Twelve months out from the next election, both the Coalition and Labor are facing the same leadership issues, as Rob Idol explains.
Here we stand again, approximately twelve months from another election. My thoughts turn to the painstaking decision I will have to make as to where to my vote lands. I have always proudly been a swing voter. As much one political party has traditionally fit my value system closer than the others, I refuse to let myself be sucked into a left versus right mentality and have my vote predetermined. The truth is, this pigeonholing approach to politics is incredibly dangerous, but entirely understandable.
Beyond this, we have to consider how these major parties may change direction before we go to the voting booth again. Do we even know who will be leading our two major parties into the next election? From the outside, it could be possible that we could see a leadership change in both camps.
Even the most chaste of the Coalition faithful would have to agree that on some level that Captain Tony hasn’t done a sterling job. Apart from his rogue tendencies (insofar as the democratic process within his own party is concerned), his most glaring shortcoming is his failure to connect to the average voter. Some of his stances and arguments have actually been quite reasonable, however, his inability to sell his message in an authentic way have left him wanting in terms of popular support.
It’s not surprising, really. Had the Labor party not been in such disarray at the last election, it could be argued that Tony would have never taken the top job. He simply watched those opposing him stumble clumsily over each other, snowed them on the way through and cruised to gold medal glory. We watched our anointed Steven Bradbury, crossing our collective fingers, hoping then that the ice wouldn’t break underneath us.
It could also be argued that this type of victory has shaped his leadership style. There has rarely been a day since he took office that his response to any question hasn’t been directed back to how bad the previous mob performed in the same position. He has never quite grasped the transition from opposition to leadership and the latest opinion polls indicate it’s finally catching up with him. There are two likely contenders waiting in the wings in Turnbull and Morrison, both of whom could offer salvation. The direction that the Coalition takes now comes down to a very simple question in my opinion; do you want to keep your party factions happy, or do you want to keep government?
Turnbull is without a doubt the people’s choice. Whilst the conservatives within his own party are not fans, the Australian public overwhelmingly are. He represents the moderate choice; someone that can offer some much needed middle ground, where social and fiscal issues can co-exist rather than at opposite ends of the seesaw. He’s progressive and pragmatic, or at least appears to be so in his carefully crafted public persona. Morrison, on the other hand, doesn’t have the popular vote of the Australian people, but does within the party. This begs the question – is he simply just another Abbott in disguise?
The Labor Party are facing some very similar issues. A long-term broken relationship, before finally succumbing to a very messy public divorce in that dramatic loss at the last election. The swing voters abandoned them en masse and they had no choice but to rebuild.
One of Kevin Rudd’s final legacies was to change the leadership voting system. No longer would the leader of the Labor party be voted by Caucus alone, but by a combined vote of Caucus and rank and file members. The result was a Caucus vote overwhelmingly in favour of Bill Shorten, and a rank and file vote significantly in favour of Anthony Albanese. The final result? Shorten by a nose.
Whilst this new improved democratic process was a welcome change, at the end of the day we ended up with the same result – a leader elected by the Caucus. A leader that, rightly or wrongly, had been involved in the controversies that had brought Labor to its knees; so involved, some would argue, that the two knives used to respectively remove Rudd and Gillard had the same fingerprints all over them. The Labor party needed to woo us with new blood, but instead gave us an ex-partner trying to convince us that they had changed their ways.
I’ll admit that Shorten has impressed me at times. He has shown a lot of conviction on some very important issues and has, on at least a few occasions, spoken with passion and authenticity. I, however, can’t help shake the feeling that we are on the verge of watching history repeat itself. If Abbott remains leader of the Coalition, Shorten can simply wait it out and have his own Bradbury moment, perpetuating the painful cycle. Albanese could still be the answer, or indeed Tanya Plibersek, who has earned a lot of fans (myself included) with her authenticity and compassion.
My conclusion? The best thing that could happen for this country right now would be to have Turnbull take the leadership, sooner rather than later. Not only is it in the interests of his own party, should they wish to retain government, but it will force Labor’s hand in a new direction. It will force them to form a strategy in opposition that involves developing strong alternative policy, rather than waiting for the guys across the table to crash and burn. It could be the circuit breaker that finally puts the last decade behind us and shakes up the system. An opportunity for both Opposition and Government to finally be in a position to move away from the traditional right versus left to the middle, where any and all solutions to our problems lie. Under that scenario, would I then know who to vote for? Not at all, but the process of deciding would be inspirational, rather than depressing.