It is difficult to conceive how Julia Gillard ever thought her recent war with the Australian Greens was a good idea. It’s not the fight itself but the way they’ve gone about it. Not for the first time Julia Gillard has responded to a threat to her authority by dispatching senior party officials to bury her rival in deluge of vitriol. In February we saw a tearful Anthony Albanese pleading for it to stop before it destroyed his great parties image forever, now we see stalwarts Laurie Ferguson and Melissa Parke shaking their heads ruefully as the government stitches itself up as an institution of thugs and bullies.
This approach of government by intimidation is not ineffective at quelling Gillard’s intra party problems as we saw in February but individual voters won’t be spooked into voting for her by Stephen Conroy or Paul Howes. What is disturbing is that this government doesn’t seem to realize that after it used such diabolical strategies to incinerate Kevin Rudd’s internal party support, Gillard’s opinion poll support nosedived whilst Rudd’s continued to rise. I expect this attempt to publicly crush Christine Milne and her Green comrades will deliver a similar voter reaction.
What Gillard doesn’t seem to appreciate is that by allowing factional hatchet man to do deliver the tongue lashings she doesn’t remain above the fray and untarnished but appears duplicitous. Voters resent the warm smiles on Qanda and the friendly chuckles at community cabinet’s while she allows men like Datsyari, Howes, Conroy, Crean, Emerson and Ludwig to intimidate and bully her political rivals. It is in many ways a less nuanced version of Alistair Campbell’s role as a political enforcer under Tony Blair, but Gillard and her hatchet man have none of the subtlety or tact of Blair.
It is possible for Gillard to survive until the next election using these strategies. If a team of thugs are prepared to frighten off any agitators for change then the change won’t come. But voters are watching and they are unimpressed. As the Prime Minister spent her first twelve months in the job unable to find any real authority per se, she now appears to have found it in one of the ugliest and most deplorable ways. It is an appalling look and it is haemorrhaging Labor votes.