The ALP:

Luke Walladge writes: Well, a litany of responses (yesterday, comments) to my call for Gillard to go, including “put John Howard in front of a judge” (!), “people like Luke Walladge believe that Labor governments would be in power forever as long as they did not do anything” (wrong), “It is ridiculous to suggest that the people who voted strongly for an ETS in 2007 are actually really concerned that carbon tax of $23 per ton is too high” (it is ridiculous to suggest people in, say, Parramatta had that as their primary reason to vote ALP) and suggestions I am either misogynist or pandering to the suburbs, or both (again, wrong). To name a few.

Most of these complaints come straight from a prism of wishing the world was as we might like it to be, not as it actually is. I would argue that the prevailing Labor narrative must be changed if the party is to survive. It wasn’t me or my article that drove Labor to 27% in the polls, but, gee, doesn’t that cat scratch when you try to put a bell on it?

For the “just another staffer” critics, I came into the union movement and the ALP from the shop floor — literally. I was working at a Coles “distribution centre”, getting up at 5am to load delivery trucks with pallets of washing powder, orange juice, dog food or whatever the order of the day was. I’ve still got the calluses on my hands to prove it, too.

I do know what it’s like to be on the hourly rate your union got for you. I do know what 5am cold mornings feel like when you’re waking up, not just walking out of a nightclub. I do know what debt stress and job insecurity feel like.

I’m not perfect, nobody is. And I’m surely not infallible. But I’m also not a risibly stereotypical staffer, either.

I’ve never advocated changing the leader alone as a panacea for federal Labor’s ills. Such a course is rightly derided as pointless. Rather, Labor’s disastrous handling of the carbon tax cannot be undone without a leadership change also — the two are as necessary as each other. Understanding the concerns of voters is not “nonsense”, as one respondent yesterday charged. It’s democracy and the democratic process in action.

The Greens Party polled around 11.8% of the vote at the last federal election. They currently sit on around 11% in all published polls. In contrast, the ALP has gone from 38% in 2010 to 27% today, and the Coalition from 40% to 51%. The votes aren’t going Left in disappointment at some perceived moderation in Labor. The votes are going to the Right.

There is a fundamental cultural disconnect between the progressive, post-materialist ethos on which the Greens are based (found in greater numbers, stereotypically but truthfully in the inner suburbs) and the innate small-c conservatism and materialism of the sprawling outer suburbs of Australia. For example, along with the highest progressive vote in the country, the electorate of Melbourne is also notable for having the lowest number of families of all 150 federal divisions. The pattern is the same nationwide; strongly progressive and individualistic in the inner suburbs, changing to family- and community-based conservatism in the outer suburbs.

The outer suburbs are the modern working class of Australia. Through cheap money they’ve become heavily mortgaged and susceptible to economic and monetary stress. The worry about their jobs. They are cynical about all politicians and concerned mainly with work and family rather than large, sweeping political movements and causes.

None of this is a value judgment on either culture (as a childless inner-city dweller myself) but a simple observation of the divide’s existence. Julia Gillard is the candidate of the inner cities, and is very much not the candidate of the outer suburbs. There are a variety of reasons for this, some of them fair and some of them very unfair indeed — her marital status, her inability to explain anything using language appealing to the outer suburbs, her deal with the Greens (seen as the anti-Everymen by the suburbs, a fact confirmed by Ted Baillieu when he publicly refused to preference the Greens in Victoria and received a subsequent boost in the outer suburbs’ vote). But regardless of the causes, it is now a confirmed fact that Gillard speaks to and for very few groups in the country, and as such has little credibility to bring to whatever message her or the government may be trying to convey.

To point all this out, or urge action on it, is not to be “Liberal-lite”, “misogynist” or otherwise morally impure. One can be for massive investment in public education, in public health, in infrastructure and public transport, one can be for rights at work and a fair wage, one can be for a fair and progressive taxation scheme (that includes a mining tax), one can be for a multi-lateralist foreign policy, one can be for jobs, economic growth and the removal of gender, s-xual and racial discrimination and the equal treatment of all citizens before the law and still be appealing to the outer suburbs.

In short, one can be a modern Australian working person, voting Labor.

But modern Labor seems like it can’t be bothered. As climate change will affect where we live, what we eat, how much we pay for everything from food to electricity, and as ordinary working families will be less equipped financially to cope with such changes, the truly worker-friendly thing to do is to mitigate climate change through putting a price on carbon. But rather than explain the carbon tax in such worker-friendly terms, Labor assumes the population at large shares the Green view of climate change as a moral imperative for which sacrifice must be made. And so on, and so forth.

All of which is multiplied by and tangled up with the Prime Minister’s obvious deficiencies; no political judgment, wooden speaking style, rote recitation of today’s lines rather than any appearance of genuine engagement with the issues.

Labor cannot afford to delude itself about the reasons for its lack of success. Too little understanding of the culture of the suburban sprawl, too many influences within the party divorced from real world financial and family pressures, too little appetite for difficult decisions. Too much Canberra and not enough Camberwell or Campbelltown. Too many people looking at Labor, looking at the Prime Minister, and saying, “that’s not us”. And none of it can be addressed without first addressing what have become the primary representations of this attitude — the carbon tax, and Julia Gillard’s leadership.

If the federal ALP, and more than a few of the state branches, are to move ahead they must first get back to where the people are. Doing otherwise, and wilfully driving the party off the biggest electoral cliff we can find, is nothing less than a betrayal of the sacred trust our supporters have in us to do the right thing by them.

Peter Lloyd writes: Too many words have been written providing corrective suggestions for Julia Gillard and the ALP, but here are a few more. It doesn’t matter who the leader is, which voter demographic is seen as key, nor who “wins” and who “loses” from various policies. The only things that really matter, that bear on the issue and that will be decisive in political success, are what the leaders believe and how they communicate those beliefs.

It matters not one iota who the leader is if, every time s/he opens their mouth, those cringe-worthy weasel words gush forth: the “… I am getting on with the job…”, “… this is a win for…”, “… my focus is to produce the best outcomes…” style of statement that betray only rehearsal and a desire to produce a calm reaction.

The greatest speakers of history have had passion … passion for their words and most of all passion for the fight. Politics meant something to these individuals, and their choice and delivery of words betrayed this passion. It seems to me this is the precise opposite of what most leaders seek to impress upon listeners. The three-second sound bite is not excuse, as Paul Keating showed with his brilliant use of lines like “banana republic” that begged the listener to further explore the issue, to become involved and dig deeper. Even if most voters are apathetic, it becomes clear which speakers are across the issues, insightful, and willing to explain.

Don Watson is spot-on but has been completely ignored. Political speech is delivered in terms so devoid of controversy as to be meaningless, in drab tones (except in cases of obviously confected outrage).  Politicians should be evangelical. Often, an issue cannot be explained due to time/space limitations.  But the listener should be in no doubt that given these resources, the speaker would hector, cajole, explain and educate because the speaker is so sure s/he’s right, and because contrary beliefs are destructive and offensive.  This passion is contagious, is closely associated with leadership itself, and is stronger than Gina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch and Tony Abbott combined.

The banks:

Mungo MacCallum writes: Re. “Why we’re all complicit in the banks’ gouging” (yesterday, item 1). Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane reckon the banks are OK, it’s all the fault of their shareholders and customers. Well, hang on; let’s get things in some sort of perspective.

We all agree on the need for sound, well-based banks, delivering reasonable profits. What we can’t understand is why they have to make record profits every single year, charge huge fees for services that cost very little and reduce staff and services at every available opportunity.

A few years just marking time on their more than adequate profit margins, instead of always chasing more, more, more would reduce a lot of the public resentment.

Niall Clugston writes: I was startled to read that Glenn Dyer and Bernard Keane thought I was a “hypocrite” and a “silent, greedy accomplice” of the banks.

I was equally startled to learn that compulsory super made me a bank shareholder. That made me wonder: does compulsory voting make me an MP? If I own shares I never knew I had, do I also have a seat in parliament that’s waiting for me?

I’m sure many Crikey readers are, like me, eagerly awaiting the next revelation of the sordid and secret lives that none of us knew we had.