't think.

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