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

Old Labor « Previous | |Next »
May 25, 2009

Jack Waterford has an op ed in The Canberra Times that gives a good account of "Old Labor"--- or Right wing Labor---- vis-a-vis The Greens on issues around the environment, feminism, multiculturalism, the rights of refugees and Aborigines people. He says:

A good many old Labor stalwarts, including machine people, completely despise and dismiss the Greens and their constituencies. There's the use of phrases such as ''inner city elites'', and the continual charge that some of the social focuses of Green voters are based in living in some sort of la la land where people do not have to encounter ''real'' issues or the ''real'' problems of the economy.....'Old Labor'' claims to respect the drift of such impulses, but to regard them as secondary to bread and butter economic and industrial issues. It thinks that giving them too much attention can symbolise losing touch with the ''real'' voters. Some of them think that Paul Keating's late-premiership attention to such issues sealed his defeat. They view the interests of such constituencies at heart as middle-class issues and self-indulgences, compared with the hard realities of winning and sustaining power from the electorate. And, anyway, they think, those so motivated really have nowhere to go other than to supporting Labor, even on such issues, ahead of the Coalition.

Waterford's argument is that the young, activists, people who want to be involved, and idealists are turning away from "Labor'', which is increasingly a brand name like soap constructed by advertising agents, public relations men and psychologists. They are making the turn to The Greens who they see as willing to address the gut issues. This is a long term trend that works against a morally conservative Labor Party in the inner city seats of the capital cities.

My judgement is that Waterford's account is pretty right and that the inner city seats, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney will be captured by The Greens, who have laid claim to the Labor's ---historic concern with the light on the hill. The Greens will also increase their seats in the Senate at the expense of the Coalition, that is shifting further to the right. Labor will increasing look what it actually is---a middle of the road party bounded by political parties on the right and the left, which it decries as extremist and irresponsible.

The conflict over emissions trading and global warming will intensify this long term shift

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:31 AM | | Comments (23)


Labor's decision in Victoria to direct preferences to Family First instead of the Greens resulted in Stephen Fielding being elected to the Senate. This should have been a sobering lesson - but apparently not.

The NSW Labor government is definitely still "old Labor" and would be absolutely decimated at the next state election if the Liberals could stop fighting among themselves and present a shadow front bench line-up that is anywhere near halfway credible.

As it is, I'd expect a strong swing to the Greens that might even be enough to gain a lower house seat.

yes the Old Labor brand is rather ticky tacky these days--it is more concerned about acquiring, then hanging onto, power than anything else. They don't seem all that interested in doing any thing much once they have gained political power, apart from protecting their own.

It still surprises me that Old Labor continues to reckon Family First (Senator Fielding) is allied to them, given that his record in the Senate, shows him to be an ally of the Coalition.

Old Labor is a toxic political culture that is obsessed with fighting its enemies in the Labor movement. It is toxic because, like the Catholic Church, it is a deeply authoritarian form of social conservatism.

Possum recently asked people why they don't vote Greens

The responses are mixed. The economy is one reason, but there's also the common perception that the Greens area a bunch of maddies. That impression seems to be justified by some of the candidates they've offered.

People also seem to think the Greens are too preachy and rigid.

Some people will vote Green and preference ALP to send a message to the ALP, which doesn't necessarily mean they'd be happy for the Greens to have more power. Other people vote ALP and preference the Greens in the mistaken belief that also sends a message to Labor.

There's quite a bit of speculation about inner city ALP seats that could go to the Greens, and take names like Plibersek and Tanner with them. And it wouldn't be too surprising if the Greens made inroads in some of the National's space in south eastern states.

It wouldn't take too much for the Greens to gain at the moment.

Hmmmmm...if this is 'Old Labor" what is 'New' Labor? For imnstance, I notice that among the issues you list as causing Lubvvie leakage from the ALP to the Greens, none of them relate to actual, you know, er, labour.

Personally, I see great opportunities for Labor if it were to vigorously concede the loss of the Luvvies. While they are noisy and powerful due to their education, etc. they are nowhere near as numerous as the lower orders.

Who knows, with the Luvvies bid good riddance, perhaps we might see a new LABOUR party!

And why is there still this refusal/denial to label Keating for the neoliberal Thatcherite he was, and remains?

based on the post New Labour would take the environment, feminism, multiculturalism, the rights of refugees and Aborigines people more seriously than Old Labor.

Keating was a neo-liberal but he was not a social conservative

yeah Rupert Murdoch was of more a Thacherite than Paul Keating. Murdoch was neo-liberal plus social conservative--just like Ronald Reagan. John Howard is more in the Thatcherite mould---but not Malcolm Turnbull. That is why Turnbull is having such problems with his Liberal Party and why his leadership is still so fragile.

Nan summed it for me. Orthodox labor has become, at worst, a shopfront for graft and influence peddling: think
Cubbie Creek, Tassie and Vic rainforests, PPP's, privitisations etc.
Cliques of financiers, unionists and politicians, seeking ways around community protection laws and alibied by maverick academics and reactionary MSM, seize control of a state political apparatus and divvy up the common wealth in the name of "growth", jobs and and "development".
This Labor ( like its ethically near-identical Tory kindred parties) seems sleek on the outside like a used car salesman, rotten at parts of its core and so inimicable to many rational, thinking people, that originally the Democrats and now the Greens, have gained a niche for expressing views and readings outlawed out of the major parties.
Lynn's comment follows up nicely, noting that Labor's best are sent to hold marginal seats against people they are likely more philosophically compatible with, while the dominant factions hand out safe seats like lollies to supine talentless lackies willing to follow the factional line at any cost, even their own self respect, for later returns in conformity with their primitive mentalities.

As an ex-ALP member who lives in an area which is the typical 'Inner-Urban elite' (Northcote in Melbourne) I can say that personally I have mixed feelings about this.

On one hand 'Old Labor' seems to use a luddite argument. But they risk to make the ALP irrelevant as times has changed from the old days. There always been tension between the left of the Party which is more environmentally minded and the right. I saw this tension first hand in the Victorian ALP in the 1990's when the ALP left successfully introduced flora and fauna protection legislation which was fought tooth and nail by the Forestry Division of the CFMEU.

I have voted Green in the past few elections, but I have some sympathy with the argument that they whinge a lot. After all they seems satisfied with getting a section of the vote and they have no apparent aspirations to get enough votes to form a government, which major parties have to do. Maybe Gough was right that 'only the impotent can afford to be pure'.

While I'd be happy for the seat of Darebin to go to the Greens, I think it would be a pity for the member of Melbourne to lose his seat, as I think Tanner is pretty good.

The Forestry Division of the CFMEU continues to be bad news. And the mining Division--well they want more coal mines. Dig baby dig.


feminism, multiculturalism, the rights of refugees and Aborigines people

These are peripheral and largely passe creeds, not policies. No political party could ever survive with this attitude.

Peter Stock

How do you pin PJK as a neoliberal, but not a "social conservative" - whatever that is?

neo-liberal refers to the economy, social conservative refers to the moral order.

re your comment

These are peripheral and largely passe creeds, not policies. No political party could ever survive with this attitude.

I'm not claiming that. I indicated that they are useful to historically characterise the different strands within the Labor Party


But it was PRECISELY 'Old Labor' (Whitlam to Keating) who so successfully adopted and implemeted these creeds, most of which have proven to be disatrous.

The one standout spectacular success has been feminism. But the props for that goes to civil society, not governments. Even though it was 'Old' Labor governments who gave legislative effect to grass root successes.

Oh, and Gary I'd appreciate your advice re the question I left in the Philosophy section on 'Hegel and Agency'.

"Old Labor" in this post refers to Rightwing Labor, not the historical Labor Party of the 1970s or 1980s So, on this interpretation, Whitlam represents an overcoming of "Old Labor". A contemporary example of "Old Labor" is the current NSW government.

I've posted a comment on the Hegel and Agency post re Kant.


But Hawke/Wran/Carr/Keating/Cain WERE right wing. They were a RADICAL departure from Whitlam, and quite calculatedly so.

Nevertheless, Hawke/Keating - despite being the most neoliberal government on earth (followed by Bill Clinton).

However, to suggest there has not been a MAJOR disjuncture between the Whitasm years anmd Rudd Labor, I would suggest seriously misrepresents what has actually happened.

Hawke and Keating were neoliberals and so different from Whitlam but none were socially conservative like Old Labor. Keating was a radical departure in terms of economics as he was the implementer of Treasury policy to change a closed economy to an open one. So Keating was only right wing in terms of economics--deregulating the economy and privtisation.


I'm sorry, perhaps a marxist tic I have that cannot be excorcised, but the economic IS the social. Unfortunately, you seem to have fallen into the bourgeois trap of associating "rights" with the social, rather than what they actually are; the individual

Katherine Murphy in The Age says that the Right /Left factionalism in the contemporary ALP is dead.

"New factionalism" has a couple of defining characteristics. The first is the breakdown of the old Right-Left demarcations in the political wing of the party, so enemies become friends, and then enemies again, often with dizzying speed.

The e Right /Left factionalism is old factionalism.

I made no argument about the relationship between the moral order and the economy. I would argue that the economy does embody a morality but that is different from the moral order, which is seen by conservatives as that which binds society together now that the hold of religion has weakened.

Nor did I mention rights. Social conservatives have no time of individual rights-they are opposed to it in the name of Christian morality. Keating in contrast, was a utilitarian, and utilitarians do not have much time for rights. Whitlam stood for rights --but that is a marginal in the ALP. Many of Old Labor (rightwing Labor as in the NSW state Government) are deeply hostile to rights.