Jonathan Green has an interesting argument over at The Drum:
Gillard’s backers must surely be political realists. They must sense the hiding that this leadership will bring to the parliamentary party come September 14. But worse, in some eyes, would be the elevation of a leader in the party hostile to various internal interests; a man, like Kevin Rudd, who would work actively to undermine and subvert traditional avenues to power and influence.
Chances are that if any other member backed by any of the traditional sources of ALP power stood against her there would be a true, sudden and deadly contest. As things stand, far from being her imminent assassin – as the gallery would insist is the case – it’s more than likely that it’s Kevin keeping Julia in her job.
How is that?
You might call this a factional power base, you might even see roots that lead to the union movement. In Rudd’s case, you would be hard pressed to detect either.
… Rudd is still that man apart, an MP without institutional backing and – worse in the eyes of those who filled his shoulder blades with cutlery – a man whose presence in positions of power threatens the “faceless” control of traditional party mechanisms.
Now the Liberals like to make the argument that the ALP are somehow beholden to the unions – and indeed it is. The unions founded the party and provide the bulk of the funding. The Golden Rule applies as in he who has the gold makes the rules.
Jonathan Green’s argument is two-fold: Rudd is a challenge to that rule. The “shareholders” (so to speak) don’t trust him to act in their interests. Second the apparatchiks fear that he will reorganise the internal structures and wipe away their internal pathways to greater internal authority.
Some might take the view that this is very cynical and irresponsible, government must act in the national interest, blah, blah, blah. Yes – that’s all true. But politics is a long game and it seems the power brokers are willing to sacrifice an election or three to maintain their positions.
Was it Paul Keating who said always back the horse called self-interest because it was the only one really trying? Right now the government is dysfunctional not because its members are being self-interested but rather because their self-interest and the greater interest are not aligned. Normally I’d expect the prospect of re-election to discipline internal competition, but without that prospect we can expect to see internal difficulties come to dominate the party.
Update: Here is Grace Collier talking about ALP governance – before the 2007 election.
To understand the power balance, imagine the ALP is a company. Gillard is the operations manager, Rudd is the newly appointed chief executive, and the unions are both board of directors and shareholders. And recent events have caused a hairline fracture in the relationship between the powerbrokers.
The Labor Party today stands as the political wing of the union movement. The union movement started the ALP, it funds the ALP and it runs the ALP. It has appointed Rudd as its public face. Ironically, though, the painful IOU it has hung around his neck could cause it significant grief.