Albo’s Today show masterstroke
ANTHONY Albanese has three loves: the Catholic Church, the South Sydney Rabbitohs and the Labor Party.
He's estranged from one, devoted to the other and embodies the third.
It's easy to see why Albanese is the people's choice for Labor leader. He's the guy with whom you want to grab a game or neck a beer.
You can catch him at a live gig or on the dance floor, where the only thing he'll be spinning is the decks. Voters know him as "Albo".
No other politician has such a warmly used moniker. Even if you don't know him, you feel like you do.
His weekly appearances on Nine's Today, where he goes head to head each Friday with the government's attack dog Christopher Pyne, have added to his appeal.
While other politicians do-si-do with the media, avoiding the firing line when the day's news plays against them, Albanese is there with his goofy grin, fraying hair and oversized suits.
It's worth noting that a similar regular spot on another breakfast TV show made the career of the last Labor leader to win the prime ministership from Opposition.
It's arguably the most intimate form of media, more personal and less political, which is why it was so integral in Australians warming to Kevin Rudd.
Albo's your daggy dad. Two weeks ago - black leather jacket, black jeans, black T-shirt - he was on decks at the Leichhardt Bowlo raising money for a girls' shelter.
He's been known to drop an eclectic range of beats: Midnight Oil, Iggy Pop, The Killers, Taylor Swift. His broad musical tastes match his broad electoral appeal: mainstream, dorky, accessible.
His personal background also fits perfectly with the modern Australian narrative. He's a sports-mad, music-loving, knockabout bloke who was raised in housing commission by a single mum in the then bad lands of Sydney.
He was brought up Catholic but isn't overly religious and comes from an immigrant background. And even though he cut his teeth as a factional warrior and party machine man, people feel he's the real deal.
In an age where politicians are known more for their sound bites and sidestepping, Albanese is one of the few who comes across as honest and relatable. He's an old-fashioned tribal leftie who's campaigned on gay rights, child care and "the progressive advancement of the nation" but still sounds like a working-class westie.
Yet in a stark departure from the traditional Labor left line, the one-time leadership contender used a speech last week to set out an alternative manifesto for the party that argued for a closer relationship with business and a call for Labor to attract workers beyond the union movement.
"Our job is not to sow discord", he said.
Unsurprisingly, this was seen as a not-so-veiled swipe at the newly combative style of Bill Shorten and his awkward class war rhetoric.
Somehow Shorten, once the poster boy of the pro-business pragmatic Labor Right, has become the populist revolutionary while Albanese is the voice of the sensible centre.
Albanese's blueprint for a new inclusive Labor has rocked the boat in the lead-up to the July 28 "Super Saturday" by-elections.
It's also allowed him to test the water. Labor is at risk of losing two seats - Braddon in Tasmania and Longman in Queensland - and losing just one will end a century-old record of an opposition never losing a seat to government in a by-election.
Should that happen, Shorten's caucus support will be on shaky ground and Albanese will have his catalyst for change.
Tellingly Albanese has publicly declared that Labor should retain all four seats.
In other words, if even one is lost Shorten's leadership is compromised.
"Make no mistake. He is still holding out … trailing his coat-tails so that the Labor Party know that they have an option," Pyne said in Question Time this week.
Yet Albo's detractors argue he's not up for the mortal conflict.
Is a man big on decency and short on destiny really cut out for the top job, they ask? And if Albanese takes a knife to Shorten can he personally avoid the stab of conscience?
A factional warrior who joined the party while still at school, Albanese knows disunity is death and his end game was never the Lodge. He's admitted to that himself.
Albanese spoke publicly about his self-doubt back in 2013 when he reluctantly stood for the Labor leadership. "I don't have the 'destiny' thing," he said at the time.
But the party had just been thumped at the polls and after years of back-stabbing and bloodletting it was crying out for stable leadership.
It could have been Albo. It almost was.
Rudd had changed the voting process so ordinary party members could have their say and Albanese got almost 60 per cent of the rank-and-file.
Shorten nudged him out with almost 64 per cent of caucus.
Those close to Albanese believe he would have won the next election and Albanese is known to privately agree.
He's infinitely more likeable than Shorten whose robotic attempts at emotion and droid-like psyche have left the Labor leader constantly flailing behind Malcolm Turnbull as preferred PM, even though the ALP has constantly thumped the Coalition in the last 30-plus Newspolls.
In fact, despite Labor's unassailable lead, Shorten remains the most unpopular Opposition leader in Newspoll history.
Oddly, both Shorten and Albanese are well known factional strong men yet while Shorten has gained a reputation for ruthless ambition and Machiavellian duplicity, Albo is widely regarded even by political opponents as a straight shooter and decent bloke.
Pauline Hanson described him this week as "a lovely guy" and Pyne says he'd like to remain mates with him when they leave the rough and tumble of Canberra behind them.
But make no mistake, Albanese is still a clever and cunning political operator - as evidenced by his strategically placed public statements.
What appear to the average eye as simple declarations of loyalty to the Labor cause are deliberate signals to colleagues and the Canberra commentariat.
His speeches are carefully fashioned to outline a vision that is both separate from and more inclusive than Shorten's while his cheerfully bullish predictions of a clean sweep on July 28 is merely setting up his leader to fail.
And if Shorten's horror show tax gaffe this week results in Labor losing even one of the two seats it has to fight for, Albo might just get his wish.
Whether he's a genuine man of the people or a genial evil genius, it doesn't really matter. Winners are grinners, and Albo likes to smile a lot.
Tara Ravens has worked as a journalist for over 15 years. Starting out as a cadet at Australian Associated Press, she went on to be NSW political correspondent, Sydney Chief of Staff and World and Entertainment editor. She also spent four years in Darwin as the Northern Australia correspondent, with a particular focus on indigenous affairs. She still misses wearing thongs to work.