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

whither social democracy « Previous | |Next »
January 12, 2007

One aspect of the Howard Government's strategy to preserve power (other than welfare for the middle class) is to build a conservative base that would turn out in elections. So its ministers have courted the Christian right, they have opposed stem-cell research using human embryos; banning gay marriage; put conservative judges on the High Court; and framed issues from gay marriage to fighting terrorism in a way that has continually put the ALP on the defensive. For instance, on the latter issue, Howard has succeeded in painting the opposition ALP party as weak on protecting the security of the country.

Has this embrace of Christian conservatives helped push the Liberal Party far to the right, leaving more centrist and independent voters up for grabs?

If so, does this open up an opportumity for Rudd and his moral/political discourse to seduce the political centre? After all, the right wing in Australia likes to think that the nation was, at its inception, highly religious, and specifically Christian. That leaves those whose morality is secular based in limbo.

Where does it leave those aspirationals who have benefited from Howard's IR reforms.

Still it is the ALP that has to make the case for change. It needs to say more than the Howard Government is tired, and has run out of ideas, since social democracy’s position is substantially weakened. That markets are good for generating growth but need to be checked and channeled when they threaten broader societal goals—lay behind the postwar settlement and the welfare state. However, the concept of a politico-economic order built around the legitimacy and frequency of state intervention to protect society’s interests from market operations does need some kind of defence.

A 'fair-go' sounds thin. So does 'equality of opportunity'. We need a 'third wave of economic reform' doesn't really enthuse. What does a social democracy stand for in the global world of the 21st century? Do not Work Choices and IR Reform appeal to our fears, not our hopes? Are circumstances now more favourable for social democracy’s than they were in the 1990s? Can the ALP convince us that they want to create a world where markets would exist but be tamed, one in which society’s collective needs would take precedence over individuals’ and markets’ needs? Is this what the ALP stands for?

We now have a continuous stream of media commentary that says social democratic Europe is bad (no growth) and free enterprise America is good (lots of growth). What has to go is Europe's social welfare. It cannot be afforded.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:08 PM |