THE cracks appearing in Bill Shorten’s leadership are being greeted with delight by the Coalition.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne could barely contain himself as Shorten’s “captain’s call” on the decision to oppose business tax cuts caused consternation in the Caucus. And Shorten’s ignominious back down didn’t help one bit.
“Albo will be licking his chops,” Pyne said, at any wavering of support for the Labor leader. The “Albo” in question was, of course, Anthony Albanese who contested the leadership against Shorten in the wake of Labor’s defeat in the 2013 election.
At the time Albo won a thumping 60-40 majority of the party’s 30,000 rank and file, but Shorten, the supreme faction boss, countered with a similar proportion of Caucus votes from a mere 86 members and senators.
It was a terribly unjust result for a party that says it believes in one vote one value. Yet Albo accepted his defeat with the kind of grace and decency that marks his career in politics. Nevertheless, he would not have been human if he hadn’t felt a sense of injustice and a determination to stick around to see if Shorten faltered in his unaccustomed role fronting for the movement, instead of plotting behind the scenes.
Moreover, in the five years since then he has been the very model of the loyal front bencher, with not a word of public descent; and not a whiff of private briefing against his leader.
Shorten himself stuck closely to the tactics – and to the very last syllable of the words – fashioned by his leadership team. He looked and sounded exactly like a ventriloquist’s dummy but such was the disillusion in the electorate with Malcolm Turnbull that in the 2016 election Labor ran the Coalition to a close finish. Indeed, in its wake Shorten paraded around the country as though he’d actually won it.
This was an operation designed to dissuade Albo from mounting a challenge, the only time he could have done so under the rules foisted on the party by Kevin Rudd when they wanted him to “save the furniture” in 2013.
In the event, Albo stayed mum and has continued as the loyal supporter while Turnbull has established a seemingly permanent ascendency over Shorten as preferred PM.
At the same time, despite its leader, Labor has retained a narrow lead over the Coalition in the polling. But it’s just the kind of lead that could be upended in an election campaign, especially one where Shorten was seen as the alternative national leader. Australians are no fools; they remember that it was Shorten who provided Julia Gillard with the numbers and the knife to plunge into Kevin Rudd’s back in 2010; and he did exactly the same to Julia in 2013.
Even if the Libs are on the nose, the very idea of this man representing Australia in the great international councils of the world is anathema. He’s a creature of union manoeuvring and he has one blinding principle – to scrabble himself into The Lodge by any means at hand.
Little wonder that the moment Albanese makes a speech that differs from the Shorten line by a hair’s breadth, the political world lights up with a technicolour explosion: “Albo’s making a run! You beauty!”
But will it change anything in the Caucus room? Time will tell.
If it does, then Christopher Pyne might well recall the old adage: “Beware of what you wish for…”