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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

staying in tune « Previous | |Next »
October 12, 2004

One thing I've puzzled about over the last couple of years is the way that Howard's LNP has been so clearsighted in terms of its political strategy of keeping its changing constituency onside and retaining power. The ALP, whether under Beazely, Crean or Latham, look as if they are floundering in contrast, since their core bits of their electoral constituency continues to drift away to the LNP and the Australian Greens.

This was graphically expressed by the image of Tasmanian timber workers cheering John Howard as he announced that, though he would place limits on the logging of old growth forests, his primary concern was to ensure that the workers' jobs would be protected.

He was bang on target for his electoral constituency. It was well crafted campaign politics.

This article by Kevin MacDonald in The Age addresses this problem of being in tune with the public mood. He says that:

"John Howard's great political achievement has been to forge the two potentially contradictory cultural movements of moral conservatism and "I'm worth it" individuality into a political constituency."

Howard is in tune with the reconfiguring of the political culture, which is currently taking place in Australia due to the impact of the global economy.

The broad cultural shift combines moral conservatism with a free market philosophy that reduces civil society to a deregulated economy. The free market philosophy is expressed by the new middle class in terms of a new form of individuality that has its roots in the "because I'm worth it" ethos of consumer culture. The former is the social/moral conservatism (expressed by evangelical Christianity, the Family First party and a significant number of the younger generation of successful Liberal candidates) that reduces community to the family.

And the ALP. Once---in the 1980s and early 1990s---it was in tune with its combination of a competitive economy, social justice and nationality. McDonald says that:

"Over the past decade the conservative side of politics has constructed a vision not only of the economy, but of moral purpose. The great drama we face in Australia is the weakness of a counter model. Labor is obviously weakened given the decline of working-class communities and culture, with their ethic of justice based on fairness and sameness. Were it not for the funding arrangements and electoral system, it is not clear that the ALP would be progressing into its second century."

I agree with him.

Latham had a go at being in tune with the new political culture with his aspirational suburban middle class that linked back to Menzies' forgotten people. But his political narrative was not convincing in terms of the public mood and the political unconscious.

Apost-election the ALP is confused:

The party is deeply factured by the sundering of its blue collar constitutency and the inner city urban middle class constituency. Most of the commentary is structured in terms of the friend/enemy opposition of the bluecollar and the trendy inner city lefties, rather than the political crafting to combine the two constituencies into a movement.

So the ALP tears itself apart, as it is doing now around the Tasmanian forests. In contrast, Howard crafts his two constituencies into a political combination that he keeps together, talks to and looks out for.

That is why Howard is a master political strategist whilst the current ALP leadership group are journeymen.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:58 AM | | Comments (2)


Howard keeps these constituencies by using fear (refugees, interest rates, terrorism) and by ensuring them that under him they can continue to live in comfort.

Unlike many commentators I don't believe that the 'aspirational working class' will stick with Howard, or the Liberals if they feel that they don't ensure their affluence.

For these voters choosing a political party is a bit like choosing an insurance policy or the best super or mortgage package. If it does not work they will switch. There is no imbedded ideology about it.

If Labor is unable to combine the two constituencies that you mentioned what's the alternative?

Many people (and I think you have also mentioned this) have criticised the ALP for being weak in many ways.

It seems to me from your post that you are saying that there is no hope for the 38% of people who put the ALP first to have an alternative government.

The choice is to be as similar as the L/NP as possible and try to steal their votes (tried in 2001 and it did not work) or be a bit different and risk a bit (tried in 2004 and did not work).

No, I'm not saying there is no hope. That is too depressing.

What I am saying is that it is a problem that requires good strategic thinking by the ALP leadership. They need to lift their game to combine their constituencies and not fracture them.

Take the forests. That was good public policy as it addressed both constituencies in a substantive way. Yet all we hear about is that the policy is bad because it dumps on (sacrifices) the blue collar workers. All we hear about is locking up the forests not the $800 million. You never hear about the money from Dick Adams. Never.

And the logging Tasmanian ALP Premier says that it was not a workable policy because it could not be afforded! How feeble is that, given the billions in the budget surplus and we only talking about $800 million.

The reasons just don't stake up. So something more is going on here.

What I reckon is that the rightwing Tasmanian Labor crowd (both federal and state) is engaging in a culture war with the inner city left within the ALP. They're trashing their own crowd publicly during an election campaign. They're turning their political friends into political enemies. So they help to keep their own party out of power in Canberra.

They are shooting themselves in the foot since disunity is death in politics.

You cannot call that good strategic thinking. It's the crazies----civil warfare. The Tasmanians have lost the plot.

Does not that mean the ALP has a problem within itself. It is not being addressed. That then compounds the problem.