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

seeking power for its own sake « Previous | |Next »
April 16, 2011

In A Lesson for Social Democrats in the London Review of Books blog Ross McKibbin comments on the New South Wales Labor government's shattering defeat in the state elections. He says:

In New South Wales, the decline of the industrial working class was accompanied by the collapse of the Labor-reformist ideology, which was a product of the old demography. In the best neo-liberal way, Labor governments became obsessed by budget surpluses, refused to borrow for infrastructure projects and became notorious for cancelling programmes once thought to be indispensable. In other words, the government became incapable of working the old patronage networks because it had nothing to give its clients.The decay of reformism also opened the Labor Party to a destructive factionalism.

We are looking at a wreckage of the Labor Party in its historic base: Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs and the industrial constituencies to the north and south of the city.

McKibbin says that the parliamentary party and the government became the right wing faction's playthings: premiers were made and unmade by it.The point of politics became not policy but politics, and most of its practitioners were men and women who had done nothing else since university, if not before.

Since all that mattered was winning elections, the role of the machine was to monitor every movement, however slight, of public opinion. NSW government was focus-group politics par excellence. In order to win elections you had to have money, and raising money was the obsessive concern of the machine. That is how the Labor Party became the party of the property developer, which divorced it from much of its traditional electorate and undermined its once strong ethnic minority vote – ever more important in Australian politics. It also divorced the party from the Greens.

The NSW Right is still at it. The new leader of the state parliamentary party was elected by his little band unopposed, having been chosen before the election was lost and before the Labor premier had resigned.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:33 PM | | Comments (5)


It seems so odd to read about the collapse of the NSW ALP as a result of changes in the economy and in demography, when we need only go back as far as Whitlam to find a reformist ALP which was far from relying on cloth-cap socialist ideas.

Once again, Gough is the elephant in the room who nobody wants to look at.

Gordon the difference is that in 1972 one worker in two was a union member, and unions were some of the most influential institutions in the country. Since they controlled the ALP, the ALP reflected the attitudes and priorities of a large proportion of the population.

These days the unions are an anachronism and little more than a rent-seeking lobby group for public sector workers, apart from a handful of old blue collar industries. I believe both Simon Crean and Kevin Rudd saw the terminal decline of Labor if it continued to be a captive of the unions and tried to transform it into a broad-based social democratic party, and that is why the union hacks in the ALP did them in.

Now Julia Gillard dances to the tune of thickheads like Paul Howes, Labor's primary vote is in the low 30% range, and the chances of revitalisation look remote. For example, despite Gillard's plunge in the polls and the fact that even Labor diehards are disillusioned with her, not even imaginative journalists can invent a plausible leadership challenger (apart from Rudd of course, who has no chance - see above).

John Robertson was a capable organiser for the NSW ETU when I knew him but he is no more qualified to be premier than I am ... and we both have about the same chance of seeing it happen.

Just think of where we'd be today if Perikles, Kleisthenes and the like had merely followed opinion rather than inspiring and/or dragging it kicking and screaming when necessary, to new ideas.

The NSW Right do not want their Labor Party to become a broad based social democratic party with a diversity of views. They don't seem to realize that Australia is changing.

The ALP in NSW has been reduced to a rump. Just deserts.

you can't say that the NSW Right is interested in the wellbeing of the population; or that the ends of economic growth and economic management is wellbeing.