Victorian Socialist Left MP Martin Foley has penned a savage takedown of the ALP’s federal election campaign, saying the twin pillars of Labor’s traditional support base were callously abandoned by a “messy, contradictory and visionless campaign that hoped to fly under the radar of serious policy engagement.”
In a 4,500 word excoriation of federal Labor sent yesterday to party activists and titled “The people who believe in things” after Paul Keating’s 1993 election victory speech, Foley lets fly at the Graham Richardson-aping “hard men” of the NSW Right, who he says have become “hollow men”.
“The ‘hard men’ have been cut too much slack. Despite their self serving defences of ‘whatever it takes’, the real work in the ALP is now to rebuild…a compelling policy and political framework. The self described ‘hard men’ who need to take responsibility for the National 2010 campaign have been shown to be the ‘hollow men’,” the member for Albert Park and former Australian Services Union state secretary thunders.
The stunning post-mortem, obtained by Crikey, rejects Noel Pearson’s recent argument that John Button, as “Banquo’s Ghost”, has been hovering over a bloody scene of Labor’s “lost path”. Instead, Foley quotes another Shakespeare classic, saying that the party is “bound on King Lear’s ‘wheel of fire’ by having to deal with the ‘tears of molten lead’ needed to produce a combination of the visionary and hardnosed political response to re-engage the political ground forsaken.”
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The ALP’s dual constituencies — progressive voters and the traditional working class — were both abandoned in the slavish service of shallow focus groups, argues Foley, and leadership and policy ideas were almost entirely lacking.
“The easy way out is the low rent, empty approach to politics solely for power’s sake. The approach reached a nadir in the 2010 campaign through abusing the focus group tool to generate lowest common denominator policies that resonated with no-one,” Foley writes.
The party’s disastrous campaign was run out of the party’s Sydney headquarters by federal secretary Karl Bitar with special assistance from NSW senator and Labor Right powerbroker Mark Arbib. Incumbent MPs and challengers received most of their talking points from apparatchiks whose chief concern was Western Sydney.
The well-regarded Victorian backbencher says HQ ignored internal polling conducted in the run-up to the poll that showed values voters were about to jump ship. He argues their working class allies were also shown short shrift:
“Both of Labor’s core constituencies demand serious policy and political responses from Federal Labor to show it that it is a sophisticated political organisation rather than a hollow focus group obsessed organisation concerned only with the empty pursuit of power.
“Rather than pointlessly alienate the Labor base built up since the time of the Whitlam era in a quixotic quest for western Sydney’s affection, the ALP is better served to look to models to re-engage with its twin pillars of support.”
Foley says the ALP’s shocking 38% primary vote was a “commentary by voters who had previously supported Labor going elsewhere.”
“You don’t lose 14 seats, suffer a 5.4% loss in your primary vote and end up with 38% of the primary vote when people stay with you.”
He reserves special opprobrium for Julia Gillard’s off-the-cuff Climate Change Assembly, mirroring Tony Abbott’s lampooning of the PM’s approach.
“…the ALP again vacated the values filed on Climate Change. In what until a moment before had been the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ there was now a need for a citizen’s assembly — presumably with its members getting there in newly replaced clunkers.”
Crikey understands that the assembly was greeted with dismay among ALP organisers in progressive inner city seats under threat from the Greens, who believed the policy was cooked up in a panic over potential increases in electricity prices. Foley cites internal polling and an election day Climate Institute survey that found 32% of respondents would have voted Labor if Julia Gillard had proceeded with a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
On asylum seekers, Foley accuses the party of falling into the trap set by John Howard in 2001, with its hardline approach serving only to drive left-leaning voters into Bob Brown’s clutches. He suggests the federal seat of Melbourne could have been won by Cath Bowtell if the party were serious about its progressive credentials.
In the ‘what is to be done?’ section, Foley says the party’s headquarters should take a leaf out the Victorian ALP’s playbook who have successfully managed the challenge of marrying Labor’s two strands. He notes that the ALP won two seats from the Coalition in Victoria — McEwen and La Trobe — while the rest the of the country stayed static or went backwards.
“The Federal ALP could do a lot worse than look to the model of Victoria to begin the task of rebuilding,” Foley writes, applauding the Brumby government’s staunch commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He says the party should immediately forge a path to political recovery in the key Brumby-led areas of human rights, sustainable economic and population growth.
Foley was elected to the Legislative Assembly in a 2007 by-election following the retirement of Bracks-era Deputy Premier John Thwaites and holds Albert Park (on the 2006 election result) by 9.5%. He is expected to easily hold the seat at November’s state poll.
On Thursday, the federal ALP will establish a formal post-mortem overseen by ex-premier Bracks and an as-yet unnamed representative of the NSW Right. Yesterday, the prime minister said the review would take in the period after Kevin Rudd’s election in 2007, in addition to the shambolic lead-up to polling day.