It’s back to the future for Bill
Under- fire Labor boss lucky there’s no other Shorten in the shadows
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.