right side of history but wrong side of Parliament

2013-04-24 04.49.50 amNICK CATER

Published in The Australian, November 19, 2013.

IT is too early to call the result of the federal election definitively, since we have no way of knowing who might have written what on those 1375 missing West Australian ballot papers.

Clearly, however, Labor should prepare itself for the worst. Unjust as it seems, we must assume that the bloke in the Prime Minister’s chair who looks like Tony Abbott is, in fact, Tony Abbott, the one who is on the wrong side of history when it comes to climate change.

In an encouraging sign that the party may at last be coming to terms with its reduced circumstances, ALP national secretary George Wright all but conceded defeat when he addressed the National Press Club recently.

“When I became national secretary I set myself a number of goals,” Wright said.

“The first was to win the election – fail there obviously.”

Obviously. Yet for Wright and many of his comrades, September’s loss still seems inexplicable, since Labor clearly deserved to win, as it always does. Wright by name; right by nature. “I would say we are on the right side of history,” he continued. “We are on the right side of science, we are on the right side of economics and on the right side of preserving for the long term our living standards.”

Some might say that Labor is on the Left side of those issues, but let’s not quibble. The important thing to note is that the party is on the wrong side of the electorate, and therefore finds itself on the wrong side of parliament which in Wright’s line of business – winning elections – is problematic.

As Wright candidly concedes, “No one would be suggesting that I should have won the Norm Smith (Medal) for this election.”

Fail there too, obviously, but just look at the party’s achievements: tackling climate change, world-class broadband, fair workplace rights, balancing the demands of jobs and the environment.

“We must never walk away from them because they are our mandate,” Wright said. “They speak to who we are and who we represent.”

Once again, the Labor Party appears to be convinced that while they may not have run the best of election campaigns, it was the electorate that really stuffed it up.

And Kevin Rudd too, of course, but he has gone now, so everything is back on track. The party will show it is on the right side of history by digging in its heels in defence of an unsellable principle.

Having failed to make a persuasive case to put a price on carbon from government at two elections, Labor will now try to make the case from opposition and see how things go.

Averting the coming climate catastrophe is, of course, a laudable ambition but Labor should surely have registered by now that tree hugging is a middle-class luxury the workers’ party can ill afford. In 1980, at the last federal election Labor fought on an unashamedly brown platform, the party scored 45 per cent of the primary vote.

Three years later, when Labor stood shoulder to shoulder with the Wilderness Society to stop decent bulldozer drivers going about their jobs on the banks of the Franklin River, there was a 4 per cent swing against the party in Tasmania.

It is heresy to talk like that these days, but at the time, wise heads could see the insanity of it all. “A Labor government knowingly put South Tasmanian blue-collar workers – living in an area which already had unemployment rates between 20 and 24 per cent – out of work to appease bourgeois Left and middle-class trendoids in the gentrified suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne,” wrote former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh.

Former Labor leader Bill Hayden noted that by embracing a hedonistic protest against an age of abundance, Labor attracted “better-educated and articulate new recruits with their particular form of middle-class values (who) reshaped aspects of Labor, causing it to shift ground, sometimes in dramatic fashion, to coincide more with the image of the good society”.

Bit by bit over the past 20 years, Labor has tiptoed away from its responsibility to protect jobs and living standards and remade itself into the party of the chattering classes.

It has not been a staggering success. In 1977, when the party’s primary vote fell below 40 per cent it was regarded as a disaster.

This election, primary support fell a further 7 per cent yet Wright hardly bats an eyelid. He insists that “Labor has good grounds for future optimism”.

The party has “a stronger, more inclusive and effective campaigning machine”, one that will “positively contribute to our competitiveness in future elections”.

Specifically, Wright tells us, the party has “increased by more than 10 times the size of (its) campaigning email list of potential volunteers and donors”.

It remains to be seen if Labor’s expanding email list can rescue the party’s declining fortunes, but one somehow doubts that even the party’s ebullient national secretary actually believes this balderdash.

Yet with the retirement of the last of Labor’s old guard this year, it is difficult to see who is capable of breaking the party out of its stupor and to persuade its leaders that no amount of sophisticated electronic campaigning will compensate for its error of judgment in defending an election-losing tax.

Without wishing to distract one iota from the importance of saving the planet, a more pressing task right now for Labor is to try to save itself.

– See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/and-so-begins-the-taxing-task-of-labor-trying-to-save-itself/story-fnhulhjj-1226762816833#sthash.scRoYXG8.dpuf