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Friday, 22 March 2013

Public's interest in parliamentary leadership an inexhaustible force

Maybe Julia Gillard can bring ASIO in to plant listening devices in the offices of those "senior Labor sources" who have been so busy leaking to the ABC and Fairfax. Surely she could get taps put on their telephones, including mobiles. After all, if you're the PM then you have the right, no? Alas, the shades of Nixon and Johnson deny you resort to such practices. If you're Simon Crean you finally throw your hands up in the air, confront your leader, and then bring on a spill in the hope of fixing the leaks once and for all. After all, the constant presence of leadership challenge stories on major news websites, and on nightly news broadcasts, is undermining your party's ability to build momentum (Gillard's done it before, but she needs clear air to do so).

What's clear is that there is a feeling of horror within the party at the prospect of the September election. With polls showing a primary share of about 30 percent for Labor, many despair at losing their seats. But the leadership switch-around tactics of the NSW Right faction of the party obviously do not work. Yesterday saw that faction attempt its death-pirouette for the final time - we hope - before September. Today the bloodletting ensures the leadership story remains on the front page. But today's Friday. We've got the weekend to go before a new news week arrives, delivering - Labor stalwarts might wish - a drop in the turbulence currently swirling around Parliament House and the offices used by Labor.

The spill yesterday was not just due to Labor leakers, though. Partly it had to do with the new kind of presidential leadership we see in Australian politics. What happened to Rudd in 2010 was something that many Australians take very personally. They chose Rudd, after all. On top of that there's the system of news which shows editors exactly how popular any story about the Labor leadership is: web clicks are accurately measured. Editors know exactly what people are clicking on, and it doesn't matter how fabricated or how flimsy; the leadership stories get attention. In the new attention economy Gillard went into debt to the electorate in 2010 and she's still buying her freedom. This hunger within the community pulls editors to pitch leadership stories high, and pulls leakers to drop their secret messages into the inboxes of select journalists. It's an inexhaustible force originating within the community that is pulling these stories out of the fabric of the Labor Party; a sucking force that cannot be ignored either by unhappy backbenchers or smoldering Gillard loyalists.

Early this morning, the Sydney Morning Herald website showed the top story - on the spill, of course - had over 380,000 pageviews. This afternoon the total had dropped to about 206,000, showing the long tail of attention still working to draw the punters in. These figures are extraordinary. If you watch those stats on the website you see that on a normal day the top story will get around 60,000 pageviews. Fairfax's Queensland satellite site, the Brisbane Times, gets around 6000 pageviews daily for a top story, usually. It's amazing how people care so much about who sits at the top of the ladder of opportunity. We may have rejected one form of republic, but the parliamentary leadership in Australia is becoming more and more presidential as every year passes.

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