“I can’t tell you what the game plan is but I’m sure it’s brilliant”

Well, it’ll be an interesting day in Canberra tomorrow when the ALP Shadow Cabinet meets. Mark Latham, who increasingly finds himself subject to leadership destabilisation, has taken the bit between his teeth and vowed to discipline Senator Stephen Conroy, the Labor Senate Deputy Leader, who apparently descibed John Faulkner as “Dr Frankenstein”, and is generally seen as a covert opponent of Latham’s hold on the leadership. Michelle Grattan picks the stakes of this fight well:

For Latham, there is always the risk that a move against Conroy could escalate dramatically and end goodness knows where. What would happen if there was a formal vote to spill one position and it failed? It seems inconceivable but we are in uncharted territory.

The Dr Hewson analogy is increasingly popular in the press, and Peter Costello contributes some thoughts on roosters and parrots.

Lindsay Tanner, an ommission from the recent listing of potential leadership contenders, argues that evidence has to be produced of Conroy’s wrongdoing, but appears open to considering such evidence if it surfaces.

And unnamed Labor MPs have their say:

One MP said if Mr Latham wanted to dump Senator Conroy he must detail the charges and evidence against him. “If it is for talking to the media, then nearly the whole caucus will be found guilty.”

Another said: “Mark Latham wrote the instruction manual on disloyalty and now complains people have read it.”

It looks like Latho is playing the ultimate crash-through or crash gambit. A number of reports in the last few days seemed to indicate that he’d be prepared to walk away from the leadership if a Crean scenario re-ignited (as it appears to have done). Caucus meets on Tuesday. Remember, if Latho is home by Christmas, you read it first here at Troppo.

UPDATE: Stephen Conroy has given Latho a loyalty pledge, putting this issue to rest, for the moment at least.

ELSEWHERE: The right-wing but thoughtful blogger The Currency Lad is quick to make the Doc Evatt comparison. Not so sure about his Stalin analogy, though. But if Latho’s campaign resembled anything in electoral history, it was the Doc’s in 54.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Link
2022 years ago

I know that having a leader is important, but I would think that there would be more important things to attend to, at the present moment. The ALP is a monster mess/mash. Does Latham have the gumption to lead this rag-tag bunch of people? One has to wonder, but who on earth are the contenders for this position? Certainly not Beazley. Crean? Puhleese, lets not go there again. Its gotta be Latham or Gillard or Macklin perhaps? it is really discouraging and quite abhorrent that they continue to make themselves such a laughing stock. Dick-heads, get it together! The bombs are falling!

Link
2022 years ago

Oh, and Garrett keeling over at the shore’s edge wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for either. Man, he should’ve joined the Greens and been forced to win a challenging seat, (which he probably would’ve romped into).

Link
2022 years ago

maybe Bob Brown will retire in a year or two and Garrett can jump ship and step in there – nice safe seat again – maybe.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Link, yeah, it’s very depressing. If anything, the whole mess seems worse than it was under Crean. The ALP needs either to dispatch Latham quickly and get on with it, or re-endorse him quickly and get on with it. My reading is that Latham is saying to Caucus – get over all this, or I’m off.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Neither option is viable, Mark. He’s just been re-endorsed and there’s no other obvious contender. And “re-endorsement” isn’t the point anyway. Endless testaments as to the frontbench and caucus being behind the leader will pour forth in the next few days, in approved solidarity soundbite fashion, and none of us will believe any of them. It’s self-evidently conditional on the fortunes of Latham and the ALP, going forward.

The real danger for Latham is that no-one in the party seems to like him very much and many actively loathe him. His ascendancy was a huge gamble and given the election result – and the apparent absence of a reservoir of personal goodwill (even Crean had that to some extent) – he’ll need to convince the party that he’s got what it takes, in short order.

Stephen Conroy is the least of his worries and it’s entirely indicative of Latham that he doesn’t appear to grasp that fact.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Geoff, yes, but if Latham forces a vote on Conroy’s Senate deputy position it will be effectively a vote on whether Caucus has confidence in him as leader.

But in general, I agree with you. It’s just that it seems very difficult, as I previously noted, for Latham to make any progress if every move he makes is to be interpreted through a leadership lens. This will make it very hard for him to prove himself – the same problem Crean had. In that sense, a vote one way or the other might be helpful to him. Or not.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

People clearly forget what happened to the Liberals in 1993.

Expecting to win they went backwards. Clowns like Paul Kelly then speculated if they couldn’t beat the ALP after a recession when could they do it?
They re-elected Hewson however howard continued to undermine him.
This ended when Hewson decided it would be easier to go back to private Enterprise.

Can I suggest with a hot labour market and wages likely to rise to the scary side for the RBA they will then have to raise rates.

We then wait to see if this leads to a recession courtesy of a highly leveraged housing sector oe a downturn.
either way the Government loses its lustre.

wake me up in a year when it matters.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Homer, you forgot the bit about Howard then going on to win in 96, 98, 2001 and 2004. Latham took over from Crean in 2003 and led the ALP to it’s worst election result in years, in 2004. Not only that, he’s not very likeable – and worse, nor is he apparently respected, by his colleagues. I don’t think Latham can hang around for an electorally-satisfying recession, any more than Labor can just sit around waiting for it to happen.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Homer, I’m inclined to agree with Geoff. While the odds that Australia will continue to defy the business cycle through the current parliamentary term must be slim, and given the goverment’s emphases on the economy and interest rates during the election, such an event would not be good for the Coalition, Labor nevertheless needs to do some serious re-thinking about its policy and electoral strategies.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

I doubt Latham would be so willing to relinquish the leadership, but even if he was, imagine how it would come across; “hey guys, I just steered us into an absolute shitstorm of an election loss, but you’d better be nice or I’ll jump ship… and any of you at the helm would be EVEN WORSE.”

Personally, I think Rudd would be the best pick at the moment. He mightn’t convey much gravita’s, but it’s not like Howard ever did either.

rog
rog
2022 years ago

Whilst Latho plays russian roulette with the ALP the main agenda, policies, remains unaltered and untended. Until they redefine their core function they will be dragged down by the recent past.

Whilst Latho sees himself as a modern day Robin Hood, the voters will continue to regard him as some sort of demonic robbing hood, with all the charms of Herman Munster.

rog
rog
2022 years ago

..and whilst I dont like to repeat myself…

Angry
2022 years ago

I think maybe Latham’s days are numbered.

Like him or not, he’s the one considered to have lost the election, and he will be forced to take the fall.

ANGER LEVEL….81%

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

With Gough as his mentor, it was inevitable that Latham would fall victim to his own hubris and arrogance eventually. We should just be thankful that it is going to happen in Opposition.

rog
rog
2022 years ago

Lathos (rhymes with pathos) lament against the state premiers was so typical of the ALP mindset.

Its not our fault, its the fault of the greedy….(insert where appropriate:capitalists, industrialists, multinationals, developers, warmongers etc)

When will they accept responsibility for their own actions?

saint
2022 years ago

Oh rog, I guess they’ll accept resposnibility when the Liberal-National coalition accept their responsibility for the family tax mess, the billions of dollars black holes in defense mess, the child care mess, the health sector mess….

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

As a bit of a postscript, I think there’d be a good case for getting rid of Stephen Conroy anyway. His performance in shadow portfolios has never been particularly credible. Gone, it seems, are the days when right wing Victorian faction leaders could be both effective apparatchiks and worthwhile pollies (vice Robert Ray). Conroy appears to be neither. Just an ambitious young lad in a smart suit.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Peter Costello sums it up fairly well comparing Labor’s Latham experiment with the Coalition’s Hewson experiment.

“Dr Hewson was an untried leader who did not work out,” Mr Costello said.

“I think Labor invested a lot in this election in Mr Latham.

“He didn’t have a track record, he didn’t have experience, he had a checkered political career and he was very much a lone wolf.

“Now, that’s alright if you win. You can take all of the credit.

“But if you lose, part of the corollary of that is you take all of the blame.

“And I think Mr Latham’s going to face up to that.”

Having waited patiently and diligently in the Coalition wings, Costello is the most eminently qualified to judge the performance and background of a Prime Ministerial aspirant. Recent history would tell him that you only get to be PM by having served a lengthy apprenticeship, generally as Treasurer or govt minister, although a relative outsider like Hawke had a national stage apprenticeship with the ACTU. You could have this background like a Beasley and still be in the right place at the wrong time. Generally prospective PMs have been able to not only galvanise support behind them, but also to strike a consensus in their team. Costello has rightly pointed out Latham’s shortcoming in this regard. Now Latham might be able to weld a coherent and committed team together before the next election, but it does seem beyond his character. He played the game fairly well in the runup to the election, but the arm-wrenching outside the radio station with Howard really gave the game away. His post election utterings seem to confirm his inability to cooperatively lead Labor back. He seems more suited to the lone wolf, Ironbar Tuckey role in politics. That really leaves only an inclusive, diligent, healer, with great stamina to lead Labor back from the wilderness. I wouldn’t discount Beasley here, but I’d say Crean or Rudd should be more likely to have the attributes required now. They have to come up with a team player and people manager with the doggedness of a Howard.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

I’d add here that one of the great attributes that Howard has, is a management style that allows the various personalities to make the running from time to time, even to provoke and test the mood of the electorate on various issues. Take Abbott with the abortion debate or Costello with the aging popn issue. It is hard to imagine Latham giving senior ministers their head in this fashion. He’s too much of a control freak(a la the Conroy ticking off) It is this management style that has seen unbridled party loyalty to Howard and makes him one of our greatest PMs. If I had to stick my neck out and choose a Labor man most likely to succeed in this fashion, I’d plump for Kevin Rudd. His demeanour in the media with a political opponent like Joe Hockey, is a good pointer here IMO.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Conroy appears to be neither. Just an ambitious young lad in a smart suit.”

PJK was down that track yesterday observing that Conroy was of the “Rabid Right” – presumably not the same Rabid Right that PJK and Richo belonged to – and should “probably be in the Liberal Party.” If Conroy buys a mansion in Toorak and fills it full of antique clocks, I assume that PJK’s worst fears will be realised :) Don’t let those boyish looks decieve you Mark. Conroy is a ‘young lad’ in his 40’s.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

observa, we’re in agreement for once – about Howard’s management style. This is such a noteworthy event, I think I’ll do a separate post on it – rather than respond in comments.

I’m not so sure about the argument regarding experience. Whitlam of course had no ministerial experience, though no doubt you’d say he proves your point. But the length of time Labor has been in opposition means that this will soon disappear as a criterion for potential leaders. Blair is an example of a successful PM who had no previous governmental record.

I suppose Labor could draft a state Premier, but the record of state Premiers in federal politics is not outstanding.

Geoff, that’s interesting about Conroy’s age. Maybe he has a portrait wrapped in canvas of himself next to a vintage clock?

I think your earlier comment about Latho’s not being likeable is on the money, btw.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Mark, Whitlam was no flash in the pan as pointed out here

“Edward Gough Whitlam studied law and entered practice near Sydney after serving in World War II. A member of the Labour party, he was elected to Parliament in 1952 and rose in party circles. In 1960 he succeeded Arthur Calwell as party leader and attempted to broaden the party’s appeal to the middle class in order to reverse its poor electoral showings of the 1950s and 60s. In the Dec., 1972, elections he led the party to victory against the Liberal-Country coalition that had dominated Australian politics for years. As joint prime minister and foreign minister, he emphasized better treatment for aborigines and a limit to British and U.S. influence in Australia. Immediately after taking office, he ordered Australian troops to return from South Vietnam and ended conscription. In 1973 Whitlam relinquished the office of foreign minister. In the May, 1974, elections his government was returned to power with a small majority in the lower house. In 1975 he was dismissed by the governor-general after the opposition party, which controlled the Australian senate, refused to appropriate money to support his government. He resigned as party leader in 1977 and in 1978 left politics to teach at the Australian National Univ. at Canberra. From 1983 to 1986 he was ambassador to UNESCO.”

Interesting how we tend to view Whitlam as a shooting star, crash through or crash PM, when his background shows that this was far from the truth. His hard yards in the wilderness was a legacy that Hawke could enjoy, but was probably squandered under Keating. Labor is deluding itself if it goes looking for personalities and quickie fixes now.

observa
observa
2022 years ago
Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Children, in 1993
The Libs WERE devastated. They were expecting to win easily yet they went backwards.
( It is ironic that the major reason for the loss was industrial relations & health NOT the GST and it was howard who had resposbility for this).
It was very easy to meet libs who were convinced that the ALP were in a perion of Menzian length.

however the polls showed this was not the case. However this did not stop Howard shafting Hewson who tired of the whole thing. He never was a polician anyway.

The real comparison is with 1994 not 1996 which few people could see. I might add in 1996 very few people could still see the election result coming although a loud then dark brown haired ex-ALP kept on telling they would win by 40 seats!

The ALP has lost their 4th election in a row. moreover and this is the rub, they , like most of us including the Liberal party, were expecting a VERY close result.

This did not eventuate and hence the problems.

My guess is that we will begin to see evidence of the governments hubris soon and then the ALP will look at the external happenings and leave the internal rumbles.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Rudd always seems a bad bet to me because he is too thoughtful and intelligent, assumed to have a charisma bypass. (And Latho looked pretty good in the last election IMHO).

But then, as an outsider to NSW politics, I look at Carr and wonder how on earth he survives. Doesn’t he have all those Rudd qualities?

Maybe Rudd can come through..

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“But then, as an outsider to NSW politics, I look at Carr and wonder how on earth he survives.”

Currently it’s pretty much because we’re over two years away from an election…..

But seriously (kind of) he has been a pragmatic, ideology-free fixer with the kind of gravitas-laden, media-trained fluency that convinces people as to his statesmanlike qualities. The ‘lympics helped immeasurably as well. Now the ‘lympics are long gone, the trains are stuffed, hospitals keep people waiting for amputations for about 10 years, only to remove the wrong limb and etc.

Carr’s bookish, unblokish, non car driving image makes him a bit of a political oddity but while things were going swimmingly he was our oddity. He also had lamentable opposition – a bland boring beige cardigan with a bloke allegedly inside it, then a woman who never seemed at home in the role then John Brogden who does uncannily accurate impersonations of a demented chicken – wings flapping, shrill squawking.

His best days are behind him. Carr recently announced grandiose plans to reverse global warming and to outfit NSW with it’s own Navy in order to stave off criticism about Cityrail. No-one actually noticed. I’m anticipating his announcement on invading Victoria any day now…..

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

If Latho is the Doc Evatt of the noughties, who’s going to be Arthur Calwell?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Beazley?

Alex
Alex
2022 years ago

Cruel, Mark. Cruel, but fair.

PeterF
PeterF
2022 years ago

Mark,
I was too young to have a contemporaneous handle on the 1954 election, but my understanding is that Evatt was unlucky to lose, falling short by a handful of seats and winning a majority of the vote. I incline to the view that the frustration of the narrow loss precipitated his erratic behaviour in the proximate aftermath and to his longer-term psychological decline.
Latham’s (and 2004 Labor’s) loss was far more decisive. Perhaps the sense in which you might be drawing parallels is that both Evatt and Latham demonstrate(d) some potential for instability, which Evatt certainly realised.
I would also argue that the factional stresses in the Labor Party as the split approached were far more severe than those of the contemporary ALP. To hold the ’50s Party together (especially in Opposition) would have been beyond any Labor figure in my life-time.