Left Right Beyond

Longtime left commentator Martin Jacques has an interesting article in the Guardian about the politics of New Labour’s Third Way, a phrase we’re unlikely to hear anyone in the ALP utter any time soon in the wake of Latham’s departure into the ether. But the similarities between the possible exhaustion of idealism in the British Labour Party and the confusion about what the ALP stands for are uncannily similar. Perhaps that’s not so surprising, as Tony Blair famously modelled aspects of the New Labour agenda on the Hawke/Keating government and with Lynton Crosby’s involvement the Howardisation (of the John not the Michael variety) of the Tories and indeed Labour proceeds apace in the undeclared British election campaign. Controversies over immigration and refugees sound familiar? Increasingly, there’s a common rhetorical and strategic interchange between parties in English speaking countries – a kind of globalisation of the political class, if you like. This is reflected at sub-national level in Australia where Colin Barnett’s Libs in WA have been rehashing lines from Campbell Newman’s winning campaign for Lord Mayor in Brisbane last year. And how many Premiers have followed Blair in promising to be “tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime”?

UPDATE: University of Adelaide Research Fellow Dr Barbara Pocock supports the idea that Labor can’t continue to rely on a shrinking base of workers in The Australian today.

Jacques examines what will happen to the British Labour Party after the Tories finally return to power (as he points out, the British two-party system has proved highly resilient and in Australia we’ve seen no equivalent challenges from parties such as the SDP/Liberals and later the LDP). He suspects that Blairism will be discredited, but that a deracinated party will not have the will or the strength to revive the social democratic tradition. The reason? New Labour in power have ceded far too much ideological ground to the Tories:

New Labour has renounced the notion of left and right as irrelevant to modern political discourse. Alas, neither the Tories nor Bush seems to share that view. On the contrary, both at home and abroad, the Bush regime has signalled a major shift to the right, and it is difficult to imagine that not influencing the Conservatives here. New Labour’s rejection of the old polarity was enshrined in the idea of the third way. Of course, it did not presage what it claimed at the time, namely a new way of looking at, and acting upon, the world: it was far more prosaic than that. In effect, it was a grand term for ducking any kind of ideological engagement with the right: split the difference or, alternatively, look the other way.

The result has been a government that has failed to define or hold any serious ideological ground.

Precisely right. Jacques has his answer in the (in)direction of Australian Labor over the past eight years – casting around for a narrative and a vision to unify Australia, mired in internal sniping and leadership fights, ideologically bereft, and seemingly bereft of new ideas. Labor has run the past few election campaigns effectively promising a kinder, gentler, Howardism and there’s been very little evidence of any revival in social democratic thinking or the sort of long term work that’s needed to rebuild a constituency of both ideas and supporters.

Interestingly, one area that Jacques doesn’t mention, except to allude to spin, is the capture of the language of politics by the Right, surely one of the most significant developments since Nixon invented the “silent majority” and “peace with honour”. But a book newly published in Australia, Don’t Think of An Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, which I’ve not read yet but which I plan to review in due course, has an introduction by Dr Julia Baird (as Troppo readers will know, for my money, the best political columnist in Australia) which touches on very similar themes to Jacques’ discussion of New Labour in respect of the ALP. Here’s Baird on the ALP:

It needs to engage more fiercely in the gladiatorial pit of ideas, instead of jogging around the mortgage belts choking on the dust of the Liberal candidates running miles ahead.

Referring to the post-mortems on the ALP defeat from people like Bill Shorten, Baird takes aim at the dessicated marketing/pop culture language and concepts employed:

The labels are sloppy and patronising – ‘Kath and Kim’ and ‘Mallers’ as Key Constituents? Even allowing people who are strong on social values and cultural identity to be called elites… is sloppy: the ‘cappuccino set’; ‘chardonnay socialists’; ‘chattering classes’; ‘latte drinkers’. Think of some of the other labels that have been attached to the ALP support base: ‘Howard haters’ for those who opposed mandatory detention and were suspicious of our reasons for going to war; ‘anti-American’ for those who marched against the Iraq War. It’s a language created by the right, and now frequently circulated by the left as they hasten to endear themselves to middle Australia by dissociating themselves from the unfashionably socially concerned. They have lost both the moral and material high ground, and are hastening to assure voters that they understand suburban dreams, ‘McMansions’, and the desire to be, as Kim might say, ‘effluent’.

This is perhaps one of the most curious intellectual developments over the past two decades, as we have watched the left concede large areas of thought to the conservatives. In effect, the right has managed to reclaim both God and mammon: claiming both religious superiority, as the purveyors of morality; and the status of good economic managers, as the high priests of prosperity. How did this happen? Did anyone notice?

Baird also writes, as if to echo Jacques:

…it should be noted that it is usually only people from the left who say there is no left and right anymore, that there is just clustering around issues such as environmentalism and globalisation. I’ve never heard someone from the right, who identifies as a conservative, say that.

I think both Jacques and Baird have identified a key problem for social democratic parties – the ceding of ideological and moral ground whether in or out of government (and doing it in government seems likely to lead to a long spell in opposition). I’d also endorse the contention that the Third Way is a dead end in the long run, and can’t agree more with these thoughts by Dr Baird:

…the left needs to learn to talk values and think strategically… They should speak the language of values ‘not policy wonks’, refuse to be defensive, learn how to unite, and co-operate. It may sound a bit like Sesame Street to the cynical Australian – but it’s true not just of various parts of the left-leaning community, but the Labor Party caucus as well.

The fact that the left is still debating ‘elites’ versus ‘blue singlets’ is depressing, and tiring. It is the language of exclusion. Why not talk of something which inspires or interests all groups – lazily defined as they are? When did the defining element of leadership become ‘what the electorate wants’? Where is the vision? What do we dream of?

The Labor Party should be funding think tanks and research institutes, and engaging more vigorously with ideas. It should foster links with business by creating fellowships at universities and hosting forums of young thinkers. Perhaps then we will see a new language emerge.

…the Australian left needs to work out who they are and what they stand for in order to reframe debate in this country. They should stop buying cliches and language that excludes those within their own ranks… Of course, their policies need to be electorally sustainable, but they also need to show courage to gain respect. Maybe some passion and liberty, too. Because it is true – ideas do come first.

I totally agree, and this sort of thing fleshes out nicely what I’ve been arguing here at Troppo that the ALP needs to do for quite some time. I’ll have more to say about language, ideas and progressive politics in due course.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Here are some brutal thoughts that should get me banned from Troppo if this amiable site had the equivalent of Tim B’s Andrea Harris.

Labor will never get back into power unless it ditches the polices of the left intelligentsia. Robert Manne conceded this – althogh it probably made his teeth ache to say it – in a column shortly after the election.

The people simply don’t agree with the left’s position on reconciliation, the republic and refugees. If the left insists on them, fine; resign yourself to perpetual opposition. It might make you feel good, but it won’t win the hearts and minds of the broad populace.

The left’s old paradigms are no more. The old working class is just a rump. The industrial backbone of the country now is not the old blue collar worker (male, fifties, single bread winner) but an army of hundreds of thousands of self employed contractors and other SME business people into which the old workng class has metamorphosised. These people are not so concerned with income as with wealth: they are happy with how much they earn; now they want to know what they can do with it. My nephew – a plumber, largely self-employed, works every other day, earns as much as I do – spends his income on investing in racehorses.

Howard understands this perfectly; that’s why he’s won four elections and will likely win one, maybe two, more. What you’re talking about is the past and the old ways. In some senses the modern left is the most conservative movement of all. It doesn’t understand change and can’t adapt to it.

I have always voted Labor but I can at least see that the world has changed since my political allegiances were formed. Unless the ALP can challenge for the middle ground, and win it, it will not again gain office. When you are in opposition, your job is to take votes off the government. The way Labor has been conducting itself over the past few years, you’d think it believed the road to electoral success was to take votes off the greens. All that does is scare the bejasus out of the middle ground.

And for those who mutter darly abou the innate conseratism of ‘the middle ground’, remember this is a democracy. Political parties, including that which occupies the Treasury benches, are supposed to answer to the fpeople. The people are not supposed to answer to the parties.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

No idea why anyone would want to ban you for a comment like that, Rob!

On self-employed contractors etc. the ABS figures actually show that this is a much smaller group than usually perceived in the media and through extrapolation from anecdotal experience. I wrote about this last year in November and the post also links to some relevant discussion at John Quiggin’s place:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007791.html

I said at the time that Latham was right to be appealing to this group – but not at the cost of alienating others. There’s no question that the traditional working class doesn’t exist in the same way it once did (as much a matter of culture and collectivism as forms of employment) and Labor has to engage with (post)modern society, not hanker after a better past. But what we need is a story and a vision that attempts to build on current alignments in order to capture the support of as many Australians as possible – at least 51% of them. I agree that Labor should avoid conservatism, but it’s wrong to say there’s a permanent division of opinion between party and people on some questions – it’s just that the party’s given up trying to lead and convince. What’s needed is a rhetoric that encourages inclusion rather than exclusion. Paradoxically, while claiming to govern for ‘all of us’ the mark of the Howardian years has been to polarise and divide. He’s a “uniter not a divider” in the same way that Bush is. I’m feeling fonder of the Beazer now than I was during the Labor leadership race – his initial performance has impressed me – and he may be the man to do it, if only the rest of the party and its supporters do the hard work of coming up with some ideas and a vision to sell, that is!

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Mark, I don’t want to seem irritable, but forget the ‘vision’ stuff. That’s over; that’s old politics. It might have worked for Whitlam, though that’s arguable; even so, that was thirty years ago, and a lot of political water has flowed under the bridge since then. People don’t want to be led by the nose to some sort of nirvana. They want to be left alone to make up their own minds and pay out their own money for the things they think are worth it. I know I do. If that sounds horribly materialistic, it probably is. But it’s no business of the government to instruct people on what they should think or what they should do. We don’t need inspiring leadership or vision or crap like that – except maybe if there’s a war on. The world’s had a bellyful of it, usually with catastrophic results. What we want, increasingly, is a form of state power that limits itself to the things it’s good at, lets the market deal with the rest, and just generally gets out of our face.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

One step at a time is my motto, Rob. I don’t mean vision in the sense of some grand Whitlamite scheme, but something in similar form to (though obviously designed to counter) the way that Howard successfully spells out what sort of place he thinks this is and should be in such a way as to appeal to a majority.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Bush is a despicable turkey. Beyond belief. Invades other countries. Demonises. Pays off the rich. Tells horrible lies.

His language and speeches are completely empty, just windy platitudes that mean zilch and cover up imperial aggression.

And you know what? The audiences hear a vision. Idealism.

The most beautifully crafted ideological utterances since John Kennedy. Hitler was a genius at it. So is Castro.

They know the buttons. We don’t any more. To our credit, we don’t cling to the old buttons, which is exactly why New Labour took over – it respected the fact that the Tories had enough time to pemanently change the political landscape and Britain was desperate for some sort of circuit breaker.

IMHO we have a state government here that seems to have conceded the same thing – in this case wrongly. Whether the britlabour discoveries about the post Thatcher landscape are true here is open to debate. It ain’t necessarily so.

Trouble is, we are building now on the idealism free zone of Hawke and to some extent Keating – an effect that Julia is predicting will follow Blair.

I think Latham had a lot going for him, with all his faults. It was a strategy of asking yourself what actually engages millions of people. Aspirations and fears. Unfortunately what we want to offer them is exactly what the economy and its masters do not want to deliver. Job security, decent wages and cheap mortgages.

And there is our problem. What are we going to say to a frightened low level white collar worker with an employment contract and a boring job, who can only pay the mortgage if both partners work, no-one gets the chop, no-one gets pregnant, who is beginning to realise mum won’t leave them anything when she dies cos it will cost too much in the twilight home?

They don’t want to be victims any more, and that is the one thing we won’t offer them.

Bush has found a rhetoric to create an idealism that appeals to these people in his particular historical context, derived from his culture’s peculiar vulnerability to that kind of totalising vision.

In a horrible way, I am given comfort by the fact that Howard has not been able to do the same thing. As far as our swinging voters are concerned, the parties are just tweedle dum and tweedle dee. They treat politics like a giant job interview, and Mark didn’t quite have the steadiness to measure up when Johnny was opening the gates of hell over interest rates.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Beautifully put, as always, David.

A lot of the IT contractors who work for the public sector entity for whom my flatmate works would kill for a permanent job. They get no study leave, no sick leave, they get paid less than permanent employees and they have no career path or access to training opportunities. And working for a public sector employer, they’re treated better than many.

Rafe
2022 years ago

“What we want, increasingly, is a form of state power that limits itself to the things it’s good at, lets the market deal with the rest, and just generally gets out of our face.”

Yes. The problem is that people like myself who think along those lines have been effectively disenfranchised in Australia for 100 years.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

We’re gettting there, Rafe. We’re getting there.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Where have all the Left Wing Love Beasts gone, long time passing? Aside from David and me on this thread, so far we only have two Rs, despite the well known Troppo focus on the basics of the 3 Rs which has been comprehensively established of late…

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

“Yes. The problem is that people like myself who think along those lines have been effectively disenfranchised in Australia for 100 years.”

And yet for a remote, under populated, country that didn’t really get industrialized or and value to its exports until after WWll , we’ve continued to sit in the top twenty for quality of life for the last century.

Mind you, I’d agree that under the heavy hand of Menzies, authouritian central government did stifle much individual initiative.

Good thing, Hawke and Keating shook it all up and kicked open doors to the international economy.

Personally I think Rob and David have both hit the nail on the head, albeit with different hammers.

Things have changed in ways we can never turn back. Some of it can be see as good (a genuine meritocracy where plumbers can move into horseracing) and some seen as bad (you’re only worth something if you’re cheaper to hire than someone else).

There’s no way around this, only through. In some ways, I think the whole ball game is moving beyond politics along party lines.

I reckon the whole bloody world, economically, geopolitically, culturally, socially is gonna change more in the next 50 years than it did in the past two centuries. It won’t be one sudden big sea change though, but incrementally upon increment in a million different ways all at once.

In terms of government, administrative ideologies and overarching messages, some real circuit breakers are needed, across left and right.

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere here, we already have some very effective global systems and bodies dealing pragmatically with common issues like IATA for air travel, the ISO system for industry standards and software and communications protocols galore, that allow this thread to happen.

The big trick, and what will be the real politics for the future I think is to define what’s in the common interest and where that definition applies, from your neighborhood, suburb, city, state, nation or region that you think is the difference that makes a difference.

The escalating debate/battle over IP worldwide is one example of how new lines will be drawn in fresh sand before another wave washes it all out.

The left has lost the plot, the right is just plain wrong about too much and the centre just looks Blairy-eyed. Time to kick out the jams.

Remember, underneath the cobblestones lie fibre-optic cables that transmit images of the beach!

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

All I can say in response, Nabs, is “tertium non datur”.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

And I’d respond Mark by reminding you of Sturgeon’s Law and the discrete (sic) charm of the bourgeoisie .

Darlene
2022 years ago

Ditto what Rob said.

Also, vision means different things to different people.

Howver, having a job, some financial security etc etc is a “vision” thing most of us share.

liam hogan
2022 years ago

I find the idea that the ‘left intelligentsia’ are in control of the ALP baffling. I wish!
They’re certainly not in NSW, where the NSW Right keeps a stranglehold against pretty much all innovation. They certainly weren’t when every State Conference passed union-supported motions against mandatory detention—and got ignored by the FPLP. We got ignored when Bob Carr and John Della Bosca crunched through changes to Workcover, we get ignored at every discussion of education policy, we get ignored and ignored and ignored again.
The only university degrees respected by the Labor cliques are those specialising in the fields of industrial law, marketing and classical economics. Which is to say, the ones which translate directly into electioneering and fundraising.
The ‘left intelligentsia’ haven’t had any significant say in the ALP since the 1970s, and that was questionable even then. The problem isn’t that the non-intelligentsia get ignored, the problem is that *everyone* gets ignored.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I attended a forum in Melbourne this week conducted by a Blair strategist, Geoff Mulgan. Naturally his view on Blair Labour is not as pessimistic as Julia Baird’s. In fact he is quite convinced that the British Conservatives have been hopelessly outmanouvered over the past decade and will still continue to be. I would elaborate on his main thoughts but I think that it would be unwise in such a public forum, suffice it to say that the ALP now knows my views.

Julia is correct though in many other ways. Language is what defines the debate, and that the right has ownership of this language. My list of rightist owned labels includes: appeasing terrorists; cut and run; black armband view of history; the elite; the luvvies; latte left; chardonnay socialist; anti-american; anti-business; nanny-state; illegals; pro-democracy; mateship; family values.

She is correct also that it is only people from the left who say there is no left and right any more. The right continue to use these labels despite they being quite meaningless in describing prevailing politics, because they are effective at creating the necessary divisions and wedges. It also helps, however subtly, that the word ‘right’ is also a synonym for ‘correct’.

She is also right to critisize the unimpressive and aptly named Bill Shorten, in his use of the labels invented by the right. Shorten I think is the exact mirror of Howard on the left, the opportunist, the spiv.

I have been convinced for some time that the ‘sphere itself should be the place where the left develops its new language,(perhaps even reinventing its own name for itself).

Take ‘conspicuous indignation’ for example. A superb term coined by the sadly missed CS, that neatly encapsulates the style of the arch conservative punditocracy. This is one that must continue to be repeated around the ‘sphere until it enters common usage.

We should be experimenting with the language here. The ‘sphere can be the R&D lab for the new political language. I say, throw them out there these crazy ideas, let them sink or swim as they will, and let the ones that resonate enter the mainstream.

What is the essence of the Howard government? It is this that must be describable in a single phrase. To know this can help define what we are not, and can assist with the Vision thing.

To me the Howard Government is like a propery developer who knocks down a beatiful old house puts up a multi story apartment, installs massive air-conditioners to cope with the shocking solar design, and flogs the units off the plan to unsuspecting flunkeys who are delighted to be moving into a noice area.

Now, OK, that’s way to clumsy a metaphor but you know what I mean.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Rob, you are a bit of an enigma. Visionary = reckless social experimentation = arrogant, irresponsible left, is a standard conservative trope that gets a regular workout around this paddock. But usually it’s ridden by proud Tories and declared Howard partisans. I can’t quite see why someone with this outlook would remain a Labor voter, except out of sentimental loyalty. If you disagree with progressive social causes and interventionist economic policies, which I gather you do (‘…pay out their own money for the things they think are worth it’, ‘…let’s let the market deal with the rest’, etc. etc.), why not just switch to the winning side. Then you wouldn’t need to be irritable all the time.

Conservatives don’t mind visionaries per se if they agree with their particular vision. I can’t imagine you have a problem with Jefferson, Ghandi or Mandela. It’s just that you’re happy with the status quo, think the important battles have all been won, and don’t see the need for further radical change. If that’s what your heart tells you, vote accordingly.

Those of us who think corporations have too much power, that workers need more protection (as Mark says, whether they are in manufacturing or services is neither here nor there), that refugees should be treated more humanely, an so on, will go on voting Labor and in most cases wishing they were more visionary rather than less. As for what ‘the people’ want, we’ll see about that when the next recession hits if not sooner.

Incidentally, I’m sure you didn’t really mean that people are worried about wealth rather than income. Wealth is just capitalised income. Your point must be about income versus choice, or freedom or something.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Rex

There may well be some value in using blogs to develop punchy political rhetoric/abuse. Brainstorming en masse might come up with lots of possibilities. But the tricky part is linking the rhetoric with people’s values and motivations; testing it out; and then matching it with issues and policies (or empty gestures that convey those values and motivations).

I’m not at all sure that blogs are a very useful place to do those more complex things, not least because we’re a very atypical audience, not at all representative of any major target demographic. For example, I agree that ‘conspicuous indignation’ is a clever epithet, but how effective would it be in characterising the opponent to target demographics in a useful way (i.e. a way likely to change voting behaviour)? I suspect it’s more likely to be fruitful for Labor to learn how to UTILISE conspicuous indignation to motivate voters than to employ the label to give them insight into the tactic itself. That might sound cynical, and it is. But we’re trying to appeal to real voters, not armchair intellectuals, and the rhetoric that appeals to us isn’t necessarily going to be very useful for motivating the “punters”.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Point taken Ken, especially about the unrepresentative nature of we. But a research lab (or a marketing agency, or a think tank) is by its very nature a restricted cohort, who dream up all sorts of wild ideas, some of which get traction, some don’t.

Its the dreaming up that I’m talking about, the aim would be to have it align with fundamental values, but much of it won’t. The stuff that does though would be the stuff that passes the evoluntionary tests, and does align, and then makes its own way into the general discourse.

Keating was superb at this language, but he used it for specific tactical purposes. The language that I’m talking about must be able to be applied at a generic level.

Incidently, I’m not suggesting some sort of short run contest of best pithy phrase, no, this language can in my view be developed during the general political social discourse conducted on the blogs. People just need people to be aware of the possibility, and to be inventive (experimental) with their language as they do it.

Nicknames are good start, if they are a good characture of the individual. What is it about Tony Abbott that is so untrustworthy for example? Is it the way the eyes dart about and the large mouth and the big ears that make him look like a cane toad? Is Abbott going to march across the landscape consuming everything in his path? Is he an environmental pest? Why is he in charge of the Health System? Will he poison it?

I just think that the language doesn’t always need to be polite refined and reserved. Let it fly!

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

julia Baird, best political columnist.

That is funny Mark!

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“Where have all the Left Wing Love Beasts gone, long time passing?”

It would seem they’re still dropping like flies, or more succinctly, like lefty humanities professors who need their heads read and are even upsetting their own constituency, as decribed here at http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=38194
Sweet Jesus! With political friends and associates like this, the Beaser must be wondering if he should really call John Howard ‘mate’.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

One point supporting Rex – the blogosphere is actually the largest public arena in which Left and Right confront each other where there is some sort of genuine dialogue.

That is one reason why we defend the space against trolling. I really like the way John Quiggin puts material up for comment before print publication; as we have half-jokingly said, Sawyer would have stayed out of trouble if he had either practiced communication in this arena, or put his work up for comment first.

The key to that, of course, is the development of a community around a blog. The slowly expanding knowledge that some places are useful to watch, and participate in this kind of discussion.

I really think that a whole mob of people active on these blogs are embarrassingly better thinkers and writers than our current crop of newspaper pundits. I think the time will come when that forces a change, particularly by bringing in younger faces.

Mind you, one of the things that brings a particular energy to this part of the web is that it contains commentary by people who have better things to do with their time than cavort in the newspapers.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘…there is some sort of genuine dialogue.’

That’s true, Dave, and your point about testing arguments here is great. But I don’t see how it’s ‘supporting Rex’, who wants to use blogs as a device to brainstorm good insults for Tony Abbott.

Actually both aims are laudable, but you’d have to concede there’s a certain tension between the two. It’s one of the reasons blogs are fun.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

I’m not fussy James. I’ll settle for any front bencher.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Sure you got the right link there Observa?

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

An enigma, James? Moi? Surely not. Pretentious, maybe (shades of Fawlty Towers).

I’ll try to put some coherent thoughts together on this (just out of bed – God, this blog is addictive, isn’t it?)

I vote Labor because I prefer Labor’s policies, and yes, there’s an element of sentimentality in the mix as well. Before the last election it was a bit difficult working out what they actually were, mind you, although, like Dave T, I thought Latham had a lot going for him, at least potentially, and much regret he has bowed out of the game.

But I think part of the process of adjustment I referred to before is for Labor to shake off the old radical canards (to use one of Kimbo’s favourite words). A lot of people in the ALP hadve fond memories of the days when it was the party of the radicals, so they keep pushing for the adoption of radical social policies. But these days it’s the greens that attract the radicals. People like Carmen Lawrence would love to capture some of that demographic back for Labor, but if that happens, more of the centre will just rush in Howard’s direction.

So Labor is in a bit of a cleft stick there. Ironically enough, Latham understood the dilemma must bettter than most, and tried to align Labor with the desires and aspirations of ordinary people (not the tertiary educated elites). Another reason to mourn his passing, IMHO.

Also, as part of the adjustment, it seems to me to be time to move away from right and left as overarching determinants in the political debate. I’m not saying the terms should ceases to exist: but we need to start thinking about some deeper cultural and political currents.

Let’s go back to Locke and John Stuart Mill and re-figure out what governments are there for. Maybe we should remember that democracy was instituted as a political system to restrain the state, not empower it.

That’s why I’m suspicious, these days, of visionaries and reformers and people who want to make the world a better place through government policies. In the discussions we’ve been having about secondary education I think you see an example of just how disastrous the results can be, however well-intentioned they might be.

Which leads to my other point: governments generally make a mess of things when they try to implement wide-ranging reforms. Think of what Dawkins did to the tertiary sector. It wasn’t perfect before Dawkins – why should it have been? We can’t create perfect institutions – but I haven’t read any academics who say it got any better.

Think too about the Hawke years, the ‘war on drugs’ and ‘no child will live in poverty after 1990’. Governments can’t achieve these ‘big’ things. They can’t stick their hands down into the currents of culture and change their direction. And, anyway, that’s where democracy kicks in again: we shouldn’t want governments to have that kind of power, in fact we should be scared silly if they had it or tried to acquire it.

Apologies for length and incoherence and typo’s.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

rob sounds more like a pragmatic libertarian to me. i consider myself a pragmatic libertarian too and vote Labor most of the time. i don’t see why he shouldn’t continue voting Labor, Rex, or do you want to kick all the sensible people out of your tent?

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

There’s a good opinion piece by Adelaide Uni academic Barbara Pocock on workers and contractors and the ALP which I’ve linked to in an update to the main post.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

“i don’t see why he shouldn’t continue voting Labor, Rex, or do you want to kick all the sensible people out of your tent?”

Huh?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

sorry, rex, i confused you with james farrell. i was referring to this comment by james:
‘Rob, you are a bit of an enigma. Visionary = reckless social experimentation = arrogant, irresponsible left, is a standard conservative trope … why not just switch to the winning side. Then you wouldn’t need to be irritable all the time’

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Jason, I think Rob was answering me rather than Rex. For my own sake I’m glad he votes Labor, but I was unselfishly suggesting a way for him to be more relaxed and comfortable.

I’ne never quite grasped what makes Labor the appropriate choice for a libertarian: I should read your Catallaxy posts more often, I guess. In any case, Rob’s opinions seem on the whole to chime with the ‘cultural right’, for want of a better phrase, than yours (Jason’s) ever have. I haven’t seen you getting fired up about elites and so on. But I’m going to seem presumptuous if I take this too far.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I think Jason meant to say James Farrell, Rex. James seems to think I have no right to vote Labor.

Rex
Rex
2022 years ago

Just when the you thounght things couldn’t get worse for the ALP you read this.

http://www.crikey.com.au/politics/2005/02/17-0004.html

Its no wonder membership is falling through the floor.

Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Very depressing read, Rex. As I’ve argued before, the ALP desparately needs organisational reform:
http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/008147.html

Crean and Latham both took on the party barons up to a point, Beazley never showed any willingness to. The whole situation is reminiscent of the morass the Queensland ALP was after decades of opposition prior to the root and branch reform that paved the way for its return to power in 89. Clearly, the ALP needs urgently to clean itself up as well as come up with some new ideas. The two are connected – as Jacques argued.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

James, this comment surpirsed me:

”I’ve never quite grasped what makes Labor the appropriate choice for a libertarian’.

Would you care to elaborate?

observa
observa
2022 years ago

“Sure you got the right link there Observa?”

I assume this was the same professor and psychiatrist I viewed last night on ABC TV(not sure as I flicked on part way through the interview)telling the viewers all about his assessment of Habib’s mental and physical condition, upon the latter’s return from Gitmo. Now I’m sure you don’t need a shrink Nabakov, but you might if you believed any of them has the right to spill his guts on national TV about a patient’s condition, without their approval. I’m strongly hinting that like Prof Sawyer, he had a major brain fade about who and where he was, in his headlong rush to get an early start for the Labor Day parade. As John Ray would say-‘They do mean well!’

You got any more of these educated eggsperts hanging about the cloisters Nabakov, because I’m sure John Howard wants them regularly drip fed into the public limelight if you do?

harry
harry
2022 years ago

I think the Left Wing Love Beasts disengaged to lick wounds of the election loss and mourn the passing of Mark Latham.
I think their/our faith in humanity took a real battering of late.
Certainly, when talking about what language to adopt the language of the LWLBs doesn’t resonate with others.
You can’t sell universal state supplied healthcare on the idea of it being good for society but on it be cheaper to the individual than private health care and whatever public funds are used to keep private health care attractive.

I expected more of a general reaction against Australia being an aggressor nation for the first time; and how it is completely incompatible with the whole notion of Anzac day….
But maybe you have it *right there*: who apart from the LWLBs really gave a toss about that?

Somehow I think the ball is in the court of the pragmatic libertarians.

It would be really interesting to see if the Save-the-Whales campaign would be anywhere near as successful today than it was then.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

Sorry Observa, I though you were talking about “lefty humanities professors”, not psychiatrists.

But with links like that, who needs arguements, or indeed long bows to draw.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Rob, I understood libertarian in the economic sense. Economic libertarians are for laisser faire, which matchs the rhetoric if not always the actions of the Liberals. Social democratic parties, of which the ALP is an example, or at least was when I formed my allegiance, are for taming the market and redistributing income. You may quibble with aspects of this characterisation or even fundamentally disagree, I suppose, but surely it’s not manifestly bizarre as a characterisation.

To clarify one other point: you are very welcome in my tent, as long as you bring your CDs and Francesca doesn’t attack my cat Pimpa.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Thank you, James. I was thinking of ‘libertarian’ in the political sense, and I’ve always thought the left was the natural place for such. Although, agonisingly, I’ve been beginning to wonder even about that.

PeterF
PeterF
2022 years ago

I would argue that a quite common error in medium-term political prophecy involves a projection of the recent past into a permanent trend. An expectation of the continued dominance of a particular brand of Howardian Liberalism into the indefinite future is no more likely than the predictions made after 1993 that the Liberals were finished.
However, Rob’s opinion that the only way forward for Labor is to ditch the policies of the left intelligentsia took me much further back. During the endless Menzian years, there was much talk of the middle-classing of Australia, and a quite widespread assumption that, as a consequence, Labor was doomed. Within a few years, the impact of Vietnam and the galvanising effect of Whitlam as opposition leader (initially on the Labor Party, but ultimately on a decisive proportion of the electorate) over-turned what had seemed plausible conventional wisdom – the permanency of Liberal/Country Party rule. The perceived failure of the Whitlam Government usually disguises what an outstandingly effective Opposition leader EGW was.
The ingredients of Whitlam’s success was to define existing areas of policy failure or policy vaccuum, develop relevant proposals in response, and then forcefully advocate and persuade. Above all, he did not merely react to the Government, but instead carved out his own political territory. Contemporary Labor has little faith in its ability to persuade, which makes it a captive of me-too policies.
I’m not suggesting that Australia in 2005 isn’t changed from 1967; but is that change greater than that which occurred between the 1940s (when Labor had previously been successful, and Menzies seemed a hopeless failure) to the 1960s?
My prescription is that contemporary Labor has to determine (by consensus) what it stands for, in a philosophical sense. It then needs to develop policies that are philosophically coherent, but which also meet people’s perceived needs. I would add that it’s not a matter of whether the policies are especially “left” or “right”, rather that they are seen to be relevant and viable. It is axiomatic that electors vote in terms of their self-interest. For Labor to have any chance it must persuade enough electors that their self-interest is defined as something more than the narrowest of economic terms.
It goes without saying that Labor also needs significant internal structural reform – but that’s a separate highly complex problem.

Nabakov
Nabakov
2022 years ago

And speaking of dropping like flies and falling memberships, Jericho of Mesopotamia is calling it a day.

http://awesternheart.blogspot.com/2005/02/leaving-blogtown.html

But I reckon that since “..work just that little bit harder on the writing projects that might result in an actual paycheck” is such a flimsy cover story, he’s being reactivated as an “Australian Special Forces Veteran of East Timor, Afghaniistan and Iraq”.

Looks like victory is imminent for clashing civilisations.

observa
observa
2022 years ago

Nabakov,
The reference was really about demonstrating the caravan of ‘effing nongs'(the old mans favourite) that float about the ether of causes, the ALP seems to run with all the time of late. It is with some relief I note in the news today, that Beazley has stated he won’t give Habib the time of day in the Senate. At bloody long last, cry the lunch room mob!

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

nabakov
if you want a spot on catallaxy and don’t mind sharing the limelight with Popper fetishists like Rafe email me.
ps you are allowed to tip sh*t all over other fellow catallaxy bloggers – it’s that sort of place