Labor’s identity crisis

Noel Hadjimichael is Webdiary’s conservative¬†columnist.


Politics is often about opportunity, payback or principle, or at least a combination of all three on any given issue, electorate or policy. What is happening to the campaigning steamroller that was going to propel the new prophets of technocratic and meritocracy craving Labor into power?

Reality has hit home.

The political spectrum is not an easy left to right sliding scale. You used to pick your issues or confirmed a set of values,then found a spot on the menu and cast your vote.

The old Cold War comfort of hawks and doves does not apply to this very different world. There is no guarantee that voters will stick to their past loyalties or reward “favoured sons” with their support. Past political events are sometimes crowded out by the power of new sensational news stories or media-exposed crusades.

A progressive and socially liberal minority cheered when Prime Minister Howard dealt with the harsh policy difficulties of guns and East Timor. A rural and regional conservative voting bloc used Hansonism to get back onto the political agenda. Stay at home mums welcomed the Coalition’s family assistance package that makes their social decision to work at home and not in the market economy at least a modest financial benefit.


What we have at the moment is a lopped-sided political landscape.

True conservative voters have a home within the Coalition’s ranks. Old style Labor is losing to fresh faced technocrats in designer suits and branch stacking lefties.

True liberals (social and economic freedom fighters) have a chance to play a role in a Liberal government. Labor might talk liberal but go weak at the knees on a range of issues like same sex unions, freedom from trade union vendettas or people smuggling.

True progressives have a haven in the Greens and those Democrats that survive this election.

The terrible truth is that Labor has got into a horrid identity crisis. What does it believe in? What can it deliver?

One day we have a tax policy coming out and the next we have a new tax burden (sorry levy) that will fix things up just right. We have State Labor governments in panic mode over sloppy relationships with business interests whilst workers and battlers get slammed.

If it is not a freeway that is not freeway in Melbourne, it is ambiguity over valued forests in Tasmania.

This election is not a referendum on John Howard, George Bush, Mark Latham or the ALP’s leader in waiting (the bloke always on ‘Lateline’). This election is about a package deal: which team or set of representatives will deliver the goods.

Voters may wish to feel good about symbolic issues like indigenous affairs or the homeless, but the vast majority of voters will want to secure the economic and social circumstances of their families and communities.

We are at war against terror, policy timidity and tacky old-fashioned big business/big union deal-making. An empty Labor chest of last minute policies and concessions will do little to boost our society. Australians are taking stock of what is going on overseas. They don’t like what they see.

Conservatives have little to gain from a Mark Latham victory. Small “l” liberals do not seek a return to the mates rates ideology of cosy deals between multinationals, union bosses and favoured protected industries. True progressives need to shake up the inner city localities that have died under Head Office Labor cronyism and stifled development controls.

Can Australians take the risk? I think not. Should Australians leap into the hands of the bold challenger? I doubt it.

We may well see a repeat of the 1980 election: Labor trying to be too many different things to many people. Those big homes in the suburbs with big mortgages are no longer the preserve of Sydney. A tacky cardboard contract is great theatre but poor leadership on legitimate claims that interest rates would be jeopardised.

This is no 1972 “Its Time” campaign and we don’t have a powerful white knight coming to our rescue. We can’t afford any more Orange Grove disasters and we don’t have the luxury of allowing a “government in waiting” the chance to destroy or curtail the national economy, security arrangements or regional development.

This election is about the future. Clear and present danger makes for a very poor incentive to ditch either the policy settings or the successful team.

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