Overcoming the Politics of Disappointment

If Kevin Rudd wants to have an edge over Tony Abbott then he must create a paradigm shift in Australian politics. Above all he must show he is above the sniping of Labor insiders and open up Labor to greater democracy and a wider gene pool.

You have to hand it to the Australian Labor Party, it can read the winds of political change. But can Kevin Rudd win the next election?  Certainly Rudd’s ascendancy to the leadership tonight is good for the media. But to win will require a change in the politico-media paradigm. Rudd can turn the coming attacks on him from the Liberal Party and his own colleagues into an advantage but he will have to move way beyond his own comfort zone and certainly way beyond the political comfort zone of many of his colleagues. He will have to declare that he will democratize the Australian Labor Party and create a far more open polity.

The Australian people are primarily disappointed in the quality of their representatives and the internally focused nature of politics. The Commonwealth Parliament appears to be a black hole where good people simply disappear. Above all ordinary people crave positive news, inspiration about the future and clear understanding of the very difficult changes that will have to occur for Australians to maintain their current standard of living in the world.

If Rudd wants to give Labor an edge over the Liberal National coalition then he needs to immediately indicate that he will reform the party and widen the gene pool of Labor representation. The offices of the oldest workers parliament in the world now sell food, shoes, suits and medicinal herbs and apart from the photographs on the walls there is no trace of the history of the Australian labour movement. It is a sorry symbol but some would say it is a realistic indicator of what the Australian labour movement and party have become.

 Labor and its representatives too often preach homilies of another time and place in order to camoflauge the dire straits of its own representation and quality.

Politics has to change. The major parties hold on to power. But its only the resources to command the mass public relations machines that allow them to dominate, they certainly do not occupy the hearts and minds of ordinary Australians.

Perhaps the greatest historical disappointment of these times has been the independents Rob Oakeshot and Tony Windsor. I wrote three years ago that the independents offered some hope to change the big political machines and the nature of the Australian parliament. With their announcement today that they would not be standing at the next election comes the final disappointment. These men never thought beyond the current parliament and never thought much beyond the special benefits they could win for their own electorates. Their entire modus operandi during the 2011-13 Commonwealth parliament has been to work in an opportunistic and short term fashion. Some have seen them as just Labor numbers and they could be right.

Independence of ideas and character were what Australians were looking for, instead they got politics as usual.

Australians once again find themselves with an unsatisfactory and disappointing political choice of two major political parties that are anachronistic, undemocratic and internally focused. There is little difference between the parties. Kevin Rudd was certainly right to mention this in his statement about why he had decided to stand against Julia Gillard.

The question is: what will Kevin Rudd do about it? If Rudd talks about the need to open up the Labor party then the slings and arrows of his colleagues that will no doubt feature in Liberal party campaign adds will simply bounce off him. Of course the factional leaders and numbers men of Labor will attack a man who has been independent and has always done things in his own way.

The sight of Bill Shorten switching his allegiance to Kevin Rudd before the leadership ballot was quite sickening. The old machine will seek to glue themselves to whoever is the winner. But this was the sort of opportunism that the public has come to hate about Labor.

Rudd owes nothing to Shorten or any of his cronies. The reason it took so long for Rudd to come back was because the power-brokers are petrified by the prospect of Rudd winning an election. Rudd would be the most powerful Labor Prime Minister in history and would be able to bring about the fundamental changes that are required to transform the Labor to become a more modern social democratic base that is independent of the union movement. This is a long overdue reform. The union movement need to be free of the constraints of representative politics and the labor party needs to be free from those who still cling to the remnants of a once proud labour movement for alterior motives.

Kevin Rudd has many faults. He has had more chances than most people get to change his worst features, namely his rigid, self centred arrogance. It is worth giving him one more chance because Labor needs a leader who owes nothing to the so-called faceless men and factional leaders. A certain amount of arrogance is needed to face these men and their supporters. These were men and women who, until the last minute, were prepared to take Labor to an election which would have reduced the party to an unprecedentedly weak position. But of course they would have kept their sinecures and power.

 The voters of Australia will be watching carefully. It would once again be disappointing if Kevin Rudd were to simply allow the same power structures and power brokers to retain their positions of influence within the Federal Labor party. With an election to fight he will need the support of the party machines. However, because so much of modern party campaigns revolves around public relations budgets, the party machines are more expendable than ever before. The fact is though that by standing independent of the party power brokers Rudd will give the Labor party a significant edge.

Unless Rudd talks about democratising and opening up the Labor Party I believe he will lose against Tony Abbott.

Julia Gillard has been an impressive politician. She can be proud of her record as Prime Minister. However her style of development within the Labor Party and her attachment to the power brokers of the party have tainted her achievements. She rose and fell on their coat tails.

The Australian people want leaders to emerge in their own right, to emerge clearly on the basis of their own efforts and talents. Less than impressive human beings would not become numbers men, Labor representatives, and here I think of Mark Latham, Labor leaders, if there was a far more open and public process of leadership development.

Rudd should now call all those Labor members who have resigned from the party to come back on board because he is going to open the party up to a wider membership and that he will be once again valuing the voices of ordinary people and members. There will be many, including this writer, who would heed his call.