It will be fascinating to hear how Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten spruik their wares to the party faithful.
Presumably each will say he intends to hold the Abbott government to account and can do it better than the other chap — all the time, however, remembering to remain civil to a fault, lest any whisper of dreadful ‘disunity’ gets abroad. It is bound to drive them both insane. Being polite to one’s political adversaries is not the lingua franca of unions or the Labor Party.
“Albo, isn’t Bill Shorten a two-faced backstabber”, was the “slightly” provocative question from the floor of a Labor Party branch meeting.
“Now, now, none of that! Bill’s a mate.”
“But how’d you know he wouldn’t stab you in the back in a year or two if you got the numbers?”
“We all know that disunity is death. That’s all behind us, whoever gets the nod.”
“But what if the polls were going south and Bill thought it was in the interests of the Party to replace you with him or maybe to get Tanya in,” said our persistent local member who had enjoyed few beers on the way to the meeting. “Then we’d all be back ‘ere next year”, he added.
“Let’s get onto policies shall we rather than personalities. And I’m able to say that even though Mr Shorten would make an outstanding leader and we agree about almost everything, because as I’ve said, disunity is death, my policies are better than Bill’s. I hope that’s clear?”
Next evening Shorten was in town.
“I want to say at the start that however much Mr Albaneez appreciates me, I appreciate him better. And whatever he said to you yesterday, even though I don’t know what it was, I agree with him.” (Actually he said “wif him”, but politeness determines that this slight lapse in pronunciation be overlooked.)
“So, Bill, how are your policies different to Albo’s?”
“That’s a good question. Let me say that I agree with Albo about everything he says — even the things I haven’t heard him say. But, and it’s a big but, I think I’m better to take the party forward and win the next election to save Australia from being cut to the bone by Tony Abbott.
“Why do you think you’re better than Albo?” The same local member piped up.
“Now, now, I never said I was better than Albo — you’re putting words in my mouth. No-one I know is better than Albo. Albo would be a marvellous leader, who would get my undying loyalty.”
“So why should we vote for you then?”
“That’s another good question. I just think that in certain matters, which I prefer to keep to myself in case they are misconstructed as dividing us by the Murdoch media and our political enemies, we differ.”
“So”, said our local member, who Bill began to suspect was a Liberal plant, “you don’t agree with Albo about everything then!”
“No, no, you’re putting words in my mouth again. Of course, I agree with Albo but at the same time I disagree with him about who is the better person to take the Party forward. Albo would make a great Labor Party leader. I hope I have made that clear.”
Meanwhile Albo, at a separate meeting, was extolling the virtues of Bill.
“Why don’t you two to get a room,” rang out from the back of the hall before a couple of heavy set comrades escorted the perpetrator out. “Let go of me; I tell you I am not a Liberal plant, but how the heck [he didn’t say heck] do we decide who to vote for if they both love each other?”
The hall was packed to the rafters. Labor Party faithful crowded in to witness the great debate between Shorten and Albanese. This was to be the defining moment before the rank and file voted. David Speers had been brought in to moderate.
Bill and Albo had been trying for some considerable time to decide who would speak first, with each in turn inviting the other to go first.
“You go, Bill”, said Albo.
“No, you go first Albo,” said Bill.
“Just toss a coin for God’s sake,” said David Speers, who was becoming increasingly exasperated.
“No, I insist that Bill goes first,” said Albo, “to show how even-handed I am and how united we are.”
It was too much for Shorten. He’d held it in for so long it was tearing him apart. He exploded. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to you little Rudd toady!”
“That’s rich from a backing-stabbing, two-faced, right-wing, well-connected, silvertail, like you,” Albanese responded with both venom and relief.
Speers tried to come between them but too late. The pair were clasped together on the floor, each trying, ineffectively, to land a blow. From the back of the hall it was misconstrued by a local member.
“I told them to get a room, not to do it in full view.”
Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics