It’s par for the course for the Gillard government to find ways to shoot itself in the foot just when its opponents are coming under sustained pressure.

This time around the shot has been fired not by a member of the government, but by erstwhile colleague Lindsay Tanner, with a series of criticisms of the removal of Kevin Rudd, the government’s bona fides on key policy issues and the entire existence of the party.

The problem with Tanner’s analysis is that he has said nothing new, nothing that many Labor figures have not already said, and been saying for some time, particularly about the current state of the Labor Party. People inside and outside Labor have been saying for two years, and longer, that the party is ideologically adrift, controlled by professional politicians with no core convictions, and unsure of its continuing relevance in the successful market-based economy created by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

Labor’s challenge is to address these problems with internal reform; to that end, Tanner has been far more effective at yet again identifying the problem than identifying a solution. Indeed, it’s a fair argument that, as a senior member of the Rudd government, he was part of the problem — was not the 2009 ALP national conference the most stage-managed and anodyne in the party’s history?

Perhaps Tanner could have concentrated on why an array of prescriptions for reform — most particularly the reforms to significantly strengthen party democracy and grassroots activity advocated by Carr, Bracks and Faulkner in their analysis of the 2010 election — have been met with at best lukewarm support and more frequently opposition from across the party.

The ALP is increasingly a hollowed-out party, but those in control seem content to keep it that way.

Peter Fray

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