Modia Minotaur

Trawling the airwaves to spare you the agony!

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Landing Of The Bomber

Nobody of any political stripe would deny that today was a dreadful one for Kim Beazley. Finally told by his own party that they did not have enough faith in him to lead the party to the next election, and then broadsided by a personal tragedy, those who were waiting for a concession speech as dignified and statesmanlike as the one he gave upon losing the 2001 election instead heard a man, so famous for her verbosity, made nearly speechless by the convergence of events.

I was often troubled when people who were frustrated by Labor's lack of progress or Beazley's inability to land blows on certain issues took it out on Beazley himself, sometimes in quite a nasty and personal manner. Beazley, by all accounts, is not a nasty man. On the contrary, some suggest he is too nice for to lead an Opposition, in the sense that his mindset is not inherently confrontational. It may have been this mindset that led to the policy paralysis in the face of the Tampa crisis - the single issue for which many have never forgiven him - and the mindset itself may be a product of his academic rather than instinctual approach to politics. I've heard many remark that Beazley would make a terrific Minister - as indeed he had in the past - as a team player, shaping policy rather than representing it. Deep down, this is something with which Beazley might secretly agree.

I've searched my literature on leadership, and all my favourite quotes, and yet I still cannot say exactly why Beazley never quite gelled. I don't agree with the oft-quoted suggestion that he `didn't have the ticker'. Particularly in the past year, he has campaigned tirelessly for the party, looking healthier, more vigorous, and more committed, than he has in years, right up to his final Question Time. However, in coining the term, John Howard correctly identified the nagging feeling that always existed - that Beazley was somehow a stand-in, a well-meaning administrator who might keep things ticking along until the true visionary came along, but would do little more. Hence, the neverending search for the Labor Saviour, first in the person of Mark Latham, now Kevin Rudd, with various personalities from Julia Gillard to Peter Garrett and Lindsay Tanner in between.

There is no firm word on whether Beazley will now retire, though he has implied as much, and has already announced that he will not contest a front bench position. I don't think anyone would blame him for bowing out now. He has served long and hard, and with distinction. Apart from leading the ALP for seven years in total, and filling a number of senior Ministerial positions over his twenty five year career, he is the longest serving Labor member in Parliament, and one of the last of the `old guard' of the Hawke-Keating era: those who have served as Ministers; who remember a time when it was the Liberal Party who seemed they would never find the path back through the wilderness.

Changes in leadership are usually thrilling affairs, and so they should be. But they are also days of reflection - a bit of sadness; a bit of looking backwards before we turn our eyes to the future.


At 8:30 pm, Blogger larry said...

If the ALP runs hard on IR (and loses) do you think it will then turn around and run arguments about the need to seperate from the Union movement? I just worry that with the issue so prominent that if the ALP loses it will simply adopt the GST line of 'oh well its in now;.

At 9:37 pm, Anonymous Milltown Pete said...

Larry's comment ignores the simple fact that the union movement is in the throws of separating from the ALP, not the other way round. The recent name change to Unions NSW was to remove the Labour reference from their public personna, and was stated exactly as that in a letter sent to the ALP when they ditched the title of Labour Council. This, plus the whinging on occasions by John Robinson that "the ALP is not doing enough" in the IR campaign, added to the imbecile stance by the Tasmanian timber workers during the last Federal election, suggests that to walk away from the union movement may actually be what the unions want.

At 10:23 am, Blogger Minotaur said...

I think both of you make valid points (in fact, enough of them to justify a whole extra post).

Firstly, I don't think the ALP would ever distance itself from Union movement altogether, not even necessarily for philosophical reasons but for organisational ones. I was marvelling at the terrific organisation of the WorkChoices rally last Thursday. I can't think of an election campaign I've worked on where various unions hadn't provided significant organisational support. These are the sorts of things the Liberal Party pay through the nose for. Whether this is good value, given excessive and sometimes detrimental structural and executive control unions sometimes hold over the ALP is another matter.

However, the question of whether the two movements will voluntarily distance themselves from one another is an interesting one. The Your Rights At Work campaign has taken a different turn to what I expected. Given the renaming of Unions NSW, I suspected that they would try and distance themselves from one another - I also don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. In the early stages of the campaign, I argued strongly in favour of a non-partisan campaign. After all, many of the people we hoped to win over voted for Howard in the last election, and nobody likes to admit they were wrong.

The campaign has instead gone in the other direction, making it easy for the government to dismiss it as nothing more than an ALP front. Given that the only recourse to the policy is now quite literally a change of government, this is pretty much the case. I can see why this decision has been made, but I think it may have had the effect of rallying the unions but alienating the many average Joes who thought - quite rightly - that the policy stinks, but are not the sort of people willing to jump on the streets singing `Solidarity Forever'.

Hmm ... as I said, perhaps I need a full post for this!

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