This is Labor’s gloating season. The time when the latest Newspoll tells us the Coalition’s primary vote has slipped from 36 to 35 per cent since the last Newspoll three weeks ago, a reversal to the 2015 level, when Tony Abbott faced a spill against his leadership. The Coalition now trails Labor 47 to 53 per cent in two-party-preferred terms, although Malcolm Turnbull remains preferred Prime Minister to Bill Shorten.
The Liberals disunited, adrift, and unsettling even their National partners in government, seemingly the Titanic headed inexorably towards the iceberg.
In the former NSW bellwether electorate of Monaro, currently held by Labor’s fiercely-moustached Mike Kelly, the Nationals will challenge both Liberals and Labor, in the former National-held seat they want back, while Liberal candidates jostle for pre-selection.
So it’s time for Labor to duck heads behind the parapet, hold the union hounds on the leash, make nice to the media and pray Bill Shorten can hold it together until the election is called.
And while the PM has been in Hamburg for the G20, the gentleman he could not bring himself to name and sundry partisan Liberals have been making political hay in Sydney.
But Labor under Bill Shorten should not become too complacent despite the temptation to keep heads down and hope the Coalition will implode and soon.
Shorten kept his job when he lost the last election due to the Rudd ruling that Labor leaders not be challenged during their term of office. That does not mean that losing another election will extend his tenure in the job, or even winning one when rivals for the job close in.
Labor people are much better at keeping knives concealed until the very last minute.
Australians with an interest in politics remember the almost-overnight overthrow of Labor leader, ex-policeman and nice guy Bill Hayden by Bob Hawke, and some decades later, Paul Keating’s hunting of Hawke for his job. More recently, we were transfixed by the sight, on every news service, of the febrile telephone lobbying by Shorten, Arbib and the other conspirators, for Gillard, hours before it was all over for Kevin Rudd.
In his Quarterly Essay portrait of Shorten, Faction Man, David Marr described Victoria’s Right faction, thus:
They do politics differently there. Wars are fought in the name of peace. Explosives are packed under the foundations of the Labor Party in the name of stability. They call the wreckage left after these brawls rejuvenation. The wonder is that Victoria delivers any Labor talent to Canberra and remains, decade after decade, a stronghold of the Party.
The Rudd-Gillard-Rudd conflict was nakedly for power, preferment for their allies, the many rewards that come with victory. The current Liberal fight is for something different, the core values, the ethos, if you will, of the Party
And Shorten, in the eyes of many fervent Laborites, is too soft, too…well, weak, not enough of the Keating mongrel to fight dirty, go for the jugular. Old Labor Canberra – and Canberra has always been a Labor town, ever since Gough Whitlam wooed Public Service heads and suggested that they should sign up because that was the way to go – now holds its breath and hopes for the best, that Shorten will, somehow, sail on to success on a fair wind while his opponents – not all of them on the Liberal side of politics, flounder and sink.
In June 2010, Labor apparatchiks in Canberra overthrew their first-term prime minister.
And, not too many years later, the Liberals did the same.
The difference is that now the debate in Labor centres on who is the best man to lead and in the Coalition what are the core values the Party must hold –and be held to- if it is to retain the loyalty of its membership.
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