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

ALP: turn right « Previous | |Next »
November 22, 2004

As readers of public opinion are well aware, I am a fellow traveller of the inner city, apartment dwelling, caffe-latte Left, who are deeply concerned about post-Whitlam progressive policies relating to the environment, refugees and multiculturalism. You know the political grouping that is much despised by the right wing grouping of mates within the ALP.

I say fellow traveller because I do not live the Christian life and I am not a member of the ALP. Never have been.

Now that party politics does not matter to people, such as Bill Shorten, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union. He says that party affiliation is not really relevant here. What is relevant is the world view of the innercity intelligentsia which Shorten attributes to "us". He describes this cultural mentality in terms of:

"....a 'top-down' divide, between highly educated, urban intelligentsia [who despite party differences share similar liberal social values and an economically rationalist acceptance of globalisation] and so-called 'ordinary Australians' in the suburbs and regions [who are risk averse to economic restructuring and suspicious of liberal social values]."

Anti-populism+liberal social values+economic rationalist acceptance of globalization sounds like a description of the views of Paul Keating to me. I'm not that kind of guy. I detest Keating, am opposed to economic rationalism (neo-liberalism) and I critique the corporate form of globalization. That only leaves liberal social values. As I said I'm a fellow traveller.

Shorten has lots of strategic advice for the ALP in his leaked speech that he will deliver to the Fabian Society next month. Basically, the advice is that the ALP must distance itself from the Left intelligentsia if it is to win back the suburban Australian heartland now owned by John Howard.

It should move to the centre, establish its superiority in economic management credentials, reconnect with its blue collar base and "middle Australia", and accept that people want more public services and more tax cuts.

Shorten is a little coy here as he interprets moving to the centre in terms of "the everyday experience of working for the economic interests of people in the real economy is a valuable policy anchor." Now moving to the centre---ie., back into Howard's suburbs and towns---- also means accepting a conservative populism structured around an old-fashioned or nationalistic conservatism and cultivating support among socially conservative or religious Australians. This is required to counter wedge politics, where people vote to support certain values even against their own economic interests.

That is the voice of conservative populism in the ALP.

Where is its difference from the conservative populism of John Howard? The only difference I see is looking out for the economic interests of trade unions rather than the bosses. That union boss talk would not resonate all that well with the do-it-yourself enterprise culture of the new middle class of contractors, franchisees, people working from home and fledgling suburban entrepreneurs. Does not the union movement have a problematic relationship with this new middle class?

If I may say so, me tooism does not sound like a sure fire way back to the Treasury benches. I presume that Shorten's understanding of democracy is that if you haven't got the numbers, mate, you're stuffed.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:41 AM | | Comments (3)


The ALP is dead - they will be an irrelevant party of ineffectual opposition as long as they think the way back to government is to imitate Johnny ...

The issue is not to 'imitate Howard' but is how to re-capture the votes that have gone to him.

I also count myself as a inner-suburban caffe latte set. But after three electoral defeats perhaps I may have to admit that what I hold as important may not be so to those voters who live in electorates who decide governments.

So what can we do to get those votes? We can either try to convince them that issues we feel are important should be important to them as well. However we hear from our social scientists that these voters are not that much into political discourse. They're too busy working in small businesses, holding casual jobs and raising families.

As Shorten stated:"One myth that must be put to rest is that Labor won the last campaign but lost the election. Labor's initial campaign theme of trust was mowed down in the first week by Howard's stronger appeal for trust on interest rates. The 'Howard lies' theme was preaching to the converted the PM's dishonesty about children overboard and weapons of mass destruction are of little interest to swinging voters in marginal seats.". We may not like it, but two defeats may indicate that this may be true

The aim is not to copy Howard, or moving to the 'right' but to 'sell' the Labor message in a way that coincides with the interest (yes interests) of the voters that can swing elections.

To do otherwise would condemn the ALP, and any smidgin of possibility for ANY progressive policy to opposition for a very long time.

As Whitlam once said: "Only the impotent can afford to be pure".

P.S Armadillo has a great post on unionism and the ALP which may be of interest.


Mark's post on unionism and the labour movement is very good.

For all my criticism of the conservative union culture I think that Shorten is right on a key elctoral issue.

The left liberal value agenda about trust, reconciliation, republic environment, refugees etc etc will not win elections on its own. Keating coupled that with a good economic narrative about structural economuc refom and globalization.

I agree with you re selling the ALP message. But what is the message?

I'll toss this piece into the ring.

I like this Latham quote about Jim Cairns:

"Latham, Cairns embodied Labor's anti-establishment tradition: "All his life he rejected the status quo and looked for new ways of dismantling the social establishment - not for him the narrow one-dimensional life of a machine politician; not for him the reactionary nature of spin doctoring and opinion polling; not for him the cynicism and at times cowardice of the party warlords, nor the timidity and subservience of the conservative way."

Latham's Cairns embodied Labor's anti-establishment tradition.

The ALP needs to develop more of that kind of culture in the face of a conservative union culture's push for payback and ongoing internal ALP politiking.