It is with morbid fascination that most Australians watch the political death throes of Julia Gillard. The press gallery can smell blood as she lurches from one crisis to the next.
That governments and prime ministers will face challenges during their time in office is unquestioned. However, for any leader to demonstrate such consistently poor judgment as Julia Gillard has is almost unparalleled in our political history.
Gillard is the subject of mirth within the Australian electorate. But she is not the subject of the regular lampooning afforded to almost every politician; she has entered into a realm all of her own.
People no longer pay attention when she speaks. The most ardent political junkies hit the mute button at the mere threat of her droning and insincere words.
Even the most partisan Labor supporters find it difficult to justify how it came to be that their once great Party became captured by such a caricature of a leader.
The answer was suggested to me by a reformed Young Labor apparatchik. He put forward an interesting theory that Labor’s woes are structural and caused by their two warring factions: the left and the right.
He posits that the Labor right have become a formidable campaign machine and run the modern day Labor Party.
They are very effective in political messaging, exploiting their opponents’ weaknesses and winning election campaigns; so much so that campaigning has become their only raison d’etre. Accordingly, the right have no real policy passion or agenda save the desire to get into power for power’s sake.
The other side of Labor is the left faction which comprise political refugees from the socialist movement and the Fabian Society. They still believe in the failed social democratic experiment where government knows better than the individual, the family and the business owner.
The left have little, if any, practical understanding of how the world has moved on since the Cold War of the 1950s and the class warfare of the 1970s. Thus they are the custodians of ‘winding back the clock’ policies of division, envy and government control.
In opposition, these two forces work together as an effective counter to a modern and responsive conservative government. They run strong campaigns based around cosy sounding policies that appeal to the inner protectionist within many voters. They never make the case for strong reform because the right-initiated focus groups suggest that would be bad for the poll numbers.
Over time, the hard work of conservative governments, which usually involve fixing the legacy of the last Labor foray into government, is taken for granted by the electorate. A cavalier sense of electoral boredom overcomes the history of Labor failings, with the electorate thinking that surely Labor can’t make the same mistakes again – can they?
The result is that another Labor PM is given the keys to the Lodge.
Like many leaders who seek power without knowing exactly why, the new PM asks the caucus ‘what now?’
The Labor right suggest appeasing the media monster by feeding the 24/7 cycle with froth and bubble. This works for a time as evidenced by the former NSW government led by now Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Former PM Kevin Rudd also took this agenda for a spin – and it worked, albeit only briefly.
Eventually, though, some serious policies are needed. The right are a policy-free zone and so it becomes the preserve of the left to do some of the heavy policy lifting. The result is an agenda straight from Das Kapital with a modern twist.
Things like the NBN, carbon tax, mining tax, turning back the IR clock and billionaire bashing become new interpretations of the socialist desire for nationalisation, class warfare and wealth redistribution.
This is exactly what has happened to the Gillard Government. Bereft of any meaningful or coherent policy agenda the result has been government borrowing, wasteful spending, nationalisation of industry, union rorts and higher taxes.
Unfortunately, the result is no different to every other time such an agenda was enacted. A sense of despair in the populace, a deterioration in the economy and a legacy that will live on in the form of weakened institutions and national debt for many years to come.
It is always left to conservative governments to pick up the mess of the political left. This time will be no different. Once again, it will be the Coalition who will be asked to restore hope, reward and opportunity for all Australians.
We can only hope that the opportunity to do so comes sooner rather than later.