Jay Weatherill won’t win his challenge for Deputy Leader, but he is still the only visible potential successor to Mike Rann, writes Michael Jacobs.
If the South Australian Labor Party needs any further guidance about why the electorate hit it with something rather more than a natural correction in last Saturday’s vote, it need only look at Greg Kelton’s piece in The Advertiser
this morning on Jay Weatherill’s challenge for treasurer Kevin Foley’s spot as deputy leader to Mike Rann.
Kelton has mined a rich lode of vitriolic unattributable background quotes against Weatherill, all too typical of the lurking tendency to indulge in disproportionate shock-and-awe exercises in destruction of anyone who dares to disturb the stately status quo. Enthusiasts can find the details here
Notably, the leaders themselves are publicly untroubled by Jay Weatherill putting up his hand, although Rann did characterise it as premature when Weatherill announced on Sunday. Foley himself, no doubt feeling secure in the numbers rounded up by his right faction, blithely said that it was a democratic party, and Jay was entitled to declare his interest.
On background, Kelton gathered a very different story, one that led him to the conclusion that the backgrounding by “Labor powerbrokers” had virtually ensured that "would-be premier Jay Weatherill is left mortally wounded within the party."
Sorry, but no. Weatherill, despite the handicap of being from the left, has for a long time been the only visible potential successor to Rann – stop-gap short-term leaders aside, should the party be in such a funk as to adopt such a solution to the succession when the time comes. If Weatherill had not declared an interest in his own future now, when would he have declared it?
It is not the first time that he has unleashed the passionate dislike of him among elements of the right, but Kelton’s harvest over the past day or so has been, even by those furtive standards, a special: he cannot expect to lead the party if he behaves "like Vickie Chapman" (Liberal leader Isobel Redmond’s former parliament house room-mate who acquired an unhappy reputation as deputy leader for having blood on her hands as leaders sank to the floor). "He has just proven to the ALP that he is not fit to govern, ever." He is supposed to be being driven by "naked ambition." Or again, "Everyone in the party is mystified why he has done it."
If they are truly mystified, they should not be in politics. Only the guardians of sacred internal tribal rituals could find fault with the move, or the timing. My bet is that out here in the daylight, the wider public is shrugging its shoulders, not giving a toss about the alacrity with which he moved, and asking itself, as far as the general exercise is concerned, "well, why wouldn’t he?"
After all, no-one is in any doubt that the swing against this government was in part driven by widespread distaste for its style. Rann himself, in a weird mixture of autocratic style and awareness of what the problem was, announced that he was ‘sending’ all ministers and members to do four weeks of door-knocking to re-connect with the community.
So Weatherill, consistent with his left credentials, and with his long- and often-stated commitment to the virtues of consultation and community involvement, offers himself as a suitable member of the leadership group to embark on a course involving a bit more of that sort of thing.
He won’t win this afternoon, but the extravagant response of his internal adversaries is as eloquent in making the case for why he should do so some time as it is possible to imagine.