As Gavan
O’Connor goes
and Julia Gillard and Simon Crean demonstrate their loyalty to Labor in their
own special ways,
perhaps we should be asking how a leader should react in these difficult
circumstances.

Mark
Latham got Peter Garrett installed – but Garrett was a catch. And the New South Wales Right grumbled still.

This is dangerous territory for
politicians. John Howard knows it. Back in the eighties, Peter Costello and
Michael Kroger purged Roger Shipton and Ian Macphee – but it was Howard who got
hit hardest. He lost the leadership. That’s why he kept as far away as possible
from the Wentworth wars, only sending in his hitman Heffernan to dispatch Peter
King at the last moment.

Most of the time there’s no advantage in
leaders attaching themselves to one side or another in a local preselection brawl
– no advantage to them or their party.

A lot can be at stake in a preselection,
but they tend to represent the side of politics punters would rather not see.
It’s simply not rational for a leader to engage in an internal, partisan, local
slugfest. It’s of no advantage to them – or their party.

Even if one preselection candidate is
clearly superior, there’s still a chance they’ll lose. Then it’s doubly
embarrassing. The internal wheeling and dealing gets given a going over by the
media and the headlines shout “party snubs leader” and “grassroots rebellion”.

The only time a leader should definitely
buy into a preselection is when a complete shonk, crook or ratbag throws their
hat into the ring. That’s it.

Kim Beazley is having a terrible time, but
his fundamental approach has been right. Leaders need to sit these fights out. He’s in the same unfortunate position as
Howard was in 1989. Preselection rows have become lightening rods for other
static shocks stinging his party.

Leadership is about governing for all.
Unfortunately, though, for Beazley, as one of his old caucus colleagues said,
you can’t govern the nation unless you can govern your own party. Can he find
the balance or is he already toppling?

Peter Fray

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