With a leadership ballot within the federal Labor Party now imminent, it is worth considering Labor’s options. As I see it, there are three options – and none of them are particularly desirable.
Option 1 – Stay with Julia Gillard
As I have previously noted, Gillard’s political judgement is appalling, and is also the main reason why Labor finds itself in such dire straits today. Whether it’s the broken promise on the carbon tax, having a formal alliance with the Greens, mishandling the boat people issue on numerous occasions, the Australia Day protests or her appearance on Four Corners, the PM has time and time again displayed a complete lack of political nous. She is a master of political disaster when political judgement is an essential requirement for being Prime Minister.
The only benefit from keeping Gillard is that Labor will almost certainly go full term. The Greens and independents Oakeshott and Windsor will continue to support the government, ensuring that the next federal election will be pushed well into 2013.
The disadvantage with this option is that Labor faces an eventual election rout of epic proportions. The voters who hate Gillard will punish Labor for keeping her, and the risk is that Labor will be reduced to little more than a cricket team in the House of Reps in the next parliament.
Option 2 – Replace Gillard with Rudd
The major advantage here is that Labor will immediately become more popular, as Gillard is responsible for the government’s current position. The electorate may even give Labor credit for righting what many see as the wrong in Rudd’s political execution in 2010.
The risks however are numerous. Firstly, Labor may not get as much of a bounce from this option as it expects. Secondly, Rudd’s popularity may fade very quickly and Labor may end up in a hardly better position than it was under Gillard. This is particularly the case when tricky political issues such as the carbon tax, boat people and the economy will need to be dealt with. Furthermore, voters could be soon enough reminded of what made them turn off Rudd in the first place.
The other risk is that the party will tear itself apart. Many MP’s hate Rudd. Cabinet processes could become centralised again and policy execution dysfunctional. There’s a small possibility that some MP’s could even bring down the government by pulling the pin in disgust.
Option 3 - Elect a third candidate
When Simon Crean realised in late 2003 his leadership was doomed, he stepped down and moved his support towards Mark Latham in order to prevent Kim Beazley, who had earlier challenged Crean regaining the leadership. It may well be that Gillard and her supporters will do the same when they see that Gillard’s leadership is coming to an end.
The first question that immediately arises is who such a third candidate would be? The three people that come to my mind are Bill Shorten, Stephen Smith and Crean.
The advantage from this option is that it may prevent the party from tearing itself apart if one of these men is elected as the compromise candidate from a caucus bitterly divided between Rudd and Gillard.
The risks however are numerous. Firstly, one of these men are particularly well known, and so the public may react adversely, particularly with the Coalition certain to liken it to the NSW Labor leadership revolving door. Secondly, neither Smith nor Shorten have held leadership roles before, and it is unknown how any of them would fare. The Gillard experiment failed badly enough for many members of caucus to have second doubts about trying another experiment.
As the above analysis demonstrates, there are no easy options for Labor. I would love to hear from readers what their thoughts are.
What do you think Labor’s best option is?