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The Labor Conundrum

The Queensland result is nothing short of disaster for the ALP. No other words can really express the tragedy that is the result. And listening to Annabel Crabbe on with Richard Glover this afternoon it was the source of much mirth and scant analysis of what it meant. But Crabbe rightly identified that the challenge for the ALP is interpreting what it means, and in my opinion it doesn’t bode terribly well for the Federal party. In my not so humble opinion the ALP is caught in a pincer movement partly of its own making. Thirty years ago the ALP could rightly lay claim to being the party for workers, strong ties to the unions in a highly unionised work force, which meant their connection to working people was real. Their growth out of parliamentary socialism we could call it, informed their attempts in the Chifley years to nationalise the banks. But since the days of the electorally successful Hawke and Keating governments the ALP marched right and deserted their view of government ownership of large entities. Hence Hawke’s government privatised the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas and Australian Airlines. Leaving it a hypocritical argument when they opposed the sale of Telstra by the Howard government.

Now we have seen within a the last year two state ALP governments fall for two reasons: privatisation and scoring one election win too many. First the ALP must try to sort out where it stands with privatising assets. They are idiots to keep arguing this “must be done”, when they are too cowardly to go to an election on it. Iemma was rolled by the party over electricity privatisation, and yet why should the party support him? He was too gutless to ask the people for a mandate over it, knowing electricity privatisation was poison. By the time Keneally achieved this the ALP was done for, but one of the nails in the coffin was partial power privatisation which the true believers hate. A year ago the Coalition won seats they had never won before in NSW, in part because the ALP lost their base. Bligh likewise didn’t gain a mandate for the sale of assets but she did it and then also reaped the pain of a mad electorate annoyed about many things, but particularly about being lied to.

The other problem both these governments had was crap oppositions. Both won their last election based on the poor palatability of their oppositions. This forced people to stick with governments they were tired of, by the next election once the oppositions were organised and worthy of election the electorate overturns the government they hate with such vehemence the wilderness for the ousted party is long and deep. There are parallels federally of course with the failure of the Keating to win the 1996 election. He was so hated that Howard just had to stay quiet and ride on the hatred to victory. This led to a long 11 year time in Opposition for the ALP. The answer here is when given a lifeline, recognise it and change tack – big time. Don’t take it as an endorsement of what led to you being on the nose.

Now any ALP member who doesn’t see the problems for Gillard is a fool. Gillard like Bligh is seen as a liar, now the silly thing is all politicians lie, but for Gillard it is like a millstone around her neck. It means even good messages fail to get traction in the community because the electorate has switched off. Now this is a problem for Gillard, because the QLD election tells us what happens when the electorate really dislikes you, or the electorate sees you as lying and negative. But more importantly Gillard has failed to articulate what the ALP stands for. The trite comments about “Labor Values” are at times not much different to the Liberal Party. The ALP must look again at those values it holds dear and not be afraid to hold tight on them. State ownership of key assets is anathema to the economic rationalists, but the ALP should not be the home of these thoughts. The ALP needs to recast itself as a modern party not just of the working class but one that isn’t a plaything of the 1% or the 10% of society with the wealth. It needs to make it clear that the broader left views of public education, universal healthcare, environmental concerns and workers rights are theirs above all else. They have not done this, and when they have recently (“like the Carbon tax”) is has been other parties like the Greens dragging them to it.

Australia is so welded to the 2 party system the ALP will recover in Qld and NSW, but the ALP will continue to struggle if it fails to articulate an ideology that is true to its parliamentary socialist history and lets business drive agendas due to their buying power.

Here endeth this rambling rant.

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