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ALP: writing the obituary « Previous | |Next »
March 22, 2011

The Canberra Press Gallery is starting to write the obituary of the Gillard Government and that of the ALP. Are there interpretations plausible?

For instance, Glenn Milne addresses the issue of the Gillard Government when he writes at the ABC's Unleashed that with 'Gillard battling on many fronts, Liberals dare to hope, for the first time since the Labor minority government was formed, that Julia Gillard's first term in her own right may be her last.' He adds:

This is not to say they now believe the Government will not go full term. To the contrary, there is a grudging recognition that the dreams of an early implosion between Gillard and the independents she relies on to govern were misplaced. It's just that senior Liberals now believe Gillard's prime ministership may be terminal, a fate that will become clear at the time of the next election.

There is a growing belief among senior Liberals, he concludes, that Gillard's eroded legitimacy may be fatal to her re-election chances.


From my perspective Milne's columns on the ABC's Unleashed are basically him writing publicity for the Liberal Party. They tell us little more than what senior Liberals are thinking about the current state of play in politics. The content is mostly about hope.

Peter Hartcher prefers to make his own judgements. In the Sydney Morning Herald he says:

The Prime Minister is like someone under a death sentence, carrying on breezily as if everything is normal. Let's be realistic. As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.....As a party able to offer itself as a viable government, Labor is not just under existential threat. It is finished. Unless, of course, it can engineer an extraordinary resurgence. Labor's looming death as a stand-alone political entity is the biggest story in contemporary Australian politics.

His thesis is that the ALP has self-destructed as the party of the progressive vote. Even if Gillard can win passage of a carbon tax through the Parliament, it will not be enough to save her, and Labor, from oblivion.

Let us accept that Labor cannot govern in its right any more---the coalition of ALP and Greens in the ACT and Tasmania gives us the reasons for accepting this part of Hartcher's thesis. What then of his oblivion claim?

Hartcher doesn't address the possibility of a coalition between ALP and Greens at a federal level. Hasn't the ALP depended on Greens preferences to be competitive since the 1980s? If the ALP cannot win elections with a vote in the mid-30s, then it needs some sort of an alliance with the Greens.

Hartcher is ambivalent here. On the one hand, the alliance possibility is sidelined on the grounds that the Right faction is dominant within Labor and it has no interest in moving left to appeal to progressive voters. On the other hand, Hartcher acknowledges this possibility with his claim that Labor has yet to squarely confront the fact that it is on track to bring the two-party system to an end as Australia witnesses the rise of a three-party system.

We already three-party system---eg., Liberals, National and ALP. Nay, the political landscape has changed so that we actually have a four-party system: Liberals, National, ALP and Greens. How does that constitute Labor's oblivion--that Labor is finished? Nobody seriously claims that the Liberals are finished because they are required to form a coalition with the Nationals. Why the ALP then?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:24 PM | | Comments (12)


Glenn Milne, like Andrew Bolt, needs to stop pretending to be a journalist and just be honest about the nature of the spinning he is doing for the Coalition.

Milne is talking out of his rear end. Labor doesn't need to worry about the progressive vote as long as the nutjobs are running the Lib/Nat coalition. The current crop of the ALP right will be crippled by the NSW state election, Gillard has started to find her feet and Abbott is wearing out his welcome.

Hockey has said today that if compensation for the carbon tax consists of tax cuts, they'll dump those along with anything else to do with climate change. Even Milne must be in despair.

The problem with your theory, Lyn, is that Gillard herself is a social conservative who seems not to understand the damage she is doing herself and her party with making opposition to gay marriage her signature issue.

She is as bad on other issues. Her approach to education focuses exclusively on test scores and ever-closer bureaucratic supervision. her approach to welfare focuses on mutual obligation and ever-closer bureaucratic supervision. Her approach to the environment is whatever the focus groups tell her will fly. Her approach to foreign policy is cringingly embarrassing cut-and-paste jobs delivered before the US congress. We will not even mention her attitude to refugeees.

Alienating your base while failing to attract new voters is not a long-term recipe for success.

Yes true Labor is failing and it has brought it on itself.
But I dont think its over for Gillard just yet. She is a woman with a good laugh and smile. She can do a little snort when she laughs too. People like that. Moving the serious issues to the side and looking at what wins elections and popularity she still has it over the rivals as a person that people would trust. People forget going back on election promises. They always do.
Besides, there isnt anyone else in labor at the moment who is better.
I expect a little reinvention of Gillard. You may see her turning snags at a barby near you soon.

As an afterthought, 'Labor doesn't need to worry about the progressive vote' is precisely the strategy enunciated by the vat creatures of the NSW Right. That is why the Keneally government will be re-elected on Saturday with a huge majority. Oh wait.

Progressive parties that ignore the progressive vote can no longer claim to be progressive parties.

I think Alan is spot on. Lyn's suggestion that Gillard is now beginning to find her feet is fair enough but I don't think Labor can overcome the predicament Alan outlines. Hartcher's Obituary for the ALP piece was spot on. Throughout Australia's history right vote and left vote have split 50/50. One side never more than 3 or 4% ahead of the other. With 10% (and growing) of the left vote seemingly attached to The Greens now and Labor unable/unwilling to move left in its policies it is difficult to see Labor's primary vote ever getting to 40% again. The most positive view of their situation has them able to squeak into government on Greens preferences from time to time but governing in their own right looks increasingly unlikely as a prospect.

re your comment:

The most positive view of their situation has them able to squeak into government on Greens preferences from time to time but governing in their own right looks increasingly unlikely as a prospect.

Why not the possibility of a coalition of ALP and Greens? Isn't that the de facto situation now in Canberra?

It is what has been formalized in Tasmania and the ACT. It appears to be working at a state level.

Paul Kelly's contribution to the debate around the ALP's woes is that the Australian public does not know Julia Gillard, and remains divided and confused about her values, beliefs, journey to power and what she really represents. He says:

Gillard is stranded. She is a politician belatedly emerging as a cultural traditionalist with the consequence that both Left and Right are deeply suspicious and the public plain confused....For leaders, values are not real unless they are championed. Any leader who tolerates a blank page about her values will find her opponents fill that space with their own demonology. To an extent this fate has befallen Gillard

Gillard a blank page? She has consistently talked about the work ethic, personal responsibility, the importance of education for social mobility.

Isn't she consistently referring to the Protestant work ethic?

The poll on ninemsm asks
Do you support the carbon tax?

12,000 say yes. 92,000 say no

I guess lots of people would automatically say no to any question regarding tax. It does seem a big difference though. Many people who voted no would not be environmentally savvy and would just be voting on economic grounds. I suppose the question would need to ask on what grounds do you make your choice.
Perhaps Labor does not have a mandate from the people to impose this tax when they said quite clearly that they wouldnt before we went in to tick our boxes.
Nicholsons cartoon in the Australian today could sum up the mood of the public well.

Graham Richardson is reported as argues that the seats Labor in NSW will be most likely to hold on Saturday have these characteristics: low levels of education, high numbers of manufacturing workers and people born in non-English speaking countries, a high proportion of working-age people who rely on welfare payments and large numbers of families in public housing. This is well below the 40 per cent required to be electorally competitive.

Ethnics" and "tradies"-- as political number-crunchers call them--- are deserting the ALP. Young professionals, intellectuals and gays are heading to the Greens, while blue-collar Howard Battlers are shifting to the Liberals.

The Richardson profile is almsot exactly the people who would unkindly be called low information voters in the US. The precipice the ALP teeters on is that they are the voters most likely to be swayed by the sort of rhetoric adopted by Tony Abbot. The more Labor relies on them the shakier its chance of ever returning to progressive policies becomes.

It is more than the end of an electoral cycle and corrupt administration. There is a realignment of politics taking place in NSW along with the destruction of the Labor Right's machine--Sussex Street