When it’s a sword, apparently.
Remember back in 2010, when Education Minister Julia Gillard and the Faceless Men of Labor ‘knifed’ then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? The lurid headlines trumpeting, ‘Assassination’? The pundits crying, ‘J’accuse!’ at everyone from Labor junior Ministers to union officials?
Of course you do. After all, it’s not like any of us have been allowed to forget it. As recently as two weeks ago, we were treated to yet another reminder courtesy of the Coalition, complete with dire warnings that federal Labor will ‘inevitably’ see Gillard suffer the same fate as her predecessor.
Back up a second. Let’s remember something. Rudd may have been urged to go, but he didn’t lose a leadership challenge. He resigned in the face of loss of confidence from his party room. Splitting hairs? Maybe, but hold that thought.
Last night, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu also resigned from his leadership position. An earlier leader, Denis Napthine, emerged from the party room as the new Premier as a tearful Baillieu made his farewells.
The headlines made it clear. Baillieu ‘walked away’. He ‘fell on his sword’. In the face of loss of confidence from his party room (not to mention potential corruption charges and a continued slump in the polls), he resigned.
Oh, but wait.
It’s not the same at all, clamoured the Coalition. Rudd was ‘executed’. And anyway, he was a bad PM. Baillieu was a good Premier, a ‘man of integrity‘ who had ‘put Victoria’s finances on a sustainable footing and made significant investments in infrastructure,’ to quote Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Never mind the fact that earlier the same day, Victoria officially slipped into recession. It’s not nice to say bad things about an outgoing leader – unless that leader happens to be from the Labor Party, according to the Coalition playbook.
So let’s get this straight. When a Labor leader resigns under pressure from his party, he ‘gets knifed’. When a Liberal leader does the same thing, he ‘falls on his sword’. Is it just me, or is there something just a little ridiculous about that?
The Coalition will now reap everything it sowed when it sought to capitalise on the resignation of Rudd. The new Premier, in power under the same circumstances, is well and truly open to allegations of ‘assassination’ and ‘execution’ – and let’s not forget, Napthine himself was rolled as leader after poor polls and a split in the Coalition. Already, the accusations are flying thick and fast in the Victorian Parliament.
At least The Australian, ordinarily a bastion of Coalition support, didn’t go along with the ‘when-is-a-knife-not-a-knife’ spin attempt. Peter van Onselen was frankly incredulous at the turn of events in Victoria, describing the state Coalition as ‘rats in an experiment that did not learn from their mistakes’.
The frantic efforts to paint Baillieu as some kind of courageous and noble Roman general (notably absent from Parliament today) just won’t work. And the Coalition only has itself to blame. It wrote this script back in 2010, and ever since, have hammered it into public discourse without once stopping for breath. What goes round, comes round, as they say.
The big question, of course, is what – if any – effect this will have on Federal politics. It’s possible there will be none. Abbott’s very good at deflecting media attention, and Gillard risks a backlash from voters if she adopts the dramatic language usually directed at her. Neither stands to gain much (pending an early change of government in Victoria), and Abbott’s ‘sustainable finances’ gaffe is already the stuff of ridicule – so it won’t be long before he drowns it out with yet another criticism of the ‘carbon tax’ or the mining tax.
There is, though, one crucial lesson that we should take to the next Federal election – the knowledge that neither party can claim any sort of moral high ground in terms of loyalty to the leadership. Whether it’s resignation through coercion (as in the case of Rudd and Baillieu), or loss of position through a leadership spill (Nelson and Turnbull), ultimately doesn’t matter. Both parties are ruthless, and will do whatever it takes to gain (and hold) power. No leader is ‘safe’.
That’s something to remember next time you hear a politician wax lyrical about the stability of their party, or the instability of their opponent’s. In the words of Shakespeare, from Julius Caesar, just after the real assassination of Rome’s leader:
How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted o’er,
In states unborn, and accents yet unknown!
(Julius Caesar, 3.1.111)
How many, indeed?