Tricky Bill Shorten's plan is on track

Labor’s leadership spill fits tightly into a larger strategy that would take Bill Shorten to the top of the Labor Party. We’ll see more of the minister for employment before long.

In politics, a chance remark heard weeks ago can sometimes be the key to understanding complex political maneuvering. This is certainly the case with two stories about Bill Shorten doing the rounds over the past month or two.

The first, which started about three weeks ago, was that Shorten’s safe seat of Maribyrnong had been revealed in his own internal polling to be close to swinging into Coalition hands. Sources told me at the time that there was only one person who could have leaked that – Shorten himself.

That rumour, so the theory goes, laid the groundwork for his backflip last night.

The second, which Business Spectator picked up on in recent weeks, was Shorten’s supposed strategy with regard to the two men who could delay or derail his long, determined march towards becoming prime minister – Kevin Rudd and Greg Combet.

Combet would be easily dealt with, so the story went, by convincing Caucus that being too committed to carbon pricing was Labor’s biggest mistake during the Gillard years – Labor’s ETS package is a far better plan than then Coalition’s Direct Action in policy terms, but was handled extremely badly in political terms (see: Is this the end for Labor’s CarbonChoices? May 17).

Well former Climate Minister Combet has fallen on his sword after last night’s leadership change, and will be licking his wounds for some time.

As one Labor source told me today, politics is a very human game, played out by mostly quite damaged people. The human Combet, like former communications minister Stephen Conroy (who I’m also assured is not a cyborg), will take a long time to recover from losing such a pivotal portfolio.

That’s not to say Combet won’t be back, and with a grudge to bear against Tricky Bill Shorten for switching his allegiance (at least publicly) to Rudd just 23 minutes before the leadership spill last night.

But the main game for Shorten was, and is, Rudd.

So the second part of his supposed strategy was to do everything he could to encourage Rudd to run against Julia Gillard – with only two envisaged outcomes. First, Rudd would lose the ballot. Or secondly, Rudd would win the ballot and lose the subsequent election.

Either would put Shorten in the box seat for the rebuilding of the Labor Party that was delayed last night, but not put off forever.

Shorten told ABC TV this morning that his switch to the Rudd camp had “not been motivated by desire for promotion or advancement”. Well that’s right, under Rudd.

However, if Rudd loses the election, but loses by a small margin, Rudd will be gone forever, and Shorten’s supposed plan will be on track. Plus, Abbott will not have control of the Senate – making the opposition all the more effective in frustrating Abbott.

Yesterday’s events twisted and turned in ways nobody expected. However if anybody thinks the need to reform the Labor Party has dissipated, they are wrong.

Likewise, if anyone thinks Bill Shorten shot himself in the foot last night, they are even more wrong.

Tricky Bill will be back.