It’s back to the fu­ture for Bill

Un­der- fire La­bor boss lucky there’s no other Shorten in the shad­ows

Townsville Bulletin - - OPINION - joe. hilde­brand@news.com.au Joe Hilde­brand

STRANGELY, there are two things that will save Bill Shorten’s lead­er­ship and he has him­self to thank for them both.

The first is that he is al­ready so un­pop­u­lar his stocks can’t fall much lower. The sec­ond is that he doesn’t have another Bill Shorten plot­ting against him.

Shorten’s pun­ish­ment for orches­trat­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion of two La­bor lead­ers was that he was forced to be­come leader him­self.

Some might see this as a prize but in the bizarre and Byzan­tine logic of La­bor Party pol­i­tics, the truth is al­ways far more com­plex and con­tra­dic­tory.

Shorten had al­ways in­tended to be­come leader. In­deed for years the run­ning joke in La­bor cir­cles was: “Bill Shorten would make a great prime min­is­ter – I know be­cause he told me so him­self!’’

His dis­pens­ing of Kevin Rudd and Ju­lia Gil­lard was also di­rected to this end. The only prob­lem is the end came too soon.

Faced in 2013 with the in­evitabil­ity of an Ab­bott land­slide and an ex­pected two to three terms in Op­po­si­tion, Shorten’s se­cret wish was that the seat-warm­ing role of Op­po­si­tion Leader should go to the Left — say, Greg Com­bet or An­thony Al­banese — who would then be con­ve­niently rolled once an elec­tion be­came winnable.

Shorten was more than pre­pared to sit out the next cou­ple of terms but the La­bor Right code dic­tated that he had to step up: knif­ing lead­ers was one thing but to do so and not seize power for your­self was a sin un­for­giv­able.

And so Shorten’s plan to run dead or not run at all was scut­tled by harder heads who tapped him on the shoul­der and said, “Mate, you can’t knock off two lead­ers and then walk away’’.

What no one could pre­dict was that the Coali­tion would piss off so many peo­ple with its first Bud­get that sud­denly a one- term gov­ern­ment seemed pos­si­ble and Shorten was a hot chance of tak­ing the job he’d wanted all along. And no­body was more sur­prised than Bill him­self.

Now in­stead of the play­book small- tar­get strat­egy he had to be­come the al­ter­na­tive prime min­is­ter and that is where things went wrong.

Un­ready, and with vir­tu­ally no real- world ex­pe­ri­ence out­side the La­bor move­ment, Shorten tried to score points on a hotch­potch of is­sues.

From his odd back- of- the- truck rant against the Ja­panese to his fa­mous “zingers’’ to La­bor’s em­bar­rass­ing wrong- foot­ed­ness on pen­sions, he has strug­gled to present a co­he­sive im­age of him­self.

In­stead he looks like a bad ac­tor play­ing the part of po­lit­i­cal leader based on a role in a movie played by a bad ac­tor.

As the great­est bad ac­tor Ge­orge Burns once said: “Sin­cer­ity — once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.’’

Sadly, as Shorten’s at­tempt to soap­box at the royal com­mis­sion showed, he can’t fake it well enough.

As a re­sult, his pop­u­lar­ity flaps in the wind, de­spite La­bor be­ing at 52- 48 in the latest Newspoll — the ex­act same num­ber at which Shorten and his crew swung against Rudd when he was in gov­ern­ment.

And so it doesn’t take a rocket sci­en­tist or even a union leader to know what the La­bor Party needs to do now.

In­deed, if there was another Bill Shorten in cau­cus, he’d be do­ing it al­ready.

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