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

Labor's lament « Previous | |Next »
December 17, 2010

Michael Thompson's No place in Labor for people like me in The Australian has a simple argument: the middle-class progressives are killing the party to which he once belonged. The rot set in with Gough Whitlam and has continued until today with the alliance with the Greens.

Thompson's "authentic" Labor Party is that of socially conservative working class. However the working class is awake to the betrayal of its values by the middle class progressives (he means lawyers, schoolteachers, public servants and academics) and will be looking about for a new political home. He says:

Several things post-election have led me to this realisation: Labor's alliance with the Greens; public pronouncements by party officials; the media and books on the ALP; terms of reference of the review launched in the wake of the election debacle; along with reflections on the paucity of working-class candidates preselected to stand for seats in low-socioeconomic electorates.

By socially conservative working class he means a blue collar working class who upholds the socially conservative values and aspirations of their working-class parents and grandparents. These values include aspirations for jobs for their children (not pie-in-the-sky green jobs) and a chance to improve their lot in life.

So where will the politically aware, disaffected socially conservative (industrial) working class go to find their political home? They are the 'Howard battlers' and Thompson adds:

Tony Abbott, with his instinct for saying what he thinks, has appeal for these same voters (when not making gaffes such as saying he was too jet-lagged to visit Australian troops in Afghanistan, or advocating an expansion in middle-class welfare that would add to the call on scarce public funds), and should he court them as part of a new, grand Coalition electoral strategy, not merely at election times, the chickens from Labor's alliance with the Greens would come home to roost.

Thompson fails to see that the ALP, like the Liberal Party, is a mass party that is a broad church. It has to be because its left of centre constituency is diverse and changing. It is diverse and changing because capitalism is changing and so is the class structure.

Thompson says nothing about today's industrial working class being composed of far more than workers in traditional blue-collar factory jobs and their households. It necessarily includes many workers often theorized as post- industrial, information age, or service economy workers. Not only does he say little about the rise of service sector employment in recent years, or the emergence of neo-liberalism over the last three decades and its attack on the welfare state, he ignores that the working class was politically defeated, across the Western world in the final decades of the last century.

The experience of defeat is important because it colours the political landscape today. Capitalism has come to be seen as the natural order of things, whether we like it or not – something to be bemoaned, perhaps, but not transformed. An entire generation has now been brought up with dramatically limited political horizons, a fact reflected in widespread disengagement from politics. It is the environmental critique of capitalism that calls for the transformation of capitalism, not the socially conservative working class.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:03 PM | | Comments (9)


In the lead-up to Christmas there is quite a lot happening politically at the Federal level:

Banking "reform";
Medicare "reform", and
Superannuation "reform".

We have also seen privatisations in Queensland (railway) and NSW (power) in the immediately pre-Christmas period.

It looks like the sly strategy of sneaking unpalatable stuff through during the holidays is alive and well. And of course no MSM journalist is sober enough to notice.

Michael Thompson has been a rather odd character in Labor circles for at least 20 years. When I knew him he was an adviser to the late Peter Cook; later from memory he joined a large law firm. Certainly I would never have categorised him as blue collar working class.

I'm sure he's correct that lots of blue collar workers are socially conservative and materialistically avaricious. However I don't believe we need worry that they might start voting Liberal. I'm sure they've been doing it for years. Moreover they are no longer amongst society's under-privileged by any stretch of the imagination; they are squarely middle class.

I think Ken Lovell is being a bit too dismissive. The Thompson lament opens a big can of worms. A Labor party which has morphed from having White Australia and tariff protection as two policy cornerstones is now radically different, but the political ideas of many Australians (call them working class if you want, but there are a lot of people who went to private schools there too) haven't moved nearly so far. I think (as Mr Thompson notes) the Pauline Hanson phenomenon proved that.

There are now no political parties which stand for economic nationalism, unionism or public ownership, but these are ideas still very important to a lot of people.

It is unfortunate that Mr Thompson seems to have trouble articulating exactly what working-class-friendly policies are missing from the ALP agenda. Instead, he refers rather mysteriously to “social conservatism” and “cultural issues”, and rants against the Greens. His time would be better spent doing what I just did – make a list. Then try to raise some support. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Greens were the only ones to pay him any attention!

All things to its time.
Labor is not the working class hero anymore. It is just another political power. We got old and they got old and our country changed (grew up maybe).
When and if we have a massive increase in blue collar migration we may see the Labor party become the champion of the working classes again but most likely it will be another party with a different name.

Surprisingly, Thompson does not mention the growing inequality. Maybe because he thinks in terms of aspirational---the working class want improve their lot in life by climbing up the ladder?

Yes, I thought it was utterly redolent, saturated with the mindset and mentality of the ALP Right.
Hide bound and innately suspicious, most of all of ideas.
Thompson and the OZ, what a perfect match.

Thompson sounds just like Christopher Pearson in his Thanks to Tony Abbott, we don't need a Tea Party in The Australian:

Thankfully, Australia is unlikely to have a movement like the Tea Party in the foreseeable future. The main reason is obvious. While Labor seems hell-bent on tearing itself apart over progressivist issues such as gay marriage and a carbon tax, which have no appeal to its traditional support base, candidates in the parties of the centre-right tend to understand the values of their electors and take them seriously.The drift of socially conservative blue-collar votes to the Coalition, for most of the Howard years and at this year's federal election, is suggestive.

to be fair Thompson is opposed to the NSW Right as well as the Labor left. Thus he says:

Labor is being frog-marched towards political irrelevance by a coming together of the self-styled progressives from the party's hard Left and a breed of right-wing official and parliamentarian who has forsaken the religious beliefs and traditional family values of earlier right-wingers for a new creed: "Whatever it takes".This new breed turned to polling and focus groups as a substitute for ideology and scant branch membership in its battles with the hard Left's eclectic mix of isms.

Yes, GST.
Arid stuff.
Little wonder that that half of the population not hitting the bottle is on prozac.
Must mention a beautiful new Rowson out, with the usual motley crew in a small boat on a stormy Wordsworthian night, trying to avoid something suspiciously like Xmass Island, as they try to make away with their ill-gotten gains from the budget cuts.
Someone, chained and trussed, is about to go over board after a mighty coshing; I think it's meant to represent "us", or in a broader sense, "civilisation".