Flat White

Will Albo be elbowed?

20 January 2021

12:00 PM

20 January 2021

12:00 PM

In 2005 American psychologist Philip E Tetlock published a book Expert Political Judgement in which he analysed 82,000 expert political and economic forecasts over 20 years and found that experts are no more reliable than non-specialists in guessing what is going to happen.

Effectively 50 per cent of the time a layperson will be equally correct as an “expert” in guessing an outcome.

So here is my guess as to the future of Anthony Albanese as leader of the federal Labor Party: he isn’t going to be chopped and will lead Labor to the next federal election despite the tsunami of negative coverage he has received.

The problem for the Labor Party is not Albanese per se, even though he languishes some 30 points behind Scott Morrison as preferred Prime Minister and his net personal approval rating is just three per cent, it is the ALP itself that is in trouble and it has been for a decade.

In 2010, when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, Labor scrapped back into office after winning just 37.9 per cent of the primary vote compared with 43.3 per cent for the Liberal National Party under Tony Abbott which saw a hung parliament with both major parties holding 72 seats each.

In each subsequent election, Labor’s primary vote has stalled between in the mid-30s. In 2013 it was 33.4 per cent; 2016 it was 33.7 per cent; and, in 2019 it was 33.4 per cent.

During this period there was a revolving door of leaders as Labor pinned their electoral hopes more on personality rather than policy. So it is not just the leader.

Labor is currently struggling because of policy directions and prescriptions as well as the dominance of Prime Minister Morrison, who over the past year has bestrode the political consciousness of the electorate largely due to Covid-19.

Currently, according to Newspoll, Labor is sitting on a primary vote of 36 percent compared with 43 per cent for the LNP and a two party preferred vote of 51/49.

It should not be forgotten that a year ago in February 2020, before the outbreak of Covid-19 Morrison was besieged in the polls.

Labor was in front on a two-party preferred basis in Newspoll by 52 to 48 per cent.

Morrison’s image had taken a battering over his holiday to ­Hawaii during the bushfires.

Albanese was ahead on better prime minister 43 to 40 per cent while Morrison’s satisfaction with voters was just 38 per cent and dissatisfaction was 58 per cent, with Albanese’s satisfaction 43 per cent and dissatisfaction 40 per cent.

Then along came Covid-19 and everything changed.

Like most opposition leaders across the country, Albanese could not make any traction as the public focussed almost exclusively on how the federal and state governments responded to Covid-19.

Despite attempts by the opposition leader and elements of the media to hold the government to account on Robodebt, the Brereton Report into alleged war crimes, the ongoing so-called “sports rorts” affair and so on the public was just not listening.

It has been a grim time for opposition everywhere trying to win public attention and support.

That said currently, according to Newspoll, Labor is sitting on a primary vote of 36 percent compared with 43 per cent for the LNP and a two party preferred vote of 51/49.

So despite the sound and fury about Mr Albanese leadership he has the ALP in much the same position it has been for the past decade, with a primary vote in the mid-30s and a contestable 2PP. 

The real issue is not the leadership of the ALP. It is policy and direction.

That is where the real game is being played out as can by the resignation of Joel Fitzgibbon from the ALP over climate change policies and union polling showing Labor is in significant danger of losing Fitzgibbon’s seat of Hunter as well as Paterson and Shortland unless there is a change on policy.

Unions are also using the polling as a bit of payback for Albanese kicking Victorian CFMEU boss, John Setka, out of the ALP and saying he should be replaced, but this is just a bit of revenge sabre rattling or political trolling.

Albanese has made some policy concessions by axing the unpopular abolition of franking credits and also proposals to change the negative gearing regime that were taken to the 2019 election by Bill Shorten.

The divisions in the ALP over climate policy run deep with the influential Labor Environment Action Network refusing to countenance any change in climate policy while pushing and even harder line and those such as Fitzgibbon wanting a more realistic policy.

Basically, the ALP is divided between the greening progressive urban vote and the aspirational vote of outer suburban and rural electorates whose focus is more on jobs.

Any policy that is perceived to threaten these aspirational voters has seen the ALP primary vote collapse as has been seen over the past decade.

Albanese, a member of the left with a green-hued inner-city seat himself, will be forced to juggle these competing interests.

His next test will be the Labor Party National Conference, due to be held online before Easter this year, where the draft Labor Party Platform will be debated. 

The Platform itself has been edited to 97 pages and is not as prescriptive as the 2018 Platform with its 309 pages.

This should allow Albanese an ability to juggle competing needs and allow the parliamentary Labor Party the policy flexibility it needs in the lead up to the next election due by May next year, but which could easily be held later this year.

Whatever the outcome the Labor Party will have to become more centrist if it is to win office and that is the real challenge for it. 

Chopping another leader is not a solution to its policy woes. Even if it was, who would want to take it? Not one Labor Parliamentarian has in any manner sotto voce or otherwise has voiced any desire to take over from Albanese.

And it is not that easy to change leaders for the ALP. There needs to be 60 percent of the caucus to vote for a ballot to change the leadership. If it is a contested ballot then the Leader must be elected by a ballot of eligible Party members, and a ballot of the members of the FPLP, where the results of each ballot are given equal weighting and added together.

In the lead up to an election I doubt the Labor Party would want this played out in public.

Labor must know the danger of getting caught in a revolving door of leadership changes, and a change so close to an election is no guarantee of success and I suspect Labor hardheads know this. 

Albanese’s leadership is bandied about not as a real threat to oust him but as a tool in a policy battle between competing interests in the party.

So far Albanese has made some moves to the centre by ditching electorally costly policies, but the battle over climate policy may take a bit more finesse.

But whatever the outcome of the online National Conference Albanese will still be leader of the federal ALP.

And there is the possibility of clearer air in 2021 for a political debate that is wider than just a response to Covid-19 – at least that is what opposition leaders across the country will be hoping for.

There is no guarantee of victory at the next election with him as leader but to ditch him now, I suspect, would mean victory is even less likely.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments