The future is a fiction. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a either a fool or a snake oil salesman. Yes, we need to make some predictions in order to make preparations, but there’s an inherent danger in behaving as though the past is the present.
“It’s ok, if I speed, because I’m a good driver,” a man is his forties, confidently told me.
“How do work that out?” I asked.
“Because I don’t have accidents,” he told me.
Strangely, many of you will predict how that story ends. Fortunately, not tragically, but you’re right. (The accident was, of course, the other driver’s fault!)
So, I want you to consider the future for a moment. Not predict, consider. And there’s a difference. We’ve had a range of political and economic predictions over the past few years. Most of them were wrong. Ridiculously wrong. But still, people keep making them, and justifying the fact they were wrong by using what happened as a reason that something else didn’t. (For example, “The predicted interest rate cut didn’t happen because unemployment fell” was one economist’s justification of his own prediction. Not much better than saying the only reason that this horse didn’t win was because the other horses ran faster, which I didn’t expect.)
Barry Cassidy may well be right. Julia Gillard may not lead Labor to the next election. But instead of trying to decide whether the people who’ve told Barry this are right or wrong, let’s have a look at how the future might unfold.
First, we have Gonski to consider. The negotiations with the States may delay any move by Rudd backers till the end of the month. If Labor can get that through, it’ll be an electoral plus, which poses a dilemma for the Liberals. Do they encourage the States to hold out and kill it, which may also make them look hostile to education? Or do they try the States to sign up in the hope that it’ll boost Gillard’s credibility and reduce the chances of a Rudd takeover?
Barry Cassidy has assured us that Gillard will not lead Labor to the next election, so how could we imagine that happening? Gillard gets a tap on the shoulder in much the same way that Rudd did, and stands down. This, of course, would have the Liberals jumping up and down about Labor’s “faceless men”. (The history of the term “faceless men” refers to a time when the trade unions set the policy behind closed doors then gave it to the politicians to implement. Faceless men how members of Parliament can be considered “faceless” is anybody’s guess.) Much of Labor’s rhetoric on giving women fair treatment would be turned back on them by the Opposition. Hypocrisy and politics have never been far apart.
So presuming we have a return to Rudd, what then? Well, the general consensus is that Labor would receive an immediate boost in the polls. The Liberals may still be able to make leadership changes an issue, but the initial response would be positive. Gillard supporters may be frustrated and turn off, but I doubt that many would actually vote for Abbott. Would Rudd feel bound by Gillard’s September election date? Probably not, but there’d be no compelling reason for him to rush to the polls. It could even play against him making Labor look like they’re afraid they can’t put together a functioning team under Rudd. On the other hand, the Liberals could be wrong-footed; after calling for an immediate election for three years, how can they start complaining that Rudd has called one early.
Which brings us back to the motion of no confidence that the Liberals promised us in May. (Sorry, it wasn’t a promise. I stand corrected.) The reason for not moving it in May was that the Independents wouldn’t support it, but it’s always been made clear that their deal was with Gillard, so all bets are off if Rudd is leader. Would the Liberals want to rush while Rudd is still in his (second?) honeymoon period or would they want to hold out and hope that the cracks in Labor start to show?
For most in the Labor party, I suspect that a return to Rudd is a concession of defeat and an attempt to minimise the damage. Many of the Gillard supporters may feel as though a win under Rudd would be a hollow victory, and that he was being rewarded for undermining the PM. Of course, the Rudd supporters would be able to say you get what you give, and look, we won didn’t we? Would this make for healthy government? Definitely not. But, of course, grown men and women should be able to put the past behind them and just look to the future. Unfortunately, we’re talking about politicians here, so I won’t hold my breath.
Perhaps, Cassidy is wrong and something – inertia or success with Gonski or a discovery about Tony Abbott streaking naked down Collins street – will mean that Gillard still leads Labor to the next election. Will Rudd continue to campaign? Will this have a positive effect or be a sideshow? At what point would speculation that he’ll takeover stop? During the election campaign? Two weeks before the election? Two days?
Whatever, the challenge for the Liberals will be how to play the next few weeks. Go too hard on Gillard and risk a return to Rudd? Go too soft and risk her being able to start to see like the “Jaws” character in that James Bond movie who just keep surviving everything? But the closer they get the more we start to see “countdown clocks”, and statements like “We won’t do this in our first term.” Hubris can be dangerous, particularly if they forget that the public haven’t really warmed to Abbott.
All things considered, the bookies will be offering long odds that Gillard will be there in October. Still, three years ago they offered long odds on Labor lasting the full term. Outsiders do sometimes get up. Not often, of course, that’s why they’re long odds, but sometimes!
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