By Christine Jackman, Melbourne University Press, $34.95
THE BEST thing about this book is that we know how the story ends—Howard loses. However, a big question mark hangs over what exactly has been gained with the election of the Rudd Labor government.
Jackman’s book will niggle every worry you ever had about Kevin Rudd. After Jackman’s account of the election, it came as no surprise to learn that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “former policy guru”, Geoff Mulgan, has joined Rudd’s staff as an adviser. (Another Blair adviser, Tom Bentley is now working for Julia Gillard.)
A lot of the book is hagiography, not surprising given that Rudd is godfather to one of Jackman’s children. We are told more than once that Rudd has “formidable stamina anddiscipline”, that he has an extraordinary ability to stay “on message” and that such an election success is unlikely to be repeated.
Yet the tens of thousands of Your Rights at Work campaigners who held stalls and pickets of Liberal electoral offices in a year-long campaign to get the vote out for Kevin get only a passing mention. Instead there is a cast of unappealing Labor Party staffers, pollsters and number crunchers like Mike Kaiser, the now rehabilitated, previously disgraced electoral fraudster.
Jackman reveals how much of the campaign is owed to advice from Alan Milburn, another former Blair adviser. Very early on in the campaign, Milburn tells Labor campaign managers to look for “a clause IV moment”, referring to Blair’s decision to remove clause IV (committing British Labour to socialism) out of the party constitution. As a symbol of Blair shifting Labour to the right, it was one of the early defining moments of the Third Way and New Labour.
In Australia this shift had already been taken in practice by the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas and labour deregulation under the Hawke and Keating Labor governments.
Still, the description of Rudd deliberately going after Victorian Electrical Trades Union Secretary Dean Mighell is chilling. Rudd, looking for a “clause IV moment”, seized on a newspaper report of Mighell’s comments at a union mass meeting, expelling him from the Labor Party.
This move came despite mass opposition to WorkChoices driving the Howard battlers back to Labor. At one stage, a polling company told Rudd, “Put as much distance between Labor and the old union scene as possible”. But Rudd didn’t really need to be told.
Before the election, there was a kind of mythology circulating that Rudd’s conservative policies were an election trick to outfox Howard. It was the line peddled by John Robertson, secretary of Union NSW, when he told an election meeting that Rudd’s anti-union position was about “winning the election” and that he would be “pulled into line” after he won office.
We know now that Rudd was deadly serious. Labor’s most recent attacks on teachers and on welfare and its commitment to keep the construction industry watch-dog are all testament to that.
Jackman describes how Rudd thought it was clever politics to go along with the introduction of the citizenship test, the victimisation of Mohamed Haneef and the NT intervention.
We can’t say that we weren’t warned. Over and over again Jackman tells of Rudd’s support for Tony Blair and the Third Way and his drive to embrace the “radical centre”, his concern for the needs of big business. It is even clear that Rudd has no intention of governing for those who elected him.
Perhaps he is oblivious to the fate of Tony Blair. But in Britain ten years of radical centre politics has put the Tories back in the driver’s seat, with Labour facing defeat at the next election. After 11 years of Howard, we don’t want to share such a fate. However, there is another lesson much closer to home. In NSW, after 12 months of campaigning, the unions, along with community activists, have finally toppled the NSW Labor leaders, Morris Iemma and Michael Costa. Rudd backed Iemma and the privatisation push.
She didn’t intend it, but Jackman’s book tells us why we will have to fight Rudd’s Labor. And the fight in NSW tells us that this is possible.
By Ian Rintoul