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

can the ALP rebuild itself? « Previous | |Next »
September 12, 2011

Politics in Australia is now largely about opinion polls and focus groups not policy issues. Screeds of commentary is written and spoken about the significance of the minor up and down movement of the polls (the statistical sampling errors are conveniently ignored). Polls are a form of politics as entertainment in a 24/7 tabloid media world that is full of flea-circus ringmasters such as Alan Jones, and a political world thoroughly infused with the ethos of Hollywood.

Only a few journalists now write about policy, the options, and the arguments.So it is good to see policy being foreground by Dennis Glover in The Australian. He argues that the ALP's decline as a political party started with the Tampa affair in 2001, and that the decline can be primarily marked by its position on a single policy issue.


His argument is this:

One issue above all others did this: the refugee issue. The dramatic events of late 2001 between the arrival of the Tampa in August, the terrorist attacks in September and the election defeat of November drove a wedge between Labor and the idealists and reformers who have historically given the party its drive. That wedge has not gone away, and it should surprise nobody that it has returned in the form of last week's dramatic High Court decision. A generation ago, the lawyers who brought on the case would probably have been activist Labor members.

He says that Labor's supporters have all but given up on it, reasoning that when push came to shove the party of progress would morally fold once again.

Glover adds that ten years on it's time for Labor to face up to the hard reality. If it is to have a future it has to show the broad "Labor" community what it really stands for on the asylum-seeker issue.

My judgement is that Glover is right about the decline and decay of the ALP--- in the sense that the policies do matter, the ALP has really bungled its asylum-seeker policy, and its political deals on this have been hollowed out. The decline is not just one of a narrow electoral support, but the sense that the ALP has little in the way of an idea of where it wants to take the country and how to use policy issues to make Australia a better place.

Where I differ from Glover is that I'm not so sure that the ALP is actually capable of rebuilding itself on firmer moral foundations, as Glover thinks, or hopes. My sense is that it's too late--the decline has gone on for too long, and it now has its own momentum. Even if it did start the rebuilding process, as opposed to its short term political survival, how many citizens would listen? Many of those who supported the ALP a decade ago have moved on.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:37 AM | | Comments (14)


Alan Jones' recent anti-carbon tax rally in Canberra was entertainment, even if the rally featured actual politicians. Jones is an entertainer---a flea-circus ringmaster of the right.

"Jones is an entertainer."

That's why he doesn't make much sense. His politics as entertainment is all about keeping people from thinking straight by playing on people’s emotions: fear, hate, racism, xenophobia, etc.

Many of the pseudo-populist operations such as the regional movement against windfarms are funded funded by wealthy corporations with an anti-renewables agenda.

"Jones is an entertainer---a flea-circus ringmaster of the right".

This line from the Vanity Fair article applies to Jones. He has

moonshot [himself] into a zero-gravity zone that is beyond parody, where brazen self-caricature takes on the bold outlines of cartoon stardom and nothing [he] does perturbs [his] fan base.

His fan base have adopted him as their father savior and the ridicule and criticism he receives only endears him more to the faithful.

Labor's philosophical basis is long gone, but how many voters would know, or care, about that? A handful of political tragics. That's probably true of both sides.

After 911 the boat people thing might have been an election winning issue, but it's not anymore.

"After 911 the boat people thing might have been an election winning issue, but it's not anymore"

Probably. But then the issue and the Howard wedge has done its work in fracturing the ALP 's coalition of blue collar suburban and inner city professionals.

Abbott is continuing working the same wedge tactic with his 'I'll only support you with off shore processing legislation if its about Nauru and not Malaysia.'

The ALP--cabinet and caucus-- will reaffirm the Malaysian solution in order to "stop the boats" and "put the people smugglers out of business". Onshore processing is not considered an option, in spite of the ALP's left faction's preference and push for this. The issue is primarily framed as being about ensuring border security.

The Gillard Government just need to find a way to fix the Migration Act with an very broad amendment that can allow for all sort of things to be read into it, if so desired. The proposed legislation would allow both sides of politics to implement their respective off shore processing policies.They can then continue to attack one another over the details.

And The Australian will continue to rant and rage about the pernicious influence of the refugee lobby, the Greens, and the Left of the ALP; and call for these misfits who are out of touch with the commonsense of ordinary Australians (ie., those who agree with The Australian's agenda) to be firmly put in their place.

The factional warlords use the opinion polls to destroy unpopular political leaders; and they strike without mercy or remorse. Polls are a weapon.

The problem is that the polls suggest that it is the ALP's core supporters who are disillusioned. The solution, according to the polls, is to install a popular leader.

And so around we go again on the poll merry go round.

Once apon a time the policy department was a stand alone thing. Now it is run by the marketing department as every new thing must be treated like a new product and gauged by whether the public will buy it.

I am not sure that all is lost for Labor federally yet. I am yet to see proof that the opposition will not be equally as useless. Sure, they present as an alternative and possibly a good one but so did Julia and so did Kevin 07.
Julia probably should start looking for small things to fix. Fix one thing then another and the momentum will swing when the press get bored bashing Labor.

Can I just ask where they find the fickle clowns who answer these polls? Are they really representative of the broader electorate? Or do they just speak for the marginal seats?

Sadly, as Les says, policies are now treated as products to be focus-grouped and packaged for the delight of customers. If it turns out that the punters (what a load of contempt for Australians is embedded in that word!) don't like the product then obviously it has to be modified or even withdrawn from the market.

Politicians on both sides seem to think that values and principles can be treated the same way: crafted from whole cloth to suit the mood of the electorate. Most people I believe are not fooled. They know the ALP has no values or principles now beyond expediency and opportunism for the sake of winning government. That's why politics no longer interests them. But of course I could just be projecting my own feelings :).

Les says:
"Once apon a time the policy department was a stand alone thing. Now it is run by the marketing department as every new thing must be treated like a new product and gauged by whether the public will buy it."

So true


I think they just ring people that the now will be there. Zoo Keepers, Hillbillies, The Loony Bin. Those types.

I'm becoming tired of the game of tit for tat on whether the ALP or the Coalition have been more contradictory in their promises on the United Nations refugee convention.

For both parties it is national security--- Australia's border protection---- that triumphs any other consideration.