The return of Kim Beazley is a victory for the factional bosses, writes Christian Kerr
Caucus met in Canberra on Friday for the anointing of Kim Beazley – and to unveil a bold new approach.
Labor is taking Beazley back as leader for a third time because it hopes the punters will feel sorry for them. It wants the sympathy vote. After all, it doesn’t get many others.
Now, thousands of Crikey readers have written to me – oh, well, six, actually – saying “What about 1998? What about when Kimbo won 50.98 per cent of the vote?” Well, I’ve got four words to say in response: Get hip, baby-cats. It doesn’t matter if you score the sort of sort of percentage of the vote Enver Hoxha used to clock up all the time if you don’t win the marginals. Beazley didn’t do that in ’98 – and then went backwards in 2001.
The Government has got his measure. He is a failure. Why is Labor bringing him back? Well, as I said, it looks as if they feel that looking pathetic is the only way in which they can appeal to voters. The last minute Albanese-Crean spat seems to be part of this pitch.
What other reason is there to vote Labor? Beazley waffle? Like his Australia Day verbosities? “The Labor Party has now an absolute hunger for unity and effectiveness. We want to walk away from the disunity and difficulties of the last few years. You are going to see a Labor Party that is rejuvenated by its determination.” Inspirational?
So much of the history of the Labor Party since it went into opposition has been ignored over the past few weeks – like why Simon Crean copped it in the neck.
That wasn’t just because he failed to connect with the punters. The ill will from the bruvvers which cost him his job came as a result of the internal voting reforms, the 50/50 rule. It’s funny. Beazley’s mate Geoff Gallop has rightly fought to overturn the electoral malapportionment in Western Australia that gives RARAs three times the power at the ballot box as residents of Perth – but the Labor Party is still blanching at the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Affairs of almost five years ago and finds the notion of one vote, one value, just a little too complicated for its own procedures.
The Right was never going to split over its candidate for the leadership. Still, it was interesting to see the way in which Kevin Rudd got the cold shoulder. What deal did Beazley do with the unions and the factional heavies to get back the job he’s failed in twice before? No further party reform along the lines attempted by Crean? No reduction of the bruvvers’ power within the party forums?
If the ALP can’t come to terms with the concept of internal democracy, what hope does it have of ever being a party that can gain the support of Australian voters? It seems unlikely to get its head around something that’s such an alien concept to its powerbrokers – particularly under Beazley.
His nomination speech – and all his subsequent comments – have been appalling. They have been pompous, arrogant and long-winded. Sure, they’ve been great copy for the Gallery and kept the pundits in the media busy over the silly season – but all they’ve done to ordinary voters is remind them of why even though they don’t mind Beazley they’ve never seriously considered him as prime ministerial material.
Beazley is competent and decent – but lacks that certain something. And the public know it. The word “ticker” just didn’t suddenly pop into John Howard’s head one day. It was clearly a product of extensive polling.
Voters don’t find Beazley objectionable in the way they disliked Paul Keating – but they’ve seen through him. They know he can’t take the tough decisions – that he is a captive of the status quo and takes comfort hiding behind the protection of the factional bullies. In his previous time as opposition leader, Beazley’s office was as easy to get into as Fort Knox. Backbenchers had virtually no access to him – and his media John the Baptist, Michael Costello, was the gatekeeper. Not only did this mean backbenchers had limited access – a factor behind the Latham leadership win in 2003 – but it also meant that the office had all the answers. Bright answers, like the small target strategy.
Labor’s sole focus at the moment is on personalities. They’ve gone for a safe pair of hands. That means that they’ve gone for the most conservative approach, for the status quo, for someone who won’t rock the boat. They’ve completely forgotten that you need policies – not too many, but some policies, convincing policies – as well as a credible leader to win elections.
They have neither.
Friday’s outcome isn’t a win for Beazley. Instead, it’s a triumph for the old Labor machine. At the expense of electoral success. Still, all the evidence from the last half-century or so suggests that that’s a minor consideration when there’s party patronage to be dispensed.