ALP Could Lose the Unlosable Election
It seems unthinkable that a Government as corrupt and incompetent as the current Liberal/National coalition led by Morrison and Joyce could be returned to power but it is a real possibility. The question is why is Labor rejected bALPy their traditional voters, the ‘true believers’, the very people they claim to support?
As a young Labor Party member, in the early 70’s I have fond memories of my involvement in the ALP. We felt part of the movement but this was the time when two ‘clever’, inter-related social changes emerged that changed the way organisations were managed and it marked the beginning of a drift away from the Party and the Unions.
Prior to this time intellectual thought was dominated by the physical sciences. In universities those academics who taught ‘social’ subjects felt the dismissive attitudes from those who did real research with numbers. Economists, psychologists, all the social sciences who were craving the same status adopted a rationalist approach to their studies; they started to measure. Amongst the changes emerged the famous Harvard University’s Master of Business Administration where the application of the ‘scientific method’ became the benchmark for all things related to business organisation.
If this rationalist approach defined the ‘how to approach’ to organisation, the answer to what to organise was supplied by the emergence of neoliberalism, the reliance on market-oriented reforms. In industry, and in the public service a new class of leader materialised, those driven by targeted efficiency and pleasing the ‘market’. These new ‘leaders’ became the ruling class of their organisations: they know what is best and believed in their right to dictate the strategies of their organisation. The resulting sense of self-importance put them at risk of becoming arrogant and disconnected from their base.
The result of these two paradigm shifts meant corporations and associations were controlled from the ‘top-down’, a change from the previous organisational style that was ‘bottom-up’, the grass roots providing the purpose of the enterprise and management ensuring these goals were the target of their efforts.
The ALP, always looking to improve soon adopted this change. From this time on Labor progressively became a top-down organisation and a new class of leaders infiltrated head office using their position power to impose policy, replacing the strategies desired by the branch membership. Over the following years there has been a gradual but consistent erosion, not only of the relevance of branch membership but a resulting decline in the enthusiasm for the Party. Although this disenchantment was slow however, there were a few significant markers that symbolised this change.
The most telling period of this disconnect and one that will be disputed was during the leadership of Hawke and Keating. These two have been and still are held-up as true heroes of the Labor Movement; they are still revered by the Party faithful. Even today Albanese, who could potentially lose the unlosable election still clings to their reforms. He constantly refers to their reforms as the way of the future with his sermons on productivity projects as the way back to prosperity. He still clings to the failed, neoliberal practices on which those reforms were built.
Of course Hawke and Keating were very popular and both excellent parliamentary performers and they managed to take the Party along with their adoption of free market policies. Their leadership teams understood the new approach and dominated powerful positions in the Party organisation or Union leadership. The myth of their positive contribution to the ‘economy’ was promoted by the big end of town, the favourable media coverage they enjoyed, and still do is the wealthy class perpetuating the lie that keeps them in a privileged position.
Granted, there was an apparent initial boost in the economy with the adoption of market-economics that are at the heart of their reforms. Each evening the financial reports indicated the improvements, especially for the share market and companies making record profits. Business thrived but these changes did nothing for the working class. Keating and Hawke’s policies reflected the ambitions of big business but, in their defence, they always referred to the lie that you need a strong economy to improve the pot of the working class. This faulty belief has its roots in Economics 101 – where the goal is to maximise profits. They, as all neoliberals only see the economy in this light, they are oblivious to the idea that it would be as valid to have a goal of say minimise poverty, a choice that would come from the ALP rank and file!
If they used their reliance on the rationalisation of the data they would discover that this shift was the beginning of the ever-widening income gap between the lowest paid workers and those at the top until we are at the point where the highest 20% has more than twice the average of the middle 20% and this middle group has almost three times the income of the lowest paid workers, hardly a policy of any Labor Government. This data should put to rest any belief in the neoliberal maxim of benefits of the ‘trickle-down’ effect, the rich will pass on benefits to the poor!
The evidence of the Labor leadership’s appreciation of the market economy is in their post- parliamentary careers. At the time of their retirement the Labor luminaries such as Hawke and Keating, along with others such as Neville Wran and Bob Carr smoothly transitioned from the leadership of the ‘worker’s party’ onto the Boardrooms of big business! These heroes of the workers sat down with the architects of worker’s poverty.
The decline in the welfare of the working class coincides with the fall in the support for the ALP. Fifty years ago, Labor got between 45% to 50% of the primary vote. Today this has dropped to 35% to 40%. Branches struggle to get enough members to man polling booths or do the letter box drops prior to elections.
The overt or even unintended arrogance of the leadership is there for all to see. In some cases that self-importance allowed party representatives to succumb to the temptation of criminal activities, considering they were above the law. There was a time, not long ago when the NSW Labor Party was a standing joke. The trials of Edie Obeid and his cronies is well documented but what has to be understood is that their behaviour was carried out while they were in Parliament, representing the ALP. The question must be asked, how did this happen? Was it an acceptance that they were amongst the entitled, above the law?
These events marked the time when most of the true believers had left and the ALP became an organisation made up of those who see the Party as a way to get into politics. Despite the rhetoric the focus is no longer on social justice but on what will win votes; pragmatism has replaced principle.
Some telling events where this is evident are failure to support the refugees on Tampa, a cowardly decision that has held the party hostage to a ‘stop-the-boats’, off-shore detention - refugee policy. The ‘market driven’ decisions on fossil fuels, etc. demonstrates their lack of honest leadership. The latest support of tax cuts for the rich makes real supporters cringe!
The ‘clever- boys/girls’ of the ALP somehow understand they need the branch members and have produced plenty of enquiries into how they can re-engage with the grass roots. John Faulkner was critical about the alienation of the older supporters probably vocalising the problem of the marketing approach of the leadership – ‘like us on Facebook’! And, following the latest loss at the ballot, Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson analysed how the Shorten campaign got it so wrong. Having such entrenched insiders ensured they would not get to the issue highlighted by Faulkner, they don’t see the membership in terms other than they ‘must be led’. All the suggested reforms are ‘top-down’ solutions and do nothing to re-establish any power to the branches.
The motivation for this essay has been the latest in a long line of ‘captain’s choices’ for preselection for the up-coming election. The Labor elite are again demonstrating that they know best. The selection of Daniel Repacholi in Hunter is one example. I doubt branch members would have selected a candidate whose first actions was to remove pictures of naked women in sexually provocative posing with assault rifles from his Instagram account. More telling is the appointment of Christine Keneally over the community candidate Tu Le in Fowler. This is a blatant demonstration of the believed privilege of the leadership group. The shame of their stated policies on ethnic diversification is ignored while a resident from the wealthy North Shore makes bare-faced claims that she really belongs to that electorate, after all she has committed to move in.
The ALP has lost its way driven by a desperation to get back into power but if they succeed or more to the point when this pitiful excuse for a government is thrown out, the resulting Labor will not know what to do! Ben Chifley’s Light on the Hill has been replaced by the harsh florescent light in the latest focus group.