Friday, March 28, 2008

The legacy of strong leadership

Strong leadership is often a catch cry in politics, a compelling vote grabber. It is also incredibly destructive to political party structures. The thoughts arise as Kevin Rudd wings his way to Washington and the ‘left overs’ of the Howard era bleat in the background.

Federal liberal leaser, Brendan Nelson, is still trying to land a glove on Rudd and still hasn’t come close. Last week he was attacking Rudd for not including Japan on this particular global jaunt. It pays do the homework, he would have know of alternative arrangements for a Japan visit.

This week he is accusing Rudd of taking off on a jolly jaunt while there are issues to deal with at home. Howard’s strong leadership, as do they all, demanded that potential challengers were politically castrated. It also ensured that ministers were kept on a short lead, thus failing to develop essential skills.

Tragically, Howard’s hold over his own state party in NSW also destroyed any real potential for them to become a credible alternative government. The state has arguably the worst administration in its history and it does not have an effective opposition. The state Liberal’s, Howard’s legacy, is fractured by factional hatred.

In this case careless of the ability of his party to win state government, Howard relied on a Christian right wing faction to shore up his own support, a fruitless exercise as history shows. So Howard left behind a federal parliamentary party bereft of talent and a state party so divided it cannot even dream of beating an inept, corrupt incumbent.

From a former Liberal MP, Bruce Baird: “…just last week Scott Morrison, who was eventually chosen to represent the Liberal Party in the seat of Cook, had his membership application rejected by a Liberal Party branch in his own electorate. This rejection is unprecedented in the history of the Liberal Party in Australia. It demonstrates the wider problems facing the NSW Liberals, and we can only hang our heads in shame and hope that this time it is really the low point of the party's factional fighting.

“The NSW Liberal Party is suffering from a deep-rooted, far-reaching and endemic problem. And it is not just a problem for the Liberals. Australia's democracy is at stake. Our Westminster system of government relies on the competitive tension between governments and oppositions to keep executive government accountable and to ensure that Australia's parliaments truly govern for all citizens.”

State Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell recognises the factional wars are hurting the party. "They only become a problem when their factional interests get in the way of the wider organisation's interests. That's clearly been seen this week in a couple of unacceptable episodes. It's why there needs to be reform, but that reform isn't just about structure, it's also about behaviour."

The political pendulum is swinging back to a more progressive position, and there is a strong push for a simply common sense balance in the NSW Liberals. I expect the much needed reforms are going to require some very strong leadership, but hopefully from people who are then willing to step back and let nature take its course.

No comments: