La­bor slow to learn its lessons

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - WORLD -

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?

Pic­ture: Kym Smith

What went wrong for La­bor is still rat­tling its leader An­thony Al­banese.

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