Why Julia Gillard is still Labor’s Leader

Over months, if not years, the embattled Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has managed to hold onto both her position as PM and the leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP).

After failing to win the 2010 federal election decisively with a clear majority, yet managing to form a minority Government, Julia’s grip on power has been tenuous, albeit just enough.  A fact reiterated on the 21st March 2013, with the latest Labor leadership spill, this time initiated by Simon Crean.

With a voice that some Australians find less pleasant than fingernails scaping down a blackboard, Julia has repeatedly irked many Australians, whom have called for her removal.  This has been largely borne of the way in which she came to the position of the PM.  Regardless of one’s political views, knifing Kevin Rudd in the back for the top job, has not sat well with many Australians.

Perhaps oversimplifying things, the paradox of voting states that a person’s individual vote in a (large) democracy makes no difference to the overall outcome.  Of course, it is the sum of these votes that do count and make the difference.  In 2010, some votes were thrown away in the classic “donkey vote” for none of the above.  A choice to not pick the lesser of two evils.  Curiously, these figures are never released.  An official vote of no confidence in any – and all – of the candidates, may bruise politicians’ egos too much.  Alternatively, a vote may be cast for someone.  Or, a vote may be given to someone else, not necessarily because a voter likes that politician, rather because they use them to vote against another politician.  Democracy is a broken system, but it’s the best we’ve got.

On that basis, given the very early call by Julia Gillard for the 2013 election, many predictions have been made whether she’d lead the ALP into it.  The results of the polls, point to an ALP defeat and Liberal victory.  And markedly so.  The ALP has been viewed as dysfunctional, Gillard’s leadership more so.  To use polite terms.

Behind much of this, given Rudd has often been the preferred choice over Gillard in the polls, it has been the ongoing suggestion that Rudd would challenge for leadership of the ALP.  This was despite Rudd’s open statements that he would not further challenge her leadership.

This begs the question then, why on the 21st March 2013 given the instigation of the leadership spill, did Kevin Rudd do nothing to challenge?  Or, more bluntly:  Why is Julia Gillard still Labor’s leader?

Here is where one needs to think a little deeper and consider the vested interests.  Consider the most probable outcome, and then reason backwards.

By most accounts, unless something changes dramatically in the meantime, the ALP will lose the 2013 federal election.  This appears so regardless of the leader, whether Gillard, Rudd, or someone else.  By not challenging, Rudd has strategically not accepted the poison chalice.  If Gillard also loses her seat, then she will be ousted regardless.  With Rudd on the backbench, he has little to lose by strategically waiting until after the aftermath of the 2013 election.  There is a good chance he will retain his seat in his own electorate.

Furthermore, consider that many voters dislike the backstabbing and internal politics that have plagued the ALP over the past three or so years.  By Rudd honouring his statement that he would not challenge, he has managed to maintain his credibility.  Something that many disgruntled voters believe Gillard lost a long time ago (for example, breaking her earlier promise that there would be no carbon tax).  By doing nothing, Rudd has left her to fall on her sword.  Or in the meantime let someone else attempt to knife her in the back; and all that for a near guaranteed losing proposition in the upcoming election.  Rudd has kept his hands clean.

Whether Simon Crean truly attempted to force Kevin’s Rudd hand is unclear.  It was suggested that Crean was acting in what he believed were the best interests of the ALP.  Irrespective, it appears the Rudd, with his Cool Hand Luke approach, has weighed the choices and most likely picked the dominant strategy.

All of the above being said, is the leader of a political party more important than the ideologies of the political party itself?  What truly wins an election, is it personality or policy?

Play uthinki

Feature Image Credit: Eva Rinaldi