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

The ALP's political malady « Previous | |Next »
November 30, 2010

One of the current themes in the mainstream media is the ALP's soul search for its lost identity. This mostly comes from the Murdoch press. They says that since becoming a minority government the ALP has lost its way, and it doesn't know what it stands for. Of course, they have plenty of advice: federal Labor needs to shift to the right.

Many in the ALP concur: Labor has lost its basic Labor values. So they have gone off looking for them. Michael Costa, who has been silent of late, amplifies this theme in his Reform the cure for Labor's ills in The Australian Literary Review. He replays the Labor Right's main meme to cure the ALP's supposed identity crisis: federal Labor must confront the Greens to save the Labor Party and stop practising the politics of appeasement with the far-Left.

SaktorI GillardBrown.jpg

For Costa The Greens have a pathological antipathy to capitalism and inherent contempt for the principles of sound public finance. Their mantra is that things would be much better if Labor just stopped selling out to the capitalist system and its vested interests. The Greens, along with the rest of the Left, are addicted to describing any policy that doesn't strictly conform to their world view of greater government intervention as being neo-liberal.

The Greens' strategy is to always try to wedge Labor. Costa says:

The Greens need to be confronted rather than appeased. This is precisely why federal Labor's political deal with the Greens is so damaging.Gillard and her advisers have, by formalising a political agreement with the Greens, unnecessarily and irresponsibly legitimised them in the eyes of many ill-informed voters as a credible political force. In short, Gillard has made a damaging political blunder that will haunt the party for many years to come.

He says that most traditional Labor voters are not supporters of the Greens' policies. The Greens' policies on a range of issue, from taxation to law and order, would horrify that base---because the Greens are deemed to be far-Left, extremist, anti-capitalist and anathema to middle Australia. In short, Gillard has made a damaging political blunder that will haunt the party for many years to come.

The ALP, in standing up to The Greens, needs to return to the core economic and social principles that allowed Hawke and Keating to propel the Australian economy along a path of economic and social prosperity and embrace the successful Hawke-Keating model of economic liberalisation and continuous micro-economic reform. What Costa means by reform is economic reform interpreted as smaller government, welfare cuts, deregulated industrial relations and lower taxes. He probably would include a larger population. So speaks the NSW Right.

The core problem with Costa's account is that he ignores--makes no mention of -- the reform attempt by Rudd Labor to shift Australia to a low carbon economy by using market mechanisms to drive change through an emissions trading scheme. The ALP was supported in that by the Greens, until the ALP was captured by the power and coal industry, lowered the targets and price on carbon, and subsidised the polluters.

Costa opposed the shift to a low carbon economy, was a climate change denialist, and was only interested in privatising the NSW power stations. He had no interest in reform in the Murray-Darling Basin, was opposed to investing in urban public transport and could only see the negatives in increasing the energy efficiency of the built environment.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:01 AM | | Comments (10)


It's ironical that one of the machine men most responsible for the unprincipled opportunism that characterises 21st century Labor should try to diagnose its electoral problems. The absence of self-awareness is breathtaking, but then Costa would have been quite at home as a member of the Howard Government.

I'm not sure how Costa's project for reform of the ALP is related to the ALP or the labour movement. If the ALP are to be better managers of the economy than there opponents, then why not rebrand themselves the Australian Management Party.

Invoking the mantra of the grand Hawke-Keating reform period as a tradition that the current ALP should keep alive and learn from, has limited use. The Hawke-Keating reforms fundamentally changed the relationship between organised labour, the state and the party. Labourism could be reformed in the 1980s in ways that are no longer possible. It's a nice rhetorical trick to argue, as Costa and many others do, that the changes made to the relationship between the state, organised labour and the party in the 1980s/90s are always available to be made. Those days have gone. If the Hawke-Keating period now stands as Labor tradition, then no wonder people who are merely Labourist or worse, according to Costa, communist no longer feel they belong to Labor.

It was the Catholic and Communist responses to post-War capitalism that gave the labour movement something to actually fight about: something was at stake then. If Labor has no outside rubbing up against its proclaimed values, then it will continue its drift into forms of liberalism: neo, social and authoritarian.

Costa is a neo-liberal: --the market knows best; big government is bad, a market society is wonderful.

I wonder what sort of stipend Costa got paid by the School for the Americas for coming up with the typical fantasy that makes the OZ a bible for its demographic and a roaring belly ache of a laugh from any where with a few brains?

Arthur Sinodinos in Baillieu dines on watermelon alliance describes a key problem for Labor:

In the absence of a new unifying program, Labor is caught in a vice between its blue-collar roots and leftist higher-educated, inner-city dwellers and university idealists. These voters take climate change seriously and expect real action and large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Many broke with Labor when Rudd recanted on emissions trading.

Labor's working-class base is drifting, attracted by Tony Abbott's social conservatism and kitchen-table economics. Work Choices is no longer the scare du jour.

That describes the problem. What to do? What are the options?

Sinodinos has nothing to say re the ALP's problem. He is more interested in advising Abbott how to broaden his appeal to capture more of the centre ground.

I see that Greg Sheridan in No lurch to the left in Victoria interprets the LIb -Nat Coalition win in Victoria as the rejection of ideology. He says:

Australian voters, including Victorians, are resolutely anti-ideological. They embody the classic Anglo-Saxon empiricism. Ideologues are "ratbags" in the old Australian parlance. The question voters ask governments is: can you make the trains and hospitals and police work? Of course, this rejection of ideology is an ideological position in itself. It is the ideology of common sense against the ideology of radicalism. And the Greens, as the most radical party, are the losers.

Didn't the Green vote increase marginally? Wasn't that partly due to poor public transport and the need to for the state government to invest in public transport rather than freeways?

I started to read the said essay yesterday. I stopped when I came across the words "far left".

Who, in the context of politics and culture in both Australia and the USA, could the "far left" possibly be?

I referred to the USA because right-wingers in the USA often refer to the "far left" when criticizing Barack Obama and his administration.

Plus Sheridan "resolutely anti-ideological".

Again a ploy by right-wingers implying that they are not motivated by ideology.

And which implies that what they seem to pretend to be considered "normal" out there in dreadfully sane consumer land is not itself entirely based on all sorts of uninspected ideological presumptions re the nature and purpose of life altogether.

Where is Vance Packard when we most need him, or Stuart Ewen via Captains of Consciousness?

Dennis Glover in Don't step back or to the Right in THe Australian says:

wanting action to tackle global warming is the suburban norm, not the dream of urban agitators. This attempt to associate blue-collar and middle Australia with social reaction and climate denial is simplistic and a recipe for policy stagnation for Labor. The fact is, you can be economically and socially progressive at the same time.

Glover says that rather than manufacture new policy grounds for outdated Left-Right factional conflict, and help a previous generation settle old scores, Labor's emerging leaders should be establishing new institutions to think through the best policy responses to the times we now inhabit and the political challenges they throw up.

The ALP Right faction's idea of thinking through the best policy responses to the times we now inhabit and the political challenges they throw up is to put nuclear power on the climate change agenda.

For Senator Steve Hutchins + Mark Bishop, Australian Workers Union national president Bill Ludwig, former ALP president Warren Mundine and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson the light on the hill is the glow from a nuclear reactor.

It's the usual story from the fans of the nuclear + the uranium mining industry --only nuclear power can provide baseload power. It is not possible to get that from renewables' technology.

The eastern states electricity grid could encompass six or seven nuclear power stations and add real value to the system. What is lacking is political will etc etc.

The fans never talk about the subsidies that would be required to make nuclear power plants economically viable.