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Follow the leader - it's not a game

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Chief Political Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald

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Let the Canberra battles begin

Online political editor Tim Lester predicts a fiery start to the new parliamentary session in Canberra.

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COMMENT

Is the Labor leadership issue a bizarre beat-up entirely confected by the news media? Certainly not. Is it an unstable and shifting situation, which may lead to a challenge, and which is notoriously difficult to report? Absolutely. Here are some of the dilemmas:

Is the Labor leadership issue a bizarre beat-up entirely confected by the news media? Certainly not. 

Apparently contradictory things can be simultaneously true. The 103-strong caucus is divided into three camps - those backing Gillard, a growing group who used to back Gillard but who are now unsure what to do, and those backing Rudd. So when Gillard's supporters say Kevin Rudd doesn't have the numbers, that's technically right. And when Kevin Rudd's supporters say support has drifted away from Gillard over the summer, that's true too. Both sides claim more of the undecided camp than they definitely have, meaning when each says the other is inflating their numbers, that's spot-on as well.

Leadership fight ... Julia Gillard during a press conference at Parliament House.

Leadership fight ... Julia Gillard during a press conference at Parliament House. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

MPs can be telling the gospel truth when they say ''no one has called me'' because overt canvassing of individual votes only occurs when a challenge has been declared. Now is the time of how-are-things-going, what-are-your-concerns, read-between-the-lines conversations.

Most MPs publicly insist they support the leader until the second they cast a ballot for somebody else.

In every leadership ballot some MPs tell both candidates they will vote for them.

Most MPs prefer not to declare their hand until they are sure which way the ballot will go, lest they jump the wrong way, and will only discuss their views with journalists on a ''background'', that is, anonymous, basis.

It is in Rudd's interests to talk up momentum, to keep the chance of a challenge alive, but not too much, to avoid challenging before the March 24 Queensland election. It is in Gillard's interests to say nothing is happening, but also to talk up Rudd's ''destabilisation'' to cement antagonism against him.

Momentum is powerful. In the challenge against Rudd, some MPs who had been supporting the prime minister felt that the challenge had gone so far, so fast, that only a change could calm things down.

When the independents say ''all bets are off'' after a leadership change they are trying to head off the destabilisation, but it does not necessarily mean they would refuse to support a Rudd Government and trigger a general election in which most would lose their seats. They would probably want some commitments from the new leader.

All of this means it is a difficult situation for journalists, requiring caution, judgment and the testing of what is said by sources who won't be named. But it does not mean they are making it all up.

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244 comments

  • A very sensibly written analysis of the situation. There will be many who refuse to believe that there is any leadership tension, however, if that were the case, surely Julia and Rudd would hold a joint press conference and put an end to all the debate? Of course, that will never happen because they don't even like being in the same room as each other. Let the specualtion continue..........

    Commenter
    liklik
    Location
    sydney
    Date and time
    February 07, 2012, 7:57AM
    • Of course you would think it a sensible analysis, because it feeds your side of politics.

      How about a joint press conference from Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull where both talk about how great the NOalition policy on carbon pricing is. Everybody knows how much Turnbull hates Abbott's totally negative power-seeking policies, but the press don't go on about it the way they feed off Rudd's megalomania.

      Commenter
      Johnno
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 9:14AM
    • liklik,do you really think there are no "leadership tensions" within the Liberal Party where they are being led by the one-eyed DLP candidate? Party members have been told to shut up otherwise it will cruel their electoral chances. But make no mistake, thing are simmering away.

      Commenter
      Jezz
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 10:00AM
    • Johnno, what would be the point? Everyone is already aware that Abbott and Turnbull have different approaches to carbon pricing. I'm more than happy for the media to analyse this relationship but i don't think it will bump the Julia/Rudd relationship issue off the opinion pages, and i suspect the main reason for that is possibly due to the contrasting ways that each party leader took power from their predecessor, and the fact that the Julia/Rudd split may lead to a new election, which appears to be what the majority of the electorate want.

      Commenter
      liklik
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 10:12AM
    • Liklik, again you miss the point. NOTHING has really changed re Rudd's re-leadership ambitions. He still is not within cooee of getting close to the numbers. So why is Rudd's ambition hot news while Turnbull's old hat?

      As for a new election, you have a typically right-wing mindset of seeing apples and thinking oranges. While current polls show that Dr No's NOalition are ahead, that does not translate into a desire for a new election now by those same people. I have not seen any poll showing that the majority of Australians want a federal election now, as opposed to the born-to-rulers who are desperate for power by any means.

      Commenter
      Johnno
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 10:25AM
    • But I'd love to see a lot more focus - to even things up a little - on all the leadership challenge possibilities for the Coalition.
      To me, that's equally interesting.

      In the Coalition, we have a 'leader' of ordinary intellect, who can't speak or argue on his feet and whom has absolutely no policy ambitions whatsoever. This leader happened to be around when the Labor party had a couple of internal fights and ousted the PM. This decision proved very unpopular with the Australian people and Abbott scored a bit of the protest vote. But Abbott himself is not popular, nor successful, despite any right-wing media support and beat-ups.

      Yes, that's what I'd find interesting. More analysis, or rather, equal analysis on the Coalition 'situation'. Because it's there. Simmering. Lying in wait. When is it not in politics?

      Commenter
      jjkk
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 11:34AM
    • @liklik ---- curiousity..... What branch of the National-Country-Liberal-NeoCon Party do work out of?

      Commenter
      TommyP
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 12:14PM
    • The Herald's chief political correspondent, Phillip Coorey, has been writing that Mr Rudd is "about to challenge" for a year now, based on anonymous (always anonymous) comments. The only people ever named in these stories are the ones denying it.
      A year, Lenore Taylor. If that isn't a media beat up, then what is it? Responsible journalism?

      Commenter
      Brett
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 12:14PM
    • "There will be many who refuse to believe that there is any leadership tension."

      Really, liklik??? I seriously doubt that. It would be an extreme minority actually. And a holding-hands press conference would never work. You really think that would increase credibility? I couldn't think of anything more pointless - the ultimate head in the sand. All in parliament should be very pleased you're not an advisor.

      Amazing how you read some words of caution regarding the reporting of this issue and turned it into another one of your talkback-style Lib-vs-ALP rants. You've missed the point entirely.

      Commenter
      Karl
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 12:46PM
    • "Sensibly written analysis"? I've appreciated Lenore's wriitng in the past, but after her first sentence, I expected to see actual evidence of a "leadership issue". I don't know - maybe an email, or some footage, or a source with a name.

      Where is the evidence for such media hysteria? In any govt, you will be able to find some sort of heir-apparent, and some sort of support for them. But that is not a "leadership issue".

      Add in that Rudd is obviously disliked by a very large number of Labor MPs, plus Julia is quietly achieving huge reforms, plus the independents are one-eyed in their support of her, and you can only conclude that it is a media beat-up.

      And you know what - despite the 1000s of articles written about it, the media still haven't been able to whip it up into a "leadership issue". Maybe it would be sensible, Lenore, to admit that, on balance, it really is a beat-up.

      Commenter
      Deipnosoph
      Date and time
      February 07, 2012, 1:12PM

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