Labor’s secret plan to topple Alan Jones
For a brief, exciting moment in late 2007, Labor had a political royal flush.
When Kevin Rudd won the federal election in November it meant the ALP held power in every single state and territory in Australia as well as the national capital.
These were happier and healthier times, when political hacks and powerbrokers still drank and swore and there was such a thing as "off the record".
The so-called NSW disease of rolling leadership assassinations was yet to hit Canberra and the painfully earnest yet expletive vortex of social media was yet to fully consume political debate.
For any political party government of course means power but it also means jobs. Suddenly there was room to give every Labor operative in the land a role in one office or another and scattered among them was a loose collection of rogues who jokingly called themselves "ideas men".
These were the best and the brightest in the business, even if sometimes their own prime ministers or premiers didn't know it. They weren't the number-crunchers or the factional warlords. They didn't work with spreadsheets or secret polling. They were the guys who stayed calm as a maelstrom of chaos swirled around them and then, when all hope seemed lost, said: "What if we did this?"
As the various Labor governments fell one by one, as all governments eventually do, the ideas men were scattered to the four winds. Some became political consultants, others went into business, some settled down to raise families and others never really settled down at all.
But every time a big election came along the call from head office would go out and those still hanging on the line would answer.
And there is a very big election happening right now in Australia's biggest state.
The NSW election on March 23 is incredibly significant not just for the nation's oldest political colosseum but for Australia as a whole, which will go to the polls less than two months later in May.
In fact, it is so critical to the Morrison Government's fortunes that the ousted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull spectacularly said the PM should call a federal election for March 2, so as to shield the state Liberal government from being punished for the failings of its federal counterpart - a bizarre act of political altruism.
More bizarrely, Mr Turnbull said this had been his plan before his removal, which was presumably the main failing he was referring to.
Scott Morrison, himself a former director of the NSW Liberal party, was of course having none of it. If the electorate was going to come out with brickbats better they wear themselves out on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian before they got to him.
As a result, despite being a pretty competent Premier who hasn't really done much wrong, Ms Berejiklian stood a very real chance of losing to Labor leader Michael Daley.
The only big thing in her favour was that virtually no one in NSW knew who Michael Daley was. And so in the back rooms of the opposition leader's office an old ideas man who had come in from the cold spoke up.
"What if," he said, "we sacked Alan Jones?"
Sydney, a big political player once told me, is a city of tribes. If you don't have a tribe you die.
People often call 2GB host Alan Jones a bully but that is bullsh*t. Or, more to the point, it's irrelevant.
Sydney is a city of bullies, a big town of big hitters who need to hit big to survive. Sydney doesn't care about ideology, it only cares about power.
And that is what makes Michael Daley's throwdown to Alan Jones so extraordinary.
The opposition is locked in an arm wrestle with the government over its plan to spend $730 million knocking down and rebuilding a football stadium in leafy Moore Park at the behest of the hugely influential SCG Trust.
The hitherto unknown opposition leader went on Jones's top-rating show - itself a courageous act for a Labor leader - and said that if elected he would sack both the behemoth broadcaster and almost every other board member of the Trust - a list of names that is a veritable who's who of power in Australia's most powerful city.
By that night he was on every evening news bulletin, the next morning he was on every front page. In terms of publicity it was a masterstroke. The only question is whether it was also the most public political suicide in Australian history.
Maybe. Or maybe not.
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In fact Mr Daley wasn't really talking to Jones's audience - who, it's fair to say, are probably not rusted-on Labor voters. But he wasn't really talking to Labor voters either.
Prior to his radio revolution Mr Daley could have walked every floor of a Westfield unnoticed. The day after he walked just a couple of hundred metres from Sydney's Parliament House to a Sky News booth and had people running up to shake his hand.
That was the base taken care of, but again, that still wasn't who he was after. In fact Mr Daley wasn't after Sydney voters at all.
By having a pistols-at-dawn duel with Jones over the Coalition's massive stadium spend, Mr Daley was relying on a ripple effect to reach country voters all the way to Bourke and beyond who are already pissed off at a government that went ballistic over dead greyhounds and did nothing about dead fish.
These communities will never vote Labor but they will vote independent or for minor parties, as they already have in the former Coalition strongholds of Wagga and Orange. And they will be far more inclined to vote for that way if they think Labor is a chance of forcing a hung parliament.
There is no surer way to get your electorate's streets paved with gold than in a minority government where independents hold the balance of power.
Indeed, this election feels a lot like the Victorian result of 1999 when the unknown newcomer Steve Bracks toppled the seemingly unassailable Kennett government to form a minority government deal after an unforeseen bush revolt. Mr Bracks went on to become the second longest serving Labor premier in Victoria's history and retired undefeated.
But what does this mean for the rest of the nation? Almost everything.
For one thing, a Coalition pommeling in NSW could take the wind out of the ALP's sails in the federal campaign. Sometimes voters just need to get a bit of anger out of their system.
Sydney is also Australia's most overcrowded city and if the Morrison Government continues to campaign as bombastically as it has on border protection - which, frankly, it would be mad not to do - there is every chance it could sandbag its seats in the key suburban battlegrounds it needs.
Even so, you'd still have to say Bill Shorten is almost unbackable to win in May, as depressing as that is for both Liberal and Labor voters.
Mr Shorten is smart but he isn't much liked, either by the electorate or his own colleagues. He isn't exactly hated but there's about as much trust in the caucus room as there is on the boat with the fox, the goose and the bag of grain.
That's because Shorten is always acting whatever part he thinks will give him an edge on any particular issue and while it is certainly possible for an actor to be a successful political leader - as proved by Ronald Reagan - Mr Shorten is less eight years of Reagan and more Weekend at Bernie's.
On the other hand Michael Daley is the real deal - a genuine bloke and a true Labor man. He's carved out of the same kind of mould as Paul Keating and Bob Carr. Tough, smart and pragmatic, he doesn't make cliched motherhood statements or mimic faux outrage.
Even when Mr Daley threw down on Alan Jones it was more like an argument in the front bar of the pub than the nauseating grandstanding on social media. Indeed, there was the inescapable sense that Jones relished it - maybe even respected it - as one big hitter against another.
"Come back next week!" Jones dared him.
"Happy to!" said Mr Daley.
We need more brains and balls like this in politics instead of shrinking violets and shrieking snowflakes.
The stadium is ablaze. Let the games begin.
- Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten. Continue the conversation @Joe_Hildebrand