First published in The Sunday Telegraph, April 28, 2013
THE ALP has long regarded itself as the political party of arts and letters – a reputation as flawed as the party itself.
In part, the myth owes much to the corps of embittered, tenured academics who incessantly wonder what they might have achieved had they ever had the temerity to test their skills in the real world.
In part, it has been fuelled by the writings of leftist historians such as Manning Clark whose ideologically charged black-armband view characterised by his History of Australia permeated the education system and hagiographic biographers such as Jenny Hocking, who authored paeans to former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and his attorney-general, Lionel Murphy.
With the crumbling of the experienced ministerial core of the Gillard government, former ministers Chris Bowen and Kim Carr are setting down their thoughts on this failed experiment. Their books will join those of Lindsay Tanner and Maxine McKew, both of which were critical of modern Labor.
The performance of the current politically correct government, beholden as it is to the Greens’ economy-killing carbon tax, would suggest the Labor Party has to undergo a dramatic reformation before it meets the needs of anyone other than a handful of elites with a peculiarly narrow agenda.
Fortunately, there are signs the leftist agenda is battling to take hold as planned among the hoi polloi.
The above-forecast crowds gathering to commemorate Anzac Day last week were a rebuke to the platoons of duffle-coated playwrights, authors and academics who railed for decades against the observation of the Gallipoli defeat claiming it was a celebration of war and militarism.
The closed factories and soaring electricity prices have had greater influence on the climate-change debate than the carbon tax and reams of press releases from the government’s global warmist propagandist Tim Flannery.
Chronicling the changing dynamic, colleague Nick Cater has produced quite an extraordinary book titled The Lucky Culture And The Rise Of An Australian Ruling Class, published by HarperCollins.
When I gave Cater, a British immigrant, his first job in Australia more than 23 years ago, I did not foresee what an important contribution he would make to his adopted nation.
I would have assumed that as he had worked at the BBC, his politics would naturally have been of the Left _ but if private sector media employment jobs were reserved for conservatives, there would have been no newspapers, or any commercial television or radio.
Cater survived and assumed more and more responsibility in the meritocracy and is now a senior editor at The Australian.
Though the book is yet to be launched (by former prime minister John Howard on May 8), it is already in bookshops and has received praise from a number of commentators including my colleague Miranda Devine, writing in The Daily Telegraph, and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, in The Spectator Australia.
It has even been a topic on the septuagenarian Phillip Adams’ program on ABC Radio National. The former Communist, former advertising executive, even seemed to admit _ albeit with some reluctance _ that Cater was not an ideologue.
Indeed, he has approached his work as Alexis de Tocqueville approached his 19th-century analysis of the US. Like de Tocqueville, Cater has travelled outside his native country and brought an outsider’s fresh eye to an unfamiliar culture.
He notes with dismay how we have permitted the intrusive expansion of bureaucratic intervention into ever more intimate aspects of Australian life through the education system under cover of terms such as “social justice” and into homes through an expansion of the role of public health.
Hiding behind such all-encompassing slogans as Ben Chifley’s “betterment of mankind”, there are no areas forbidden to the new self-interested elites.
An example he cites are the various human rights commissioners who explicitly deny parliament its democratic mandate, preferring to defer to various unelected international bodies.
“The commissioner class has,” he writes, “in effect, become denaturalised, part of a global movement of privileged world citizens who despise the petty parochialism of the domestic debate.”
The theme is not new, but Cater’s work goes well beyond that of others writing on the subject.
Further, his hard-hitting assessment of Labor’s decay is matched by many who walked away from the hollowed-out party in recent years.
Former Labor adviser and trade union activist Michael Thompson wrote in his 1999 book Labor Without Class: The Gentrification Of The ALP: “Labor is being frog-marched towards political irrelevance by a coming together of the self-styled progressives from the party’s hard Left and a breed of right-wing official and parliamentarian who has forsaken religious beliefs and traditional family values of earlier right-wingers for a new creed. There is no place in today’s Labor ‘brand’ for someone such as me who upholds the socially conservative values and aspirations of their working-class parents and grandparents.”
But Cater is, at the end of it, an optimist, not a whinger, and like so many contributing immigrants, sees a positive in Australianness where so many cringing homegrown critics see only unAustralian traits.