A failure in the realm of ideas: It’s crisis as usual for the left. Despite the global financial crisis, left of centre parties are struggling in the polls. Francis Fukuyama puts it down to a "a failure in the realm of ideas" arguing that: "The left has not been able to make a plausible case for an agenda other than a return to an unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy."
Forget about ideas, says Bob Carr: In the Financial Review, incoming foreign minister Bob Carr argues that parties of the left are exhausted because they’ve fulfilled their mission and achieved most of their major goals. But according to Carr the problem is not a lack of bold new ideas. To succeed, leaders should forget about theory and improvise. That is how Labor has succeeded in the past.
More ideology! In the UK, Pete Redford takes the opposite view. At the LSE’s Politics and Policy blog he writes:
New Labour provided us with years of policy rather than ideology; for us to be successful again the party needs faith in its ideology and to break free from the New Labour belief that abandoning principles is necessary for power. Ed Miliband’s belief that Labour is not intellectually confident is an unfortunate truth. Not since Hugh Gaitskell and Anthony Crosland has the party had a clear ideological view and it now falls upon us to give an ideology back to the party.
Last month David Miliband attacked a recent article by Hickson and former deputy leader Roy Hattersley that argued Labour needed a coherent and consistent philosophy. According to Hickson and Hattersley, New Labour placed too much faith in markets and accepted the conservative idea that the state should be drastically reduced.
Reassurance Labour: David Miliband dismissed this call for ideological renewal as an exercise in feel-good politics. "It is what I shall call Reassurance Labour", he wrote. "Reassurance about our purpose, our relevance, our position, even our morals. Reassurance Labour feels good. But feeling good is not the same as doing good – and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time."
Hattersley hit back in the Guardian arguing:
State action is vital to the achievement of a more equal society. It is the most efficient mechanism for the redistribution of power and wealth, and it enables a genuinely egalitarian government to destroy the institutions of inequality and replace them with systems which unite rather than divide the nation.
Meanwhile at Larvatus Prodeo … Guy Beres suggests that: "the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments have dipped quite a bit into ‘Reassurance Labour’ economics, pursuing interventionist tax policies on climate change and mining, and betting the farm on the success of the National Broadband Network project."
Too much ‘light on the hill’ rhetoric, says Carr: While British social democrats like Redford invoke the work of theoretical thinkers like Tony Crosland, Carr argues that ideological debate is futile. Other responses to the crisis of social democracy are not much better. In the Financial Review he writes:
Nobody knows what “social inclusion” means and I am getting weary of attempts to invoke Prime Minister Ben Chifley’s “light on the hill”, more being made of it than Chifley ever intended. Education is elevated as the answer to every social problem, as if nobody has ever tried it.
Wayne Swan vs the malefactors of great wealth: In the Monthly, Treasurer Wayne Swan argues for a more equal Australia: "It’s not just about putting dollars in people’s pockets, but about building a better society; a society that creates wealth and spreads opportunity, a society that lifts up the worst-off and gives everyone a decent shot at a decent life." According to Swan, this vision is threatened by the increasing power of vested interests. He singled out mining magnates Andrew Forrest, Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart claiming that Rinhart had enlisted the help of media figures like Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and Ray Hadley.
Right wing bloggers scoff: Andrew Bolt mocks Swan’s claims asking: "Which individuals ‘mobilised’ all the conservatives and ‘shock jocks’ and when did that order go out? Was there a secret conference? Are Jews, Freemasons or Opus Dei involved?" At Catallaxy, Judith Sloan dismisses Swan’s article as "unsubstantiated hyperbole and prejudiced mumbo-jumbo."
The continuing crisis of social democracy: "No, Labor and social democracy in Australia are not dead yet but both are struggling." Wayne Swan, 2002.