Paul Howes doesn’t place in The Power Index’s top 10 political fixers because the man is all bark and no bite.
Self-confident, self-promoting and self-aggrandising, Howes has already penned part one of his autobiography, Diary of a Faceless Man, despite the fact he’s not yet 30. But don’t expect good reviews from The Power Index. “It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever read,” says a veteran Labor Party powerbroker, “he’s a self-appointed spokesman, a meretricious carpetbagger.”
The title of the tome refers to Howes’ role in bringing down the PM in June 2010, when he and his boss, Bill Ludwig, threw the muscle of the Australian Workers Union behind the coup and told Australians that Rudd had to go. Howes famously went on ABC Lateline to deliver the message.
“The media thinks Howes played an important role in getting rid of Rudd,” says our respected powerbroker, “but he did nothing to make it happen. He couldn’t swing a single vote in caucus.”
Another senior Labor figure also doubts the youthful union boss — who took over from Bill Shorten as national secretary of the AWU at 26 — has real power. “Bill Ludwig [AWU president] would tell him what to do,” Mark Latham told The Power Index, “Howes wouldn’t scratch his bum unless Ludwig told him it was all right.”
But even if Howes has tickets on himself, makes enemies, and is less powerful than he would like to be, you’d be a fool to say he has no clout. The former teenage Trotskyist, who left home at 15 and quit school at 17, has had a stellar rise, and you don’t get where he is without being a force to be reckoned with.
“Is he powerful? Yes,” says a former Labor premier. “Does he have the power he claims to have? No.”