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Why Labor lost

By Marko Beljac - posted Tuesday, 29 October 2013

For most of Australian political history it was the Liberal Party that was seen as the party of pragmatic self interest, and the Labor Party as the party of conviction.

Now, most intriguingly, the roles have been reversed. The Liberal Party, no matter what one may feel about it, is widely seen as the party that contains a coherent ideological narrative, and which is not afraid to defend and promote that narrative in both opposition and government.

Tony Benn has often said of a certain personable and red headed Welsh that on the road to power he abandoned all of the beliefs that compelled him to take up the call of politics, only to shockingly discover that nobody in the electorate at large believed a word he said. Benn, of course, was speaking of the former British Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who started his political life as a working class oriented left wing activist.


So it is was with another personable red headed Welsh in the Antipodes; she was the secretary of the left wing Socialist Forum that went on to inform us that class struggles are "yesterday's battles," that Hawke and Keating's neoliberal reforms were marvellous, who got the Wikileaks revealed tick of approval from the US Embassy, the feminist that gave single mothers the slap, the atheist that wouldn't budge on gay marriage, and the leader that lurched Labor even further to the Right on refugees.

Julia Gillard, just like Neil Kinnock, threw everything away in order to attain and hold power only to find that she was believed by nobody and listened to by none.

So it was surely with tongue planted in cheek, if not in open contempt, that she wrote in her much commented post election essay in The Guardian that; "Labor comes to opposition having sent the Australian community a very cynical and shallow message about its sense of purpose."

Indeed, Comrade Gillard, quite indeed.

What precisely does the Australian Labor Party stand for? Not many people would be able to answer this question beyond the usual Blairite platitudes. Quite a few would see Labor as an electoral machine whose raison d'etre is to elect a technocratic class of "hollow men" who will jettison any principle and will cut any deal in order to achieve electoral success.

Of course, this picture is an exaggerated one, it ignores the rank and file who though voiceless do exist and do believe, but it does contain more than just a kernel of truth.


These observations are important for we might divide the causes of Labor's electoral loss under two broad categories, namely long term structural and proximate contingent ones. Take, say, the Australian cricket team. Clearly there are deep underlying structural issues within Australian cricket that has seen the national side sink to relative mediocrity.

These structural weaknesses are important to dwell on in any analysis of the recent Ashes campaign; they are important because they are not so easily fixed and will always be a millstone around the head of Australian cricket if not remedied.

However, they will not tell us about the ebbs and flows, the high drama, missed catches, poor captaincy decisions, the rash expeditions outside of off stump, that go to explaining why it is that a specific match was lost.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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