Rules can’t keep Kevin king forever

WHATEVER he has promised, Kevin can’t. He can’t deliver.

He can’t stop the boats, although he started them. He can’t balance the books, although he spent the money. He can’t deliver prosperity because he can’t say no to unions. He can’t scrap the carbon tax by renaming it a carbon price.

But, most of all, Kevin can’t deliver his promise, that a vote for Kevin is a vote for Kevin. Kevin can’t deliver the rule that caucus can’t remove the leader without a 75 per cent majority. Caucus can, and if it thinks fit, will remove a prime minister.

Kevin can’t because he is full of cant – corniness, insincerity, and tokenism.

There are at least 45 members of the federal parliamentary Labor party who, in Balmain in Sydney on July 22 when caucus meets, should hang their heads in shame if they fail to stand up to this disgraceful piece of cant.

These are the 45 who refused to support Kevin Rudd against Julia Gillard. These, more than any (or at least equally with many who voted for Rudd), know how caucus alone can judge the performance of the leader.

Campaigns and the fate of governments rest on the leader’s performance, governing does not. Prime ministers do not run a government. They chair the executive. They do not chair caucus. Caucus elects the executive. When a leader demands to choose his ministry it is only at the behest of the caucus. A leader does so with forbearance of caucus. Push it too far, and out you go. This is the way it has to be. Kevin treated his caucus with such disdain in his first incarnation that when it removed him his support was so thin he did not even test his numbers. And Kevin knows more than anyone how, without the numbers, you can undermine a leader, as he did to Gillard. Then, when the numbers come to the underminer, some come as surrender, a plea to stop the undermining.

In my three terms in caucus I never saw a rulebook. For the most part, however, I am sure that it may be regarded as an agreed set of procedures to conduct meetings. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, the situation is as follows. A rule to ensure a super majority to remove a leader passed by an ordinary majority vote of caucus can be undone by an ordinary majority vote of caucus.

When caucus meets in future someone can move a motion to remove the rule that requires a super majority for leader. An ordinary majority can remove the rule. The only way super majorities work (for a time) is if a higher power imposes them, such as a constitution voted on by a different group, or by the same group at another time, as with an annual general meeting. Caucus does not do AGMs. There are provisions for special meetings, such as a call to vacate leadership positions. These require notice, not super majorities.

So far, the ALP has got away with informing journalists that Kevin can change the caucus majority rule. What they do not reveal, though, is that not only can Kevin’s 75 per cent rule be undone with an ordinary majority but also that rule 5 of the ALP national constitution suggests an ordinary majority is standard procedure.

Rule 5(d) states that, “the federal parliamentary Labor Party shall have authority in properly constituted caucus meetings” and “on questions or matters which are not subject to national platform or conference or executive decisions, the majority decision of caucus [is] binding upon all members in the parliament”.

Kevin has a problem. He can’t play the game that “a vote for Kevin is a vote for Kevin”. Not only is the Australian system based on a parliamentary rather than a presidential system, he can’t have the power to do as he wishes. And caucus knows it.

There are two other problems for Kevin. He wants to share the burden of selecting him, 50-50 among caucus and the party. Such a change does require a vote of the national conference. The national conference is governed by trade unions. They will want a say. The misplaced desire to open the leadership vote to the party will start a brawl within Labor not seen since the 1955 Split.

Indeed, there is a rule that harks to 1955, when Labor was torn by strife over the place of Catholics within the party.

The decision of the 1955 conference, and rule 19, states that the National Constitution is not enforceable in law, and that: “By joining the Party and remaining members, all members of the Party consent to be bound by this rule.” This rule is not enforceable. Many preselections have ended in the federal court. The courts, however, cannot provide a remedy. They can simply ensure that rules are followed. A member who takes the party to court can’t last long. There are rules and there is power. For the moment, Kevin has power, but the rules can’t save him forever.

The notion that the Prime Minister could remain in power with the support of just 26 per cent of the caucus is absurd, whatever rule Kevin dreams up. But the one rule Kevin can’t abide is one that says Kevin, you can’t.