Labor slow to learn its lessons
My best political lessons were never the wins and, being no stranger to defeat, I think I can understand what’s going on inside Labor right now. Inevitably, the “true believers” will insist that there was nothing wrong with their policy platform; it was just badly sold. Sure, they’ll say, the leader might have been a dud but, in the end, it was the people that got it wrong. Then there’ll be the pragmatists who think that the people’s judgment has to be accepted and it’s the party that needs to change.
Of course, failure being a better teacher than success only works if you take heed.
The Liberal Party went through its own version of the political wilderness at the back end of 2007, when I was working for Brendan Nelson and later, in 2008, for Malcolm Turnbull. As it happened, the Coalition dumped the policy most responsible for its defeat (Work Choices — IR reforms that made the “Howard battlers” feel abandoned); and, by clarifying the differences between the government and the opposition over climate and borders, almost won government back at the 2010 election and had a thumping victory in 2013.
Losing the unlosable election is not quite the same as losing government. In some ways, Labor’s despair will feel even worse because they can’t attribute their loss to the “it’s time” factor and because they can’t point to any recent period of good Labor government to justify voters giving them another chance. And unlike the federal Liberal Party then, which had no obvious and unmanaged philosophical divisions save for the egomania of Turnbull and his acolytes, Labor is riven between its traditional working-class concerns for higher wages and more jobs, and its new green-left obsessions with the climate cult and identity politics.
As an essay this week from Bill Shorten’s former speechwriter shows, Labor still doesn’t “get it”. James Newton writes: “I’m poorly equipped to write about ‘where Labor went wrong’ because on so many issues I still don’t believe we were wrong.’’
New opposition leader Anthony Albanese has let it be known among insiders that it wasn’t the policy, it was the leader that cost them government. But with his own ratings tanking in last Monday’s Newspoll, I expect that line will now ‘‘evolve’’.
One of the problems with Labor’s campaign message was that it wasn’t promising to be better than the government at letting workers keep more of what they earned or keep their job secure. Indeed, Labor was actually promising to be worse for workers with nearly $300 billion in extra taxes. For the price of air-kisses from urban elites, blue-collar workers were sold down the river.
Forget the faux review that’s under way. If these were the policies an increasingly left-wing Labor Party forced on Shorten, a man from the right, heaven help us under Albanese, an instinctive and lifelong leftie.
So under Albanese, of course there’ll be more soak-the-middle-class tax hikes, more and more unreliable renewable power, virtually uncontrolled immigration and instinctive suspicion of our security agencies and military. Not to mention more in the anti-religion push, and a continued onslaught on matters of gender, identity and general political correctness.
A big part of the left’s problem is that its activists nearly all live in an inner-city bubble, in places like Albanese’s electorate. To them, the outer suburbs of our big cities and towns are Australia’s version of the “fly-over states” that elected Donald Trump. Yet what these political ‘‘experts’’ tend to forget is that it’s these suburbs and towns that make or break governments.
Some try to tell me that “Albo” is just biding his time, letting people work out their frustrations after the shattering disappointment of losing the unlosable election. I’m not sure I buy it, particularly if you look at how poorly he’s started and the sort of political advice he’s heeded — like Kristina Keneally’s push to support the Tamil family’s asylum bid despite rejection by the High Court.
It wasn’t a surprise to me that 64 per cent of Australians supported the Morrison government when asked last week whether this family should stay, including a majority of Labor voters. But then this is the same Keneally who went to ground as soon as the muck from NSW Labor imploded out of ICAC. Another lesson for the Labor leader perhaps?
What went wrong for Labor is still rattling its leader Anthony Albanese.