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Reasons to be cynical

Written by Leonie Saunders

Benevolent dictator of Connecting the Dots, proud lefty feminist. Adore children & animals. Despise greedy union bashing power abusing corp polluters.

November 15, 2019

In the interests of political literacy, I spent considerable time reading with a critical eye the review of Labor’s 2019 election campaign. And having watched, and more importantly, listened to Anthony Albanese’s National Press Club address. I believe I have done enough homework to qualify as having a more informed perspective on Albanese and the direction he will take Labor in the lead up to the next election.

Labor’s 2019 election campaign review certainly made for interesting reading. Even more interesting is how the findings of the review shaped Anthony Albanese’s National Press Club address. Notwithstanding the fact that the journalists present did not ask any questions that could not have been anticipated. Albanese must be given credit for a performance that was clearly well-practiced.

There were elements in Albanese’s speech that caused me to think I may have been a little too harsh in my judgment of him. Indeed, when he spoke of his deep admiration of Tom Uren as his mentor and friend. The heartfelt sincerity in his words of a man I too admire led me to reassess Albanese. Perhaps, just perhaps, I thought to myself I could be wrong, and he may not be all that bad after all. For those who do not know, the late Tom Uren was an old school Labor politician of quality and integrity who remained true to his democratic socialist values. And then Albanese’s comments in context to cleaning out the dross in Sussex Street Sydney won him some more brownie points. Now don’t get me wrong, irrespective of the fact that my initial judgments on Albanese as a leader may have softened a little. His rush to expel John Setka from the Party in an act of political populism neutralises any goodwill I may afford him.

But then frustration ensued. Rather than Albanese outlining new beginnings, his speech was riddled with the contradictions that have plagued Labor’s free market neoliberal approach for the past 36 years. The reaffirmation of Labor’s patronage of  big business was there in his speech for all those with an ear for pollie speak to hear. Take for example in his address he was at pains to claim the ground as a center-left social democratic party of reform. If that were true, and Labor really are agents of change. Then the question that has to be asked is if the Party leadership truly grasps the science that shows unfettered market capitalism is a primary cause anthropocentric climate change. Then why is Labor in lockstep with the governments’ capitalist precepts of unfettered growth? 

Unfortunately, the truth in politics is often only revealed by reading between the lines. As was the case when Albanese stated that under him Labor will be a Party of “aspiration” “wealth creation” and “economic growth”. Let there be no mistake, Albanese was not heralding a shift to the democratic socialist left of a Chifley. He was confirming his values as a ‘progressive’, which is a right wing euphemism for those in Labor who champion unconstrained mercenary capitalism otherwise known as neoliberalism.

On hearing this I immediately thought of Karl Marx who believed that capitalism contained the seeds of its own destruction. In his Communist Manifesto, Marx described how the wealth of the bourgeoisie depended on the work of the proletariat. Therefore, “capitalism requires an underclass”. He foresaw that, 

the continued exploitation of this underclass would create great resentment. Eventually the proletariat would lead a revolution against the bourgeoisie. The final struggle would lead to the overthrow of capitalism and its supporters. 

If we view the reasoning of Marx through the lens of global warming and the power of big mining underpinning political class indifference to staving off the catastrophic effects of runaway climate change. It is fair to say Marx was spot on when he wrote, 

modern bourgeois society is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”

With inaction on climate change capitalism has sewn the seeds of its own destruction and Albanese has just hoisted himself on his own petard.

What confirmed for me even further Albanese is no less of a stereotypical careerist as Hawke and those who followed after him. Was when he spoke of his mother’s medical condition in context to Labor’s commitment to healthcare. Notwithstanding the fact that the introduction of universal healthcare in Australia was the brainchild of the late great E.G. Whitlam of middle-class parentage.  I thought how bloody predictable. Here is yet another Labor leader harking back to his working-class roots as if to justify his position as leader.

I reflected on cognitive dissonance pervasive in Labor today that originated when the shining lights of modern Labor, Hawke, and Keating undermined the socialist values integral to working-class consciousness. Between them, these two pissants generated a policy agenda that championed self-interested aspiration consistent with the mindset of capitalist class elites.

This brings me to call in to question Labor’s values that Albanese consistently raises in his speech. On any measure, it is clear modern Labor does not hold the same values as those defined by Prime Minister Ben Chifley. Chifley never held back articulating the democratic socialist principles of the labour movement. He spoke to those core values when he said in his Light on the Hill speech,

We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.

These are the values that the Party’s true luminaries, John Curtin and Ben Chifley strived to live up too. It was their democratic socialist ambitions that informed  Australia’s egalitarian ethos during and after WW2.

When in his second term of office, Chifley looked toward incremental policies in keeping with Labor’s platform objective of democratic socialism. Unlike Labor now under “Chifley Labor embarked upon “general intervention and planning in economic and social affairs”, with its policies directed towards better conditions in the workplace, full employment, and an improvement in the “equalisation of wealth, income and opportunity”. Chifley was successful in transforming the wartime economy into a peacetime economy, and undertook a number of social welfare initiatives, as characterised by fairer pensions and unemployment and sickness benefits, the construction of new universities and technical colleges, and the building of 200,000 houses between 1945 and 1949″

From the post WW2 period to the mid-’80s unionism remained strong and there was near full employment in Australia. But all that changed when modern Labor under Hawke and Keating introduced union-busting neoliberal economic reforms.  From that time onwards, Australia has experienced a shocking decline in Union membership and increasingly higher levels of unemployment, under-employment, and hidden unemployment.

Moving on to the review of Labor’s 2019 election campaign. First of all, it struck me how Craig  Emerson and Jay Weatherill, now designated the title of Labor luminaries noted on page 29 of Labor’s election review that…

“While the loss of faith in mainstream parties is an international phenomenon, it is one the Australian Labor Party cannot afford to ignore. Labor is a reformist party and it relies upon building public trust to be given the opportunity to govern. Labor should always be conscious that a party of social reform bears a greater burden of persuasion than its conservative opponents”.

They failed to recognise that in seeking the public’s trust as agents for change, they can not be all things to all people.

In spite of these two Labor luminaries knowing that voters have a jaundiced view of politicians in general.  It says much about their arrogance that they overlook what causes the public to be cynical of politicians. They put more value in persuading voters to trust the Party. When in truth no amount of arm-twisting, blandishment, brainwashing, cajoling, conning, enticement, exhortation, force, flattery, hard sell, inducement, inveiglement, pork barrelling, snow jobs, soft soaping, sweet talk, squeezing, temptation, or wheedling. Will ever surpass being genuinely honest with voters. The voting public may be politically unsophisticated but not so naive that they don’t know politicians use all manner of tactics to persuade voters that they can trust their Party. You would think by now they would know that regardless of what form it takes, persuasion doesn’t inspire the public’s trust. Only respect for the truth wins respect and through respect comes trust.

The general public is also not persuaded to trust political parties that view something as important as politics as a pissing contest based on which Party wins as a result of political donations from vested interests allowing them to employ better spin doctors.

It is also telling that whilst on one hand the authors readily acknowledge the loss of faith in mainstream parties is happening across the world. Yet because they can not bring themselves to reflect on the callousness of their class that consistently shows such contempt for the voting public. They fail to grasp where the public’s general disillusionment with politics and their distrust of the political class begins. The way I see Labor’s two shining lights choosing to skim over this general malaise is a big part of the problem.

Labor could easily gain the public’s trust and respect immediately by making a commitment to within the first 100 days of winning government. A Labor government would introduce legislation to establish a no holes barred Federal ICAC with teeth. Secondly, they would introduce legislation that would see all private political donations banned. And thirdly but no less importantly, commit to open and accountable government by ensuring that all meetings between ministers and lobbyists will be recorded in detail, with all non-redacted minutes made available to public scrutiny.

Far from being a Party of reform, Albanese repeated the same old rhetoric as is laid out in Recommendation #3 of the document that states “Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and reform, job creation and rising living standards, drawing upon and expanding on its past economic reforms”.

This statement is grist to the mill of my jaundiced view of Labor. That this so-called Party of reform is continuing to support the capitalist notion of unlimited growth, and the extraction of dirty atmosphere polluting coal. Denying our children and grandchildren’s aspiration to survive in a clean green environment and not die from wars caused by food and water scarcity. Makes my blood boil!

With Australia in a climate crisis, more than ever in the history of our nation, we need a major paradigm shift. Any political party that can not wrap their collective heads around the fact that the economy exists to serve society and not the other way around does not deserve my vote. So when Albanese bangs on about Labor values that are focussed on safeguarding the economic security of well-paid workers. I have to wonder where are Labor values when it comes to ensuring the living conditions conducive to human welfare. How do living conditions conducive to the welfare of a person factor in when through no fault of their own? They have no power living in a non-functioning market economy where the only economic stopgap they have is living from one fortnightly Centrelink payment to the next. Why does their quality of life matter less than those in gainful employment?

On page #17 of the review titled – Our answers to frequently asked questions.  The authors’ responded to the question,  Did Labor’s economic agenda swing too far to the left? were follows. Please note: I have marked the detectable right-wing value bias in their responses.

Voters who do not consider themselves progressive will nevertheless accept progressive policies if the Party addresses their basic hopes and concerns. (Right-wing value bias #1) – The absence of an economic growth story made Labor’s policies appear entirely redistributive: for every winner, there was a loser, and a loss weighs more heavily on a voter’s decision than a gain. (Winners and losers doesn’t matter to Labor when signing up to trade agreements)  (Right-wing value bias #2) –  Constant attacks on “the big end of town” ignored the reality that big businesses employ lots of workers. These attacks amplified perceptions Labor was a risk to the economy and jobs. Many Australians earning above-average incomes felt Labor was including them in “the big end of town”.

To me, their response to this question sound somewhat contradictory given research included in the review showed that in spite of Labor’s franking credit and negative gearing policies. More Australians earning above-average incomes who have an increased likelihood of being affected by these policy reforms voted Labor.

Of course if one reads between the lines with a critical eye. There is much in this review that suggests Labor’s aspirational dog whistle is tuned to the ears of selfish middle-class conservatives. Many of whom are Australia’s skilled migrants populating Morrison’s cohort of quiet Australians. These are the people that Labor wants to attract.

In conclusion, I noted that whilst Labor’s so-called luminaries Craig  Emerson and Jay Weatherill feign concern in regard to not laying blame on Bill Shorten. Out of the reviews, findings highlight the negative of Bill Shorten’s unpopularity as partly responsible for Labor’s election loss. It reflects some malice from those pointing the finger at Shorten conveniently forget how unpopular both Howard and Abbott were. And yet despite their unpopularity both were elected by their Party as leaders and both went on to lead their party into government. So the question is, if Bill Shorten’s unpopularity contributed to the election loss and if popularity is a prerequisite for winning elections nowadays? One can only conclude that based on Albanese’s current polling, Morrison’s got the next election in the bag. The position this puts Labor in was highlighted in an article in the Guardian by Katharine Murphy who quotes a Labor source as saying: “They’ve jammed Albo now by saying only a popular leader can win an election – so if he is less popular than Morrison before the next election, do they dump him?”

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  1. Peter G Blunden

    I’ve just about given up hope for Labor. I returned to Australia after a long absence, when Gough won, but the country have slowly descended into the slime since 1975.

    • Leonie Saunders

      Sad but true Peter. The ’Dismissal’ made the Party vulnerable to take over by the Tory’s dressed in cheap suits.

  2. Malcolm Comrie Chalmers

    Ideologically I agree with you Leonie, but I am going to look beyond that. I have no answers to the conundrum, can only outline the problem as I perceive it.

    Labor’s traditional base, the blue collar workers no longer exists and nor do the ideological; battle lines of the 1930’s to the 1950’s. The blue collar workers have now become either entrepreneurs or high wage earners in ecologically unsustainable industries such as mining, the big one. Howard successfully stole Labor’s traditional base by turning the workers into aspirationals. Even pensioners became aspirational in this year’s election by voting against Labor on the franking credits issue. They would have been encouraged to think:”oh I don’t own shares now but I will at some future time”. That’s aspirational thinking for you.

    Battle lines are now ill-defined and post election, pre-election actually, Labor destroyed any climate change credentials it might have had and those traditional supporters no longer supported it for reasons outlined. above.

    The Greens, in my opinion a disaster, are to the left of Labor, in effect a socialist party which attracts lefties from Labor and those who might have been drawn towards socialism or the Communist Party in a previous time. However the Greens have no real popular support and have behaved like loose cannons on occasions.

    So Labor is caught between a rock and hard place no matter what the assorted reasons are for the election loss, all irrelevant now anyway, though it is true that the election was lost in Queensland come a dishonest LNP campaign, go Clive Palmer. Their principles have become variable to an absurd degree. I am reminded of the famous cliché of Groucho Marx: “Here then are my principles but if you don’t like them I have others.” Perhaps and it’s a big perhaps the current fire crises now in NSW, QLD, WA and SA and which may possibly spread to Victoria will go against the government over its making such a dog’s breakfast over the huge issue of climate change mitigation which it does totally on the grounds that it adheres to a failed ideology.

    So, many voters distrust Labor now, and have since the Kevin Rudd assassination. Forget the assassinations of Abbott and Turnbull, Labor is perceived by so many as having started the trend. Personally I couldn’t stand Rudd and thought Gillard an effective pm on many, not all, issues and admired her brave stand against the disgusting misogynistic attacks on her by the usual suspects especially Abbott. She wasn’t the only one, later on the estimable Gillian Triggs withstood vitriolic attacks on her integrity and she showed as much fortitude as Gillard did. Triggs in my opinion was a woman of huge integrity.

    That the vote swung to the LNP led by Abbott in 2013 says it all. Since then people have had to justify to themselves why they have voted for the Coalition which seems to have great skill at making a total mess of everything it touches. Such people probably do believe something must be done to mitigate the effects of climate change but they would like the LNP to do it as they voted not for Labor but for it.

    Hopefully people will eventually turn against the Coalition but there is still a lot of suspicion directed towards Labor.

    Lastly there is a wide perception the ALP is largely dominated by unions, and they are.

    • Leonie Saunders

      Thank you for your response Malcolm. I am in furious agreement with you comrade. Our economy has changed dramatically over the past few decades, introducing a whole new range of sectional interests focused purely on selfish aspirations that fit more in keeping with the LNP than with Labor. I too think the Greens are a disaster. If the Greens were more democratic in their internal processes, and allowed their membership to vote for their executive as Unions do they might have better prospects of attracting a greater cross section of the community. Nevertheless, as a Marxist I have to say that whilst ideologies are merely just a set of abstract ideas, and as such are not in and of themselves bad. It is humans being rigidly wedded to a set of political or religious ideas without question that is the problem. This is a problem that all three Parties have in common. It is indeed true that in the fight for territory Labor has lost ground to the Greens. Strategically Labor would be in a much stronger position if Labor’s swinging dicks could put hubris to one side and opened up a dialogue with the Greens. They would have a better chance of gaining support if they did because if they don’t with climate change being an existential threat. Eventually the Greens purely based on ‘we told you so’ will gather momentum and when that happens Labor will be lost in the wilderness.

  3. Michele O’Brien

    Excellent Leonie

  4. jamestaylor

    Leonie, you make some interesting points.


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