"We are all Thatcherites now!" was the angered protest from a
Labour backbencher of the British Parliament recently. The MP stated his
preference for root canal therapy without an anaesthetic, rather than
accept this description of his party.
So too in Australia the cracks in the dam wall begin to spring leaks,
at the same time as those who view the world in terms of class struggle
are dubbed the lunatic fringe.
What has happened to the progressive Left in Australia? And can the ALP
continue to consider itself the natural home of the social democratic
Within its ranks, Third Way rhetoric abounds, as does paranoia about
disunity stifle. Ideology and principles are negotiable, while policy owes
more to gravitas and common denominators than to conviction.
The Left in Australia, is the feeblest it has been for decades. And yet
this is a time of lowering living standards, worsening working conditions,
and a time in politics when the Federal helm commands the least amount of
respect of any memorable government formed this century.
This current era of Australian politics might best be described as a
policy void and a political vacuum devoid of moral leadership. As
political heartlands fade, sterile, bankrupt dogma predominates, whilst
the Left in Australia gives way to political irrelevance.
One would have assumed that this was fertile breeding ground, but
instead the Left seems to be haemorrhaging.
To a large extent, the Left is responsible for its own demise and
doctrinal lapse. Incapable of developing new politics and new responses to
a changing and fragmented society, it has clung to a myopic vision of
industrial society and failed to make Left philosophy relevant through
reinventing and updating what it stands for.
In a quest to court the shifting and fickle middle voter, Labor has
traded their very essence and emulated the Right. So much so, that they
have arrived at a juncture where they are unwilling, or unable, to find
their way home.
Rather than hold to its traditions, Labor has joined the nearsighted
race to blame asylum seekers and refugees for the ills of society,
offering neither resistance nor alternative to the unprincipled far Right,
who are not encumbered by a vestigial commitment to social equality.
John Legge argues that the failure of the Left to repudiate the
Thatcherite policies of the 1980s, has resulted in a New Right / New Left
paradigm - with a resulting shift in emphasis from justice to rights.
Justice is presumably for all, whereas rights depend largely upon your
capacity to defend them. The Left seems paralysed in this debate since
they have always worked upon the premise that equality in any real sense
is impossible without redistribution.
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