April 04, 2004 | Peter

On Leadership

This week’s brawling in national politics over Iraq has firmly focussed attention on the leadership issue. Labor has placed all its eggs in the Latham basket; the Coalition is increasingly edgy over whether Howard still has the goods, or whether they should switch to Costello.
I have been giving Latham the benefit of the doubt in my writing. He has real ability, but mostly he is the alternative to another term of conservative government.
In my view the Liberals under Howard have become completely subservient to the global corporate agenda on economic issues, the Bush administration on foreign policy, and local reactionism on socio-cultural matters. As such, they are rapidly undermining national sovereignty, stifling traditional social progressivism, and promoting mono-cultural chauvinism. They are strangling all that is best about Australia, and foreclosing on socio-political alternatives as the global context more and more demands the opposite.
In a number of essays in OLO and elsewhere, I argued that the ALP is in crisis and needs basic reform. I wrote that any leader must take on this task as a priority, or the undemocratic and corrupt operations of the ALP along with the dearth of genuine talent will bring it undone.
However, it is clear that is reform will not happen soon. It is just not on the radar. Instead, more stories of factional infighting, branch stacking and the usual personality conflicts float about.
It is because I increasingly lack confidence about the capacity of the ALP to reform itself into a 21st century institution that I have backed Latham and his strong – some would say reckless – leadership style. But if he blows it, Labor faces the real threat of political irrelevance. Since the Greens are finally learning some political savvy, Labor faces actual competition for the non-right/conservative vote in the ‘third force’ in Australian politics – the Greens, the Democrats, independents, and possibly a remnant One Nation.
Latham’s leadership style is risky, as we have seen this week. But it is a model that has been tried with some success in the corporate world. The argument is that as the core activity (or organisational role) becomes more uncertain, the leader creates a corporate culture around his or her own personality. Beneath this institutional identity, relatively autonomous units get on with the actual work.
Now whether Latham can pull of the leadership role, and whether Labor then has enough talent to back him up in government, are both unknowns. At least politics is back on the front pages, but it would be better if it was a more positive debate going on. The problem is, I just can’t see this happening under John Howard’s leadership.

Posted by Peter at 12:34 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Will the Liberals under Costello provide an avenue for the the small ‘l’ Liberals to once again have a meaningful participation in politics? or will he carry on with the conservative doctrine that has kept Howard as PM for three terms?
    Also I think that the only hope Latham has of taking office is if the Australian public see Howard in the same light they saw Keating in ’96, progressive policy or not this is the only way I can see Latham winning.

    Comment by matt — April 5, 2004 @ 11:59 am

  2. I think that Latham has the coalition truly worried- and frankly, i love it! As a political science student, the fact that politicians are finally getting some new ideas floating around is wonderful. And if it takes a somewhat “risky” character to bring discussion back into politics, well, thats fantastic.
    Currently though, the most amusing thing i’ve found in a long time is the “Labour Watch” section of the Liberal Party website (Its pretty funny really…). Looking over the websites of both parties i couldn’t help but be struck by the differences. The Liberal party website is not designed to help you gain anything other than a cursory overview of the party. The Labour website, however, was clearly designed to easily access policy information.
    The only reason i can think why the Liberal Party may have such a boring, unuseful website is that maybe its been “The Government” for so long that it doesn’t bother with the Party site? Or maybe they’re just slack on the search engine concept… need a webdesigner!

    Comment by Lauren — April 13, 2004 @ 10:57 pm

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