A Real Barbeque Stopper

Fair shake of the sauce bottle.

The Labor Party should stop handing around the leadership like a pair of barbeque tongs.

It’s a good thing someone hid the knives before the BBQ at The Lodge last night, or it would have been a massacre.

Picture this: In one corner the PM’s loyalists, including Combet and Wong; in the other the Ruddbot army of Bowen and McClellend; in between, a shambles of MPS crying into their chardonnays wondering where it all went wrong.

The real barbeque stopper is this: It doesn’t matter who the leader is. The Labor Party is broken. And it may never be fixed.

The problems began long before Kevin Rudd copped the raw prawn in 2010.

Around the world, Centre Left parties are stumbling along the Third Way, a political philosophy combining economic rationalism with the traditional ideals of social justice.

This has seen great success, like the floating of the dollar under Hawke and Keating.

At the same time, reductions in tariffs have seen manufacturers in Labor’s heartland shed jobs at a record rate.

If the Left was choosing the music at last night’s soiree, it would have been Midnight Oil’s Read About It: “The rich get richer, the poor get the picture.”

While they fight for onshore processing and gay marriage, the Right heralds Howard-era policies on asylum seekers and family values.

The ideological divide is too deep.

It leaves the rest of us wondering: What does Labor stand for?

The first branch was founded at a meeting of striking pastoral workers at Barcaldine in 1891.

To this day, half the delegates at national conference are union affiliates, despite membership in the workplace being at an all-time low.

As a member of the Mount Martha ALP branch wrote on the National Times website late last year, “The ALP is a hollow shell managed by a coterie of union officials, factional operators and political professionals”.

The leadership struggle between Gillard and Rudd is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with modern Labor.

Instead of dealing with division, party elders have ceded their power to spin doctors.

All they’re doing is papering over the cracks.

One Prime Minister wasn’t polling well so they inserted another.

Like many women in politics, this one was given a poisoned chalice: Forever haunted by her role as Lady Macbeth.

Her reward? Saddled with the impossible task of selling a carbon tax at a time of global financial meltdown.

Her punishment? Potential replacement by the man who pushed for an Emissions Trading Scheme in the first place.

It’s a perpetual episode of Yes Minister.

While Julia Gillard is the worst Prime Minister in recent history (even leading light of the Left Robert Manne agrees with that) the fault is not hers alone.

The party has allowed itself to be hijacked by wealthy lobby groups.

Under pressure from the Right, the PM watered down Rudd’s Resource Super Profit Tax after a $22m campaign by the mining industry.

Then she buckled to the Clubs lobby on Andrew Wilke’s pokies plan, forever labelling her a liar.

Perhaps she listened to advice from her new communications guru, John McTiernan: “You don’t need to tell the whole truth.”

This arrogance led to the Australia Day debacle.

It indicates a deep disrespect for the electorate.

Which bring me back to the elephant in the room, a cartoon used by the Murdoch media to bring back Kevin Rudd.

It ain’t going to work.

This simply feeds into the narrative that the faceless men are running the party.

I can see the headline on the front of News Ltd tabloids the following day: It’s Undemocratic.

There’ll be articles about ‘poor Julia’, using images of her as a weak woman cowering in the arms of her bodyguard.

Sympathy will suddenly switch from the victor to the vanquished.

The solution lies not in the leadership, whether it’s Greg Combet, Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten or Simon Crean.

Party elders need to navigate a path to a new Labor – one where style is supplanted by substance.

They then need to sell their message with conviction: guiding us through the GFC; protecting low paid workers; developing a viable policy on asylum seekers.

Sure, some people vote for the leader.

Last week a colleague found 95% of patrons in her local pub wanted Kevin Rudd back because he was the one who gave them the stimulus package.

They remember because it’s still hanging on their wall, in the shape of a plasma TV.

But most of us are smart enough to see through the smoke screen.

Frankly, we deserve better than a government which is a few sausages short of the barbeque.