“Labor heavies urge
Crean support”,
a headline in The Australianreads today.

The paper’s editorial isn’t so supportive:

Even among ego-enhanced politicians it would be hard to find a thicker hide
than Simon Crean’s. First the electors indicated an inability to take Mr Crean
seriously as Labor leader. Then close colleagues in the parliamentary Labor
Party told him it was time to leave the leadership. And then he upset Labor
hard-heads by working hard to ensure Mark Latham succeeded him in the top job…
An ordinary politician would have long ago got the hint. But there is nothing
ordinary about Mr Crean’s indefatigable ambition to stay in parliament…

Some will find Mr Crean’s
determination to fight on admirable. Others who argue the ultimate art in
politics is knowing when to go may find this a case of a man with few friends
refusing to recognise his own use-by date. But Mr Crean’s stand also says a
great deal about the state of the Labor Party, and little of it is favourable.

Now, that last point is something virtually
everyone can agree on. As The Oz observes, there’s the “feudal” assumption that
“the candidate selection process in Hotham is the only election that counts
because the voters will vote for whoever the party tells them to”. There’s the
question why, if Crean’s challenger Michael Pakula and his fellow Victorian
wannabe Bill Shorten are so good, they’re not running in marginals – as Labor
needs to win seats to win office.

There’s the suggestion at Andrew West’s
SMH blog that the row is about to spill over into NSW, with Laurie Ferguson under the
gun. And more and more, there’s a growing feeling
that Labor leader Kim Beazley is getting himself deeper and deeper into
trouble. While the Wheat Board row rages, surely not
even Kimbo could find himself subject to speculation over his job again? you
ask. Don’t be so sure.

We quoted
John Button yesterday – and his comment that Simon Crean is “the only guy with
ministerial experience apart from Kim Beazley” in Caucus. Actually, there are
five – John Faulkner, Duncan Kerr, Carmen Lawrence, Bob McMullan and Robert
Ray. Kerr, McMullan and Faulkner – if he stops obsessing over his place in
history – are still good for at least another term as ministers if Labor ever
flukes a win.

As West
observes, Beazley seems to have sanctioned the
political execution of six Victorian Labor MPs – Crean, Alan Griffin, Bob
Sercombe, Harry Jenkins, Anne Corcoran and Gavan O’Connor. Labor figures are now saying the preselection
debacle demonstrates how totally rotten their party has become – and that it is
unelectable.

The only person who can save the threatened pols is
Beazley. He won’t. He has no principals, no ticker and is beholden to the powerbrokers
of the right. Yet when the MPs go, Beazley will face an exquisite
dilemma. Will he remove Crean, O’Connor and Sercombe from the front bench since
they won’t be in government if Labor wins?

The Government will have a field day. If three
frontbenchers go, they’ll suggest Beazley might like to follow them. They’ll
portray him as weak, disloyal, self-interested, a captive of the factions – the
embodiment of everything that’s wrong with Labor. You can imagine Peter Costello’s gag when they go.
Labor might whinge about WorkChoices, but at least the Libs provide an
independent umpire.

Peter Fray

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