Was there a retrospective lesson for Gordon Brown in the rise of Julia Gillard? a UK newspaper asked a couple of days ago. The thought seems predicated on the idea that Australia hasn’t yet got that inter-tubes thingy that allows us to see what’s happening in other countries.

For it seems likely that the one decisive factor in the final decision to sack Kevin Rudd was not the factions, or the polls, or his lack of allies — it was the hideous example from the UK of what happens when you don’t act decisively. Anyone who watched the decline and fall of Brown isn’t likely to have much truck with Labor sentimentality.

Brown and UK Labour made two big mistakes.

The first, at the time of his accession, was to allow public discussion of whether he would go to an early legitimating poll, or serve his full term. Brown should have either had the poll — which he most likely would have won (perhaps requiring Lib Dem support to govern), or he should have firmly asserted the principal that parliament chooses the prime minister, and that people elect a local member, not a president. He did neither, and the rot set in.

The second mistake was by the party — not acting decisively when it was clear that Brown was a poor leader and was perceived as such. The party allowed the right-wing media to put Brown’s leadership into play, and then lacked the wherewithal to resolve it. The speed and decisiveness of the removal of Rudd took many by surprise (even those who had predicted he would go) because there was little precedent. It was a shift in the way Labor operates, i.e. a small historical moment. If you assume that the future will always behave like the past, then you’re bound to be surprised.

Peter Fray

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