When Anthony Albanese was elevated to the Labor leadership in May last year, there was hope that he would at least prove to be a consolation prize for the Labor faithful in the wake of a shocking and damaging election defeat.
In the 15 months that have followed it would be fair to say that the supporters of the Labor party have been disappointed with his performance. The once fiery yet friendly leftist has been replaced by a leader in a strange sort of political no man’s land, where a concrete policy platform remains elusive.
After six years of an enviable level of unity under the leadership of Bill Shorten, Labor’s once strongly united front has fractured, as divisions emerge on a number of issues, most notably that of coal.
Despite these issues within the party persisting for months, little concrete progress has emerged on coming to any sort of consensus to end.
Now with speculation rising that the nation could head to the polls for an early election sometime after August next year, it is becoming increasingly imperative that Labor get its house in order if it is to potentially fight an election in under a years’ time.
If Albanese continues to struggle to build a consensus within the party room, there is another alternative building a strong case to lead Labor to the next election, Bill Shorten.
Since leading Labor to defeat in May last year, Shorten has undergone a transformation that is equally as dramatic as Albanese’s, but in a very different way. Shorten has emerged from the ashes of his defeat, seemingly as a man who has nothing left to lose politically.
This version of Shorten was on full display in a recent appearance on the ABC’s ‘Insiders’, during which he vented his frustration at what he believed, was Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s lack of leadership. During which he went as far as musing if Morrison was a “simp”, drawing questions from host David Speers.
This is arguably the side of Bill Shorten which was seemingly only allowed to come out during budget replies or impromptu political speeches down the pub, leaving only the boring but competent opposition leader for the public to see much of the rest of the time.
Now with Shorten showing signs that this time might be different, and continual media appearances showcasing his political skills, one really has to ask if Shorten leading Labor to the next election be preferable to Albanese?
It was extraordinary to hear the Victorian speak out today on Daniel Andrews plans to extend his home state’s state of emergency, declaring it was “probably time for Dan the Man to put his explaining skills on display … and just calm the farm”.
If Australia is to head back to the polls sometime shortly after August 2021, Shorten returning to the leadership to potentially once again unite the party behind a well-known figure, makes a certain degree of sense for Labor.
While there are number of other potential leadership candidates such as Richard Marles or Jim Chalmers, Shorten is arguably the only candidate who possesses the required name recognition and proven leadership skills to get Labor ready for an election in a relatively short period of time.
There is no doubt that Shorten and then shadow treasurer Chris Bowen made an absolute mess of the 2019 election, leaving Labor in the dilemma it currently faces. But at the same time, Shorten may emerge as a preferable alternative to the division and the lack of policies that have so far defined the Albanese opposition.
In a recent interview former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari shared his thoughts on the prospects of Shorten returning to the Labor leadership: “Bill never gives up… this a guy who has always harbored ambitions to be Prime Minister. Why would he give them up now.”
The idea of a leader being given a third chance to fight a federal election after losing the first two seems like an alien concept, given the revolving door nature of modern Australian political leaders. But with Albanese struggling to unite Labor from the Left, a return of an assertive Shorten from the Right might be just what Labor needs to put its internal conflicts to rest.
If the leadership of Anthony Albanese continues to aimlessly flounder amidst speculation of an early election, don’t be surprised to see Sam Dastyari’s vision of Bill Shorten’s return as opposition leader coming to pass.
After all, we keep on being reminded we’re in a brave new world.
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