Christian has his finger on the pulse of the Labor party and while it may be a bit limp at the moment, he predicts that with the right team their future may be looking up.

Labor: The only way is up

Subscriber email – 26 October

(Get the reference in the headline? Hint. There’s a clue further on.)

The shadow ministry is announced. The blood shedding – or the initial blood shedding in the wake of a horror election loss – is over for now. True, the first week back in Parliament will be depressing as anything for the ALP, but the only way is up.

What did John Howard say when his fortunes were at a low ebb? “The time will suit me.” Well, they might just go the same way for Mark Latham – or for Labor, anyway.

Latham’s leadership is on notice. He needs every win he can get. So how does he make sure the times suit him?

Political scientists and historians have a parlour game where they theorise to each other about how politicians make their own luck. Ever heard of Robert Rhodes James’ book “Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-39”? Clever, hey?

How does Latham do it? Well, the Government got back – increased its majority and won the Senate – on the back of a strong economy. But there’s every chance that has peaked, that it will be downhill from here with inflation and interest rates and sod all left in the kitty for pork barrelling.

Labor will need to ride the breaking wave.

We’ve already had Monday’s disturbing PPI increase. What’s the betting on an interest rate rise next week? Rupert told the Mayne Man we’ll only see “$20 a barrel” oil if the Chinese economy goes under. It’s actually a better bet that the next time the price of a barrel of oil has a two in it is when it hits $200 – and it’s a dead cert that high fuel prices are bumping up the price of everything with a transport component in it. That’s going to hit the inflation rate higher and further, too.

With higher inflation – and higher interest rates to match – we’ll be feeling a lot less comfortable and relaxed. That’s what less disposable income and slower economic growth does to you.

The effects of the runaway housing debt/equity binge that we have been warned about will kick in here, too. Enough middle class families will lose their homes, thanks to plasma TVs and holidays to Bali. The rest will get scared when they see their trip to the bankruptcy hearing and watch their move into a housing commission property on A Current Affair.

As they say in the ad breaks, it won’t happen overnight – but it will happen.

Too late for Mark Latham, maybe, but a combination of a contracting economy, job losses, a bust in the housing market, high inflation and – worst of all – high interest rates is going to trip up the Libs sooner or later and Labor will be back in government.

Sure, Labor might have to lose one more election before all this happens, but it can turn all this into a learning experience.

And the two most eager scholars will be the stars of yesterday’s reshuffle, the Glimmer Twins Wayne Swan and Stephen Smith.

Swan, as we commented yesterday, is smart – but not quit leadership stuff. Treasurer stuff is another matter, and he’ll need to get a wiggle on to make up for his silly remarks on the Industry Commission in his maiden speech back in 1993 and build up the economic cred Labor is going to need.

Smith is being tipped as a future Labor leader, which makes the way he handles his new industrial relations portfolio a vital test. If he wants the top job, he will have to be able to forge the sort of relationships between Labor and the business community that we saw under Hawke and Keating.

Hawke and Keating pioneered a new kind of Labor. Funnily enough, it was a Lib who came up with the best description of their aims – “putting people first by managing better” – but that’s what got them across the line four times. A bloke named Blair, who tagged his party New Labour, learnt the lesson from them about how to succeed.

As IR spokesman, Smith will need to have a good, long think about new labour – about our changed workforce and the diminishing role of unions. He won’t want to be tagged with the “union mouthpiece” label now if he wants to go on to greater things.

Tony Blair – a man who learned all the right lessons from the ALP during the Hawke-Keating years – and his party provide a wonderful guide to the way forward for local Labor Party.

So you might quibble about his policy on Iraq, but who’s more likely to win the next UK election – New Labour or the Tories? And why? The economy, stupid.

Blair studied Labor’s successes here, and at this low point the ALP, its leader and future leaders should be studying his. They’ll get a bit of encouragement when they remember the theme song from the campaign that got him elected – The Only Way is Up.

The Australian Labor Party – notes from the forensics department

Subscriber email – 25 October

Another day, another lot of Labor email. The national office is doing a review of the election loss. Why, one reader asks?

“I have come to the conclusion there is no need for the 2004 review. Let’s just implement the 2001 version. If we get that right we should be in good stead. Check out pages 12/13 in particular…”

Well, here’s a quote from the Hawke/Wran review that seems relevant:

“During the election, Labor did not present a credible argument or plan to demonstrate our capacity to control interest rates, or manage the economy as well as the Coalition. Through its advertising campaign, the Coalition targeted the economic performance of Labor when it was last in government. The Coalition told voters with mortgages that they could not afford to elect another Federal Labor Government…”

Speaking of Labor and economic management, how close are shadow treasury maybe – and “rooster” – Wayne Swan and Courier Mail columnist Dennis Atkins? Some in the Sunshine State will swear that Swan used Atkins as part of the campaign to destabilise Simon Crean’s leadership (not that it needed much).

The ALP in therapy

Subscriber email – 24 October

Yours truly is part of this forum for the Melbourne Press Club Journalism 2004 conference this Friday – and is already receiving friendly nods and winks to expect bollockings from X, Y and Z.

That means it’s important to start the week on the front foot, talking about the socially beneficial work Crikey does – like looking after the mental health of Labor Party members and voters.

The inbox seems to be functioning as some sort of primal scream clinic at the moment. Messages like this have been standard for about 10 days:

“Might almost be the end of the ALP world. How dead beats like the Ferguson brothers and Bevis can get a guernsey and people like Ludwig with not much talent but with all of his Dad’s pull can force someone with a bit of intelligence like Emerson to the backbench is beyond me. Just goes to show how ill the party is at the core.”


“Labor is tearing itself apart. I wonder how they are going to cope without having those senate committees to embarrass and frustrate government?”

God knows what it will be like if Dilbert makes Julia Gillard shadow Treasurer – but that’s alright. We’re here to help at the Crikey Clinic. The only problem is are we getting everyone who needs treatment?

Dilbert wouldn’t take the blame for October 9 in his two big interviews last week, on The 7:30 Reportand Lateline. He sort of fessed up to Caucus on Friday but still went on more about looking at the future, tweaking economic policies to get Labor across the line next time because health and education were spot on – which probably means justifying his leadership by holding a few media friendly community forums in mortgage belt seats sometime before normal Parliamentary sittings resume next year.

The Age’s Shaun Carney took a look at the mortal remains of the ALP over the weekend and noted, “A lot of what these internal critics have been saying about Latham is devastating – that he is an irretrievable narcissist with a punitive mindset”.

Ouch! We at the Crikey Clinic are kinder. We just want to know if Dilbert’s mad. Most politicians we know are mad – or manic at least. It doesn’t mean we can’t like them. Admitting it, however, is a useful first step. Think of Alice’s chat with the Cheshire Cat. It sounds like a branch meeting of any party:

“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Look at the most illuminating and entertaining contemporary sketch of a politician’s mind, the Alan Clark diaries. The man was obviously barmy, but reduce his diary to its essence and it is nothing but an account of the day to struggle to reconcile various emotions – fear, hatred, anger, jealousy, lust – and keep them balanced, publicly at least. That’s what politics is.

You can admit it, Dilbert. Don’t worry. We at the Crikey Clinic care. We can even help you. Here’s some good advice. Stay away from boring old mean with beards.

Did anyone read Barry Jones’ gratuitous advice to his old party? “There was no sustained debate on weapons of mass destruction, security, intelligence failures, the Iraq war, or politicisation of the public service and armed forces. It is as if Howard said to Labor, ‘Don’t mention the war, or Aborigines or refugees,’ and the ALP responded, ‘We were never going to mention them anyway.’ ”

Poor Baz clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of 1996.

John Howard swept to power at a time of increasing economic prosperity because the people (Remember them Barry? Dilbert vaguely know who they are.) rejected Keating’s vanguardist cultural agenda.

The Labor Party needs to listen to the real struggle in people lives and not pretend that politics is just about liberal symbolic issues.

Raving about Green Valley, about your own life, is mad – but it’s a start. At least Dilbert’s obsessions, unlike Jones’, are based in the real world.

Labor’s in therapy, but it’s got to be forward from here. And we’re happy to help.

The ALP in therapy II

There are funny sides to Labor’s current woes. One of them is called Linda Kirk. Senator Linda Kirk, to give her her full title – as you’re unlikely to have heard of her unless you’re a fan of factional minutiae.

Kirk was elected to the Senate from South Australia at the last election. She had some profile there from her work with the Australian Republican Movement in the lead up to the 1999 Referendum and at the University of Adelaide, but is only remembered now by wreaths of garlic that garland the Law School’s doors.

That didn’t stop her from popping up in this item by Aban Contractor and Mike Seccombe in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday on the election fallout in SA.

“The Labor Right in the state yesterday gave up hopes for the return of (Kingston MP) Mr Cox and selected Kate Ellis, the newly elected member for Adelaide with no parliamentary experience, as its nominee for the front bench.

“The faction has only three members, but still managed a rancorous split over Ms Ellis’s selection. The logical candidate for elevation was Linda Kirk, who has a first-class honours degree in law, a degree in economics, majoring in accounting, and a masters in law from Cambridge. She is about to complete a PhD at the Australian National University and has served on a number of parliamentary committees…”

And didn’t the other two members of the faction – and all their camp followers – laugh and laugh and laugh at the silly Senator.

Linda, girl, you’re supposed to have been representing your state for the last three years and campaigning for the last three months – at least – not working to get some letters after your name and scattering a posh looking CV around the Gallery.

The first bit of political work from you that anyone’s seen since your election – and you get it into the SMH, not your hometown paper.

What was poor Dilbert saying with all his talk about “progressive young women” and the future on Wednesday?

Linda is a dear old friend of Crikey favourite Nick Bolkus (yes, we gave him 25k settling a defo matter last year!) so we’re not shedding too many tears for her.