It must be immensely frustrating for loyal Labor party men and women to, day after day, have to deal with the Gordian knot of their current electoral situation. Many of them are desperate for any circuit breaker and the NSW Right have decided they know what the right one is.
It is now well documented that Labor is facing an increasing disconnect between its two core constituencies, the outer urban working class and the inner urban left wing bourgeoisie. More and more, these two groups have diametrically opposed views on almost everything.
Historically this Labor alliance was built on the desire of the wealthier left wing elite to “look after” the working class, and a desire to build a “flatter” society with greater opportunity for those from a poor background and more accountability to pay for this from the rich. The irony is that the free market and Australia’s mineral wealth has provided this “flatter” society by making much of the working class at least as rich as the middle class. The left wing intelligentsia is slowly realising that the people they were “protecting” have a very different view of the world to them, and don’t really need or want their protection.
Blue collar workers in the outer suburbs are overwhelmingly concerned with cost of living, with many also uncomfortable about rapid social and demographic change. The inner city left winger is worried about social justice and the environment. These two groups might as well live on different planets. Most outer metro fringe suburbs are still largely Anglo-Celtic and totally reliant on cars for work, shopping and recreation and evening entertainment options are limited. Meanwhile, in Melbourne and Sydney particularly, inner city suburbs are highly multicultural, public transport rich and brimming with a wide variety of options for an evening out. These groups lead very different lives and their political views in 2012 reflect that.
The NSW Right’s solution is to somehow destroy the Greens and re-establish their identity by leaving inner city trendies to themselves and focusing solely on the traditional soul of the Party, the “working class”. While on the surface this sounds like a good idea, people like Paul Howes are effectively asking the Labor Party to jump off its pushmepullyou horse onto an old nag that doesn’t even really exist anymore.
Both manufacturing employment and union membership have been in freefall in Australia for more than twenty years. The economic deregulation instigated by the Hawke Government and carried on by the Howard Government has created a new class of self-employed blue collar workers, and the mining boom has created another class of very wealthy blue collar employees. Many of these people feel no particular loyalty to the labour movement, and definitely not the Labor Party.
Meanwhile, the most loyal of all Labor voting groups are non-anglophone immigrants, most of whom cluster around the inner to middle ring suburbs of our biggest cities. 23 of the 25 Federal electorates with the highest proportion of people from a non-English speaking background have a Labor MP. So what is the genius suggestion of many within the Party and some on the sidelines, like Malcolm Mackerras? That’s right, focus on “stopping the boats”, jump in bed with Family First, the DLP, the Christian Democrats, basically anyone who’s more comfortable with a whiter Australia ahead of the Greens. Clever, innit?
The reality is that many of the social issues that the Labor right wing so desperately wants to avoid in fear of upsetting the “traditional Labor voter”, like gay marriage, are actually already widely accepted across both blue collar and white collar parts of the community, and the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the Liberal Party is lost.
Added to this is the fact that Tony Abbott is a far more authentic DLP-style politician than Julia Gillard or anyone else in the Cabinet could ever be, and what the Labor Party is facing is indeed electoral wipe-out, with their inner city MPs (almost all Ministers) only surviving on Liberal Party preferences, or even worse, the potential for Labor to come third in these seats, as NSW Health Minister Verity Firth did in Balmain in 2011. In Paul Howes’s world of putting the Greens last, that potentially means a Liberal member for Sydney or Melbourne.
So rather than trying to win back the growing inner city latte-sipping crowd by selling the message that they are almost as socially progressive as the Greens but without the economic nuttiness, the NSW Right wants to vacate the field entirely.
Let us remember that this is the group of political maestros that almost solely got the Party into this mess, starting long ago with the spin over substance of the Carr premiership, the mantra of focus group over policy, telling Rudd to backflip on an ETS and finally the truly moronic “Lindsay test” in which every potential ALP policy had to be saleable to the voters of a single electorate in far western Sydney. It seems now to be continuing down the course of what political historians may well view in 20 years as a textbook case of completely destroying a major political party.
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