Will of the people fails to sway the Federal ALP caucus

Old joke: Q. "What's the difference between a caucus and a cactus?" A. "With a cactus all the pricks are on the outside"

Labor has overwhelmingly endorsed the candidate of the unions and the party machine over the candidate of the people.

For a political party that has been super-sensitive to opinion polls in the past, it was a remarkable rejection of the public will.

The people consistently prefer Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard as Labor leader by a factor of about two to one. But Labor has gone the other way by a factor of more than two to one. For a party that is on a steady trajectory to electoral defeat, it was an extraordinary act of steely resolve. Or suicidal madness.

Under the Gillard leadership, Labor lost its parliamentary majority and then proceeded consistently to register the lowest primary vote on record.

And the only polling figures to shift in the past week beyond the margin of error was Gillard’s approval rating.

Yet the vote of 71 to 31 for Gillard suggests that Rudd, on net, has failed to win over any votes since last week. Even more remarkably, he has failed to win any votes since losing the leadership 20 months ago.

Some names have moved from one column to the other on the caucus voting lists, but, on a net basis, the caucus has shown itself to be deeply entrenched in defending Gillard.

This is a violation of one of the customary laws of leadership challenges – that the challenger carries momentum.

The repudiation of Rudd reflects three forces.

First, it illustrates the power of the Labor institutional infrastructure of unions and their caucus outgrowth, the factions. Not one trade union supported Rudd.

Second, it shows the visceral personal dislike for Rudd in the caucus. The great bulk of the caucus would rather protect its comfortable working conditions under Gillard than choose a difficult leader more likely to deliver an election win.

Third, it demonstrates a commitment to continue to deliver its existing agenda. Oddly enough, it is largely an agenda drafted by Rudd.

The 40-vote margin compares with a 22-vote margin in Paul Keating’s first and failed strike at Bob Hawke. So Rudd faces a much bigger task to win in any second challenge. It would take a very dramatic shift to move 22 votes.


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