Anthony Albanese could well be the most popular politician in the country right now. His weekend speech calling for an end to Labor infighting has drawn almost universal applause. Kevin Rudd calls him Labor’s “new elder statesman”. Julia Gillard says she can’t imagine leading a government without him by her side. Even Andrew Bolt calls him a man of honour.

Albo’s emergence as the patron saint of Labor unity is a remarkable development: he’s a factional warlord to his core. You could even call him a faceless man — if such terminology is to your taste.

Albanese is the leader of Labor’s hard-left faction, which has been locked in a long battle with Martin Ferguson’s soft left for dominance. Also known as the “Bolsheviks” and the “ratbags”, the hard left has historically been more concerned with international issues, such as nuclear disarmament, than the soft left. It’s also been closely associated with metal workers, while the Ferguson Left is linked to the Miscellaneous Workers Union.

Albanese formed an alliance with Mark Arbib during the right-wing boss’s stint as NSW ALP secretary to implement cross-factional fixes and lock out the soft left.

And, as Simon Crean knows all too well, Albo is no stranger to leadership destabalisation. Let’s cut to The Latham Diaries, dated Saturday, October 5, 2002:

“As the [ALP National] Conference started, I witnessed the most hypocritical thing I have ever seen in politics. For months, Albanese has been racing around boasting of how he has established the ABC club – Anyone but Crean … Yet there he was, flanking Crean as he entered the Conference, like some kind of Left-wing Pretorian guard.”

Although Albanese got his way, with Crean stepping aside, his record in leadership battles has been abysmal. He backed Beazley over Crean and Latham in 2003, Beazley over Rudd in 2006, Rudd over Gillard in 2010 and Rudd again in 2012. That’s five losses on the trot.

Albanese, a protégé of left-wing stalwart Tom Uren, has represented the inner-west Sydney electorate of Grayndler since 1995. He’s a firm supporter of gay marriage and opposes selling uranium to India.

As the manager of government business in the lower house, he’s proved himself a brilliant parliamentary performer and tactician. It’s Albo who tagged Tony Abbott’s team the “no-alition” and stitched up the deal to elevate Peter Slipper to the speakership.

Gillard refused to accept his offer to resign from the front bench, despite the fact he voted for Rudd in today’s ballot.

Albanese is married to Carmel Tebbutt, the state member for Marrickville and former NSW deputy premier. A staunch supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Albanese successfully lobbied the NRL not to give John Howard a role on the new rugby league independent commission.

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