Another election lost by labour, this time in Britain. The Blairites have their long knives out and will no doubt fight to drag the UK Labour Party back to the right. The Australian Labor Party is still gasping like a stunned mullet after its own loss, with no indication that it can manage anything beyond continuing to pander to anyone who might still reluctantly give it a preference. With their focus on tactics and personalities, most politicians and commentators miss the big news.
It took on the most riven, brutal and monumentally incompetent rabble since Federation and still could not manage to beat them. This is a profound failure that requires a profound explanation. There is one, though it goes against decades of received wisdom.
The problem is the economic ‘reforms’ imposed by the Hawke-Keating governments are a failure. Our anaemic economy and divided society are their continuing legacy.
These claims are of course heresy. They sully the revered memory of Larrikin Bob. They contradict the economic and political mantras of the past thirty five years. Yet the evidence is clear and has been readily available for some time.
The economic ‘reforms’ of the 1980s are supposed to have set Australia up for an unprecedented run of prosperity: 27 years, and counting, without a recession. The economy’s robustness is supposed to have saved us from the Global Financial Crisis. In fact our economy has been unstable, and its performance has been mediocre verging on anaemic. Any appearance of robust prosperity is due to a huge run-up of debt, some direct intervention, high immigration, overwork, selective blindness and over-active imaginations.
[Didn’t get any takers for this commentary, then it got stale. There may be more opportunities before too long.]
It’s not the salespeople, it’s the product. The product does not serve the people and the people know it, so they keep rejecting the salesperson.
You might think, after a parade of six short-term Prime Ministers, and counting, that this diagnosis of Australia’s political instability might be more commonly perceived, but much of the attention remains on more superficial factors like personality, technology, social media and so on. Even when the political product is questioned few seem to appreciate the depth of its inadequacy.
There is widely perceived to be a gap between our stumbling political system and the wishes of the Australian people. However those who look a little deeper into our Australian hearts see not just a gap but a yawning chasm.
In a 2016 study by social researcher Richard Eckersley, published in Oxford Development Studies, people were asked which of two possible futures came closer to what they expected, and which of the two they preferred.
Scenario one was ‘a fast paced, internationally competitive society, with emphasis on the individual, wealth generation and enjoying the good life’. Three quarters expected a future along these lines.
Scenario two was ‘a greener, more stable society, where the emphasis is on cooperation, community and family, more equal distribution of wealth, and greater economic self-sufficiency’. 93% preferred this scenario.”
The right-wing ideology of the past 40 years has failed. It was always going to fail, because it is based on nonsense ideas, and because it harms people and the natural world. Australian politics has been dragged far to the right since 1980 because both major parties embraced an agenda promoted by right-wing radicals. Now the radical right’s grip on power is finally slipping. We are poised for a major political re-alignment.
Progressive reformers are attempting to take control of the major parties of the nominal left in the United States and the United Kingdom, in the wake of losses in national elections and the rise of reactionary forces. Even if the rebels do not take full control there is some prospect that the parties will at least be substantially changed.
No such fate threatens the Australian Labor Party. There is no flicker of unorthodoxy from within. There is little prospect of the plebian hordes storming it from without. The ALP stands, inert and impregnable, occupying the political space where a progressive party ought to be, the greatest obstacle in Australia to the constructive reform we desperately need if we are to have a tolerable future.
Suddenly our leaders and their lackies are all over the airwaves warning the unwashed hordes of the perils of rejecting the glorious benefits of free markets and free trade, as those ingrates have done in the US and UK.
Their favourite line is “Twenty five years of uninterrupted economic growth.” You hear it almost every day. It represents unparalleled economic success. It is uniquely Australian, because no other country avoided the 2008-9 recession. It’s all because of Australia’s lean, deregulated, open, agile economy, managed brilliantly by [insert current Treasurer].
Except for two little caveats. Australia’s economic performance during the neoliberal era has never matched that in the post-war decades to the early 1970s. And we avoided severe recession in 2008-9 only because the Rudd Government intervened heavily in the economy.
Back in the 1960s authorities were very exercised that cells of violent hippie peacenik leftists were plotting to overthrow the Government and establish an anarchist hippie socialist dictatorship (there were no greenies yet). This would inevitably morph into communism, the dreaded embodiment of all evil.
The conspirators were a very small fringe of a very large but not very coherent movement that wanted more love, less war, less consumerism and healthier living. Oh, and some drugs and weird clothes, or no clothes. There was the odd kidnapping and a few small bombs let off, some of them doing more harm to the conspirators than to the Establishment, but the large anti-war movements did not automatically join the revolution and the whole thing fizzled. The hippies got mortgages, Ronald Reagan was elected, and Big Business resumed gobbling up the world.