Feb 21, 2013

Boo hoo, the Greens have gotten the better of Labor

The Greens' split with Labor will prompt the ALP -- no doubt soon to be in opposition for a while -- to do some serious soul-searching to decide what it stands for.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


"Maybe there’s a God above But all I’ve ever learned from love Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you" -- Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah
Lord, if there's one thing you can learn from the Greens' departure from the Labor-Green alliance, it's never, never be the dumpee -- and if you are, yelling, "well I was over it ages ago!" isn't going to cut it. Listen to these caught-off-guard responses from the Labor bunker, translated by moi for your edification: Gillard: ''This is a matter for Christine Milne and the Greens. We will always be the party that puts jobs and growth first" (translation: "your actions are irrelevant to my plan to continue crying to Wilco in a darkened room"). Swan: "Senator Milne's decision will not have any practical impact on the operation of the Parliament, as the Greens would continue to support the government on supply and confidence motions" (translation: "if we can maintain civility, it will not be necessary to have the dog gassed"). And best of all, Paul Howes: "This is just a political ploy by Christine Milne because she's upset that she lost the campaign in north-west Tasmania. Well, boo hoo. At the end of the day the federal Labor government has done the right thing for jobs. Frankly for Christine Milne to say that Julia Gillard hasn't delivered for the environment after she introduced a carbon price demonstrates how out of touch with reality Christine Milne is (translation: "well, I split up with you three weeks ago and didn't tell you. So you can't break up with me"). Boo hoo? Great comeback, Paul. The Greens got the better of Labor on this, as they have done since they rejected Rudd's preferred climate change model in favour of their own, helped trigger the leadership changeover, gained a deal for the support they would have given the Gillard government anyway, and pushed a relentless series of policy proposals onto a quasi-paralysed Labor, the most important being a carbon tax that remains Labor's centrepiece -- and the likely cause of its destruction -- but that will survive Labor's downfall, if Senate control can be retained. Labor has torn itself apart over six years of unstable leadership; the "faction-ridden" Greens had a smooth changeover, remained functional throughout, and released a modified policy agenda after the event. Contrary to media baiting about a collapse, their federal support has stayed within the 10-14% band occupied by the knowledge/culture/policy worker class that form their social base, while Labor's collapse to a 30% primary vote represents a significant desertion of the suburban middle they need to maintain viability. Finally, Gillard has unquestionably suffered by comparison to Christine Milne -- the lifelong Labor activist/lawyer/insider up against the Tasmanian mum and teacher who got involved in politics to protect her community and  developed into a tenacious political leader. When the dust settles after the election and, barring a heroic Labor campaign, Tony Abbott is prime minister, the main game will shift to the Senate. Should Labor have suffered the expected collapse in its fortunes, it will be faced with a Greens party that is of the same magnitude as Labor, rather than being a small two or three-senator contingent. Labor will then face the choice of either emphasising its common ground with the Greens over broad values while differing on shorter-term priorities, or continuing its fruitless culture war, driven by teen Trotskyists, manic Hayekians and Marn Fern, further depleting its energy. Whatever their many weaknesses in terms of internal organisation, money, media hatred, etc, the Greens have the strength that comes from knowing why they're there, while too many of Labor's core are there because they've been there since uni and they don't know how to do anything else. Labor will be floored by its loss, utterly, because it has been barely standing in the first place, due to its failure to find a new expression of its essential commitment to a society of greater equality, freedom from want and the universal opportunity for human flourishing and a meaningful life. In the Whitlam era that was constructed as coming from state processes, symbiotic with community activism. Under Hawke/Keating, it was hitching more expansive opportunity to the dynamism of the market (however contradictory). Since that collapsed in 1993, there has been nothing from Labor, nothing at all -- piecemeal proposals and the ultimate farce of the 2020 conference, where the party went to the people to find out what its identity should be in the space of a long afternoon. Indeed, it's only in response to the Greens' rise that Labor has sharpened its image, to be the party of "jobs and growth". That, together with a media blitzkrieg on the Greens, may have helped Labor, but it has also painted it into a corner. Labor has become a party that ramrods the engine of growth, cleaving to the US alliance and global order while addressing some inequality for special and marginal groups. About the core conditions of most people -- work, time, child-raising, housing -- it has had almost nothing to say, leaving them to the mercies of the market in most areas of their lives. The result? An overworked, time-poor, semi-precarious mass class in the middle of what we are continually told is the most prosperous country on earth. Labor has lost the opportunity to outflank the Coalition because it has done much of conservatism's job for it -- reconciling people to the idea that the frameworks of life are relatively fixed, and that's the way it is. Instead of making visible life-change, Labor has levied taxes for enormous projects -- Building the Education Revolution, infrastructure, climate change -- without connecting them to immediate improvement. It's an error that could only be made by a party that has become a caste, joined at university (and if that sounds snobbish, check the frontbench for anyone without a degree, and ask where the snobbery lies), and increasingly oriented towards the management of behaviour and people -- hence the signature move of "cigarette plain packaging". It is going to spend a while in opposition working these things out -- or not bother, and become an appendage to the Coalition for a decade, a loyal opposition to the other "growth" party.For the Greens this new era will also be a challenge. The end of this government will bring the departure of a number of key people whose political life began in the 1970s, when Labor was still a party oriented to concrete and immediate change. Together with the departure of Bob Brown, this marks a ruling off of a period dominated, however vestigially, by the hopes and assumptions held by the Left during that period. There will now have to be a process of categorical rethinking of what Greens politics is -- one rather larger than the policy clean-out of late last year. For the Greens are caught in a potential contradiction, too. They are a party founded -- going back all the way to the proto-Green United Tasmania Group of 1972 -- on the notion that the relationship between humanity and nature is in crisis, due to the subsumption of the latter to the former. That insight, confirmed by science with the imminent catastrophic effects of climate change, dictates a necessary transformation in the way humanity lives. Yet as the Greens have progressed, they have had to add a series of policies on everyday economic management to that core. Those policies largely remain those of a European social democratic party, relying on a high-growth economic base, coupled with tax, redistribution and social investment. The model assumes the very growth scenario that the old parties are based on and is in contradiction with the core idea of a planetary crisis that sparked the formation of the party in the first place. On top of that, a series of rights-based social policies -- same-sex marriage, pro-euthanasia -- have been added, with the strong implication that they are a "natural" or inevitable fit with the politics of planetary crisis. A fourth layer has been some of the dominant foreign policy causes of the big-L Left around the issue of anti-imperialism. As the Greens have morphed into the party of the knowledge/culture/policy worker class, those causes have assumed a rough equality: euthanasia, Israel-Palestine and the boiling of the oceans roughly equal in prominence. Since some of these policies -- same-sex marriage, refugees, etc -- attract quite passionate support from their class base, the Greens have been shifted by stages into being a sort of grab-bag New Left party. From now on, the Greens will have no choice but to have a head-to-toe rethinking of how these policy layers relate to each other -- and they must find a way to make the central notion of a planetary crisis the visible core and backbone of their worldview and program. That cannot be done without connecting such a macro-concern to the conditions of everyday life -- not in the form of particular causes, but of the general conditions of everyday life. The working day, genuinely affordable housing, parental leave, the opportunity for a lower consumption, time-rich life, and so on -- these are all changes that will be necessary to dealing with huge environmental changes in a way that is globally just, but would also appeal to many people within and without the Greens' class base, as a visible and tangible improvement in their lives, something worth voting for right now. Returning to that notion of crisis -- and to the absolute moral responsibility that it demands of those who understands its seriousness -- may cost the Greens some support in the short term. But it is only through such a process that they will successfully reground themselves in such a way that factional differences cannot sunder them. That is not a simple process of moving Right or moving Left -- the new focus would essentially have a Left and Right faction based around it, offering differing diagnoses of how the crisis can be addressed, but not disagreeing on its importance. Labor's troubles are that it has no big ideas; the Greens currently have rather too many. That is a more desirable problem in the short term; in the long term it may be a more disastrous one. One way or another they're going to have to sort it out, most likely while Labor wanders the wilderness in search for yet more new leaders. Boo hoo, hallelujah, I am trying to break your heart.

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50 thoughts on “Boo hoo, the Greens have gotten the better of Labor

  1. Christopher Nagle

    The bottom line is that the Labor government is going to be creamed at the next election because they were supine, but not supine enough for the people who now really run the country.

    In some ways, they haven’t done too badly for a government that was in a hopeless position as soon as it won government, and started to behave as if it could do anything exept respond appropriately to they that must be obeyed.

  2. klewso

    I saw that show about Hayek the other night too.
    From my limited understanding of economics (I probably wouldn’t have seen the GFC coming with all that higher education either) I thought he’d considered just about everything before he drew up his theory – except “human nature” and the fact that we live in a society of which “economics” is a part, not vice versa?
    Look how Thatcher used his theory to justify what she did (“The Falklands War” aside of course)?

  3. klewso

    Paul Howes – a manifestation of this phenomenon – on Lateline the other night?
    Interesting – the way Jones introduced his presence (floating between boredom and consciousness), I could be wrong but it seemed he was saying Howes was advocating for doing away with the Greens? As if Labor could represent their sort of thinking? Or maybe that sort of thinking “bears none” – so that “one in nine/ten” of us should not have our ideas articulated/represented in legislature/government? If that was the case wouldn’t that put him in the Murdoch camp/way of politicking? A two party system (while easier to manage than the present multifaceted, but more inclusive) is only one step removed from a one party state?
    The Liberals have a third tit in the Nats, what’s so wrong with a Green appendage for Labor?
    [What has a virtual duopoly done to our grocer’s market – to customers and producers?]
    Then there was that rigid interview style used? The veins opened by Howes but not explored by Jones?
    * The way Howes uses his “I am not part of the government/caucus Get Out of Gaol Free” card : the times he uses the “we” word as if he is?
    * The way the Greens have voted with “Abbott” – as if Labor has “never”?
    * The sort of qualifications he used to rate Burnie as a “good town” – as if towns that didn’t embrace those values of his were “not good”?
    [Probably left unexplored because to have done so he might have been left without time to press the “Rudd leadership issue”, while absolving the media of being in control of that “popular topic”, controlling it’s “life” – the media with ability to edit and frame news, that the public ends up with as per their “revues of the gnus”? Compared to, say, what doesn’t make that “cut”?]

  4. AR

    I couldn’t find much to comment on in GR’s piece, being in furious agreement but some of the comments here show that rationality (not to mention decency)are in short supply.
    If the ALP can hold, or recover enough seats(thanks to Newtman & Ballyhoo, not to mention whatever happens in the Wild West) then I shall look forward to another minority Labor government supported & prodded by Greens.
    The usual suspects who rave about Italy when disparaging minority government ignore the fact that NO government in northern Europe has had majority government for any significant period since WWII. Bunga-Bunga has only been able to form government because they changed their electoral system from D’Ondt to something resembling the worst of FPtP & List in the 1990s.
    Poor bugger, my country.

  5. Andrew Elder

    Gillard has a narrative of addressing people’s work-life conditions. The NDIS, however indirectly, is one example, and I think Rundle underestimates the impact of the BER. Yes, this is undercut by half-arsed efforts such as cuts to single-parent welfare spending, but there is still a narrative there.

    Rundle says that all the Greens have to do is develop a better, and far more comprehensive, set of policies. Good luck with that. Look how difficult that process is for the conservatives, and they have been in government before.

    The fact that the Coalition can push the rhetorical buttons, but have no underlying policy narrative, undermines Rundle’s assumption (widely shared, but still unsustainable) about “When … Tony Abbott is prime minister”. Nobody who has spent as long on the Left as Rundle has any excuse for failing to pick a towering political behemoth that is on the verge of collapse rather than victory.

    Milne’s insistence that she can work with an Abbott government because she worked with the much more moderate Rundle government in Tasmania is stupid. It was Milne, a heterosexual woman, who grafted on the rights-based issue of decriminalising homosexuality rather than Brown, who would have advanced his own rights and interests through such an agenda. If you’re going to move away from a rights-based approach them Milne is not the person to do it, and neither is Hanson-Young.

    Milne’s first big idea as leader was to strike out into regional anfd rural communities to position the Greens as the champions of anti-CSG and other mining activities, to take on the conservatives rather than fight Labor vote for vote in the well-worn streets of the inner cities. It hasn’t worked. Windsor-Oakeshott-style independents are leading those battles. The Greens are either not involved, or where they are the impression has been created that they are carpetbaggers and interlopers, i.e. their campaigns have worked against them rather than for them.

    A century ago, socialists refused to help ameliorate the condition of the poor under capitalism in order to let things get worse and create the conditions for socialist revolution. Today, Milne is hoping an Abbott government will make things worse before she and the Greens can swoop in and make things better. Rundle might complain about the abuse of Marx’s aphorism about history, tragedy and farce, but it’s undeniably applicable here.

    Gillard will win in 2013, not by much and without any outpouring of goodwill, because she has the least unconvincing set of policies that address the work-life issues to which Rundle refers. It’s indirect and the longterm structural issues to which he refers may catch up with Labor at some point, but even so Gillard is the only one attempting, however imperfectly, to engage in the conversation. Milne has disgraced herself by attempting to ape Abbott, and Abbott is disgracing himself by refusing any conversation that he doesn’t initiate.

    The Greens have gotten (as it were) nothing that they didn’t have already, and by divorcing themselves from tangible achievements such as marine parks and carbon abatement they have become less than they were. They will still increase their Senate team by two to four, but will remain as Democrats in polar fleece rather than the replacements for Labor.

  6. Warren Joffe

    @AR I suppose you are right to treat the questions of PR and minority government as largely the same. Whether that is so or not I draw attention to the contrast between a system which gives people a choice of major change after a long period of consensus and/or everyone being able to get a bit of what they are after because the country can afford it. European prosperity for 25 years after WW2 didn’t require governments to make hard decisions that would require some big groups of voters to suffer losses or at least fear the changes.

    But the particulars are probably more interesting.

    The Tory wets, like a lot of decent prosperous people who had lived through the Depression, were part of the social democrat consensus in the UK after WW2. It is worth noting that single member electorates can give rise to the corruption of excessive sectional interests too. After all it is not just the Obeid ascendancy which showed what an ethnic/religious group could do but I am reliably informed about a decision made by a Coalition minister to deny or delay a visa because of the Muslim/Middle Eastern element in his electorate. And I once heard a senior Coalition figure refuse to touch public sector superannuation costs because of the public service vote in critical electorates.

    So the natural tendency of human beings collectively to continue down damaging paths for a very long time before disaster produces the leadership to change course is a pretty reliable generalisation and template to impose on one’s analysis. Kennett got his majorities in both houses and was able to do what Thatcher did for Britain (BTW read Claire Berlinski’s brillian little book “Why Margaret Thatcher Matters – There Is No Alternative” if you can’t stand most long political memoirs including, not least, Maggie’s own). Curiously NZ, before it played silly b***ers, with its franchilse, put a strong majority Labor government in to do the same, much earlier too, because NZ proved the point about the importance of disaster in halting a long period of bad habits. The Muldoon (and previous governments) were appalling, unrecognisable as “conservative” or “liberal”.

    I might have been inclined to think that “producer capture” of the kind we are now seeing in the US public sector (all those outrageous pensions in California being the prime exhibit) was almost impossible to reverse but Sweden did a remarkable job of cutting back its public sector proportion of GDP from about 60 per cent to about 45 per cent. I don’t know what the electoral system was that allowed that. A small ethnically cohesive country would have prima facie advantages, not least if prompted to react to free loading by immigrants that they don’t feel comfortable with (cp. Holland and its Moroccans) but still would be an exhibit worth considering for the present discussion of electoral systems.

    Germany has been faced with such big problems that solidarity over some issues might help in a critical degree – not least because of the memories still invoked of the great 1920s inflation and because it was obvious that sacrifice was needed to reintegrate East Germany. According to what I remember of Mancur Olson’s observations, Germany benefited too from a fresh start without the historically backward looking UK style unions (and old-fashioned and perhaps class ridden management) after WW2.

    As for Australia, we are surely too prosperous, for most of us by the sheer luck of being Australian, to be likely to behave well if given the chance to elect minorities. And, depending on one’s personal preferences, it wouldn’t matter much, would be an unacceptable drag on our future growth, or would be ideal for allowing one to “save the Tarkine” if one were truly focused Green or prevent taxpayer funds being used for abortion or IVF etc.

  7. Warren Joffe

    @ Klewso

    Indeed, if the Libs and Nats can do it why not a regular ALP – Greens Coalition? What fun to see the ALP coping with yet another faction and one that actually believed in ideology. And what fun to see the battles over preferences and/or which seats belonged to whom (actually that rather than preferences: but there would be principled party stalwarts and the merely self-interested who would be putting motions in favour of standing candidates in every seat) without a PR of list system.

  8. Kiron sada

    As the profit motive driven system that is capitalism drives the world closer to ecological destruction, more and more people are becoming aware of the approaching threat. Even those who previously denied the this threat are beginning to understand the seriousness of the situation. The propaganda pumped out by the ruling class and capitalist class is not working anymore. Only those who still hold tightly the 50′s “God and country as infallible” mentality are still clinging to this lie against global warming.

    Despite the obviousness of the profit-motive’s desire to suppress the reality of global warming, many people still refuse to acknowledge its “hidden hand” in it. Despite he very serious threat to all of humanity, many of capitalism’s supporters refuse to acknowledge that the profit motive (as well as capitalism) is the very source of this threat. So it should not be seen as unusual that a kind of “third way” has appeared. There has always been a “third way” going as far back as Marx’s time. Social-Democrats are the usual form it takes. However in this century it has taken the form of “Eco” capitalism.

    This Eco-capitalism is a retro idea given a new paint job, a healthy shade of green. As in the past, the apologists for capitalism (commonly liberals) have been “embarrassed” by its effects on the world. This time it goes beyond simply being “embarrassed” by its effects to being terrified by them. It is in these moments of “fear” that individuals often grasp more strongly to their beliefs. We’ve seen this with the 2008 global economic collapse. many have refused to accept that capitalism caused the event. And instead of criticizing their belief, they have become market fundamentalists. In times of crisis they have only gripped more firmly to their faith. Like a Christian who has lost their way only to become “born again”.

    This new “Third Way” is still just an apology for capitalism. Like previous “Third Ways” it has found its political leaders and political parties. What was once the social-democrats is now the various Green Parties that can be found around the world. Where the social-democrats have promised a reigning in and greater control of capitalism, the Greens have promised a reorientation of capitalism towards Eco-friendly ideas and beliefs.

    The Greens have given us this version of a capitalism where the productive forces can be used in a socially responsible manner. They claim they can effect a capitalist mobilization with the goal of sustaining human life on Earth ecologically. Along with this as an aside, they’ll tackle homelessness and global poverty , maybe even economic inequality. This message speaks to a post-materialist crowd, better known as hippies. It gives a very holistic spiritual flavour to what is in reality an exploitative repressive ideology. In truth, the whole “Green mentality” is just another “spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down”.

    An amusing aspect to this whole green-capitalism is its claim that it can attract capitalists with an altruistic incentive. This aspect was best put by Slavoj Zizek:

    “Capitalists should not just be machines for generating profits, since their lives can have a deeper meaning. Their preferred mottos have become social responsibility and gratitude: they are the first to admit that society has been incredibly good to them to deploy their talents and amass great wealth, so it is their duty to give something back to society and to help ordinary people. Only this kind of caring approach makes business success worthwhile.”

    – Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, then as Farce

    I’m sure there is no need for me to explain why reaching out to capitalists with altruism is absolutely hilarious.

    Regardless of however the Greens think they will entice or even coerce the capitalists, they will achieve nothing. They will achieve nothing for one simple reason: Eco-capitalism is capitalism. Despite its well-meaning altruism the profit motive doesn’t change. The mistake here by the Greens is that they separate the ideological basis of capitalism (individualist greed) from the economic relations (the capitalist mode of production). What they then try to do is graft an altruistic, even spiritual ideology on those same economic relations.

    Such a surgical transplanting of ideologies as failure is not recognized by the Greens because they have not done a materialist analysis of capitalism. Marx clearly pointed out that social-relations spring from economic-relations. A greedy, exploitative people are a product of a greedy and exploitative system. (Its also a self-perpetuating mechanism, it creates greedy people while turning around to say “see people are naturally greedy”.) To put it another way, the “greedy individualist” body will inevitably reject the “altruistic” organ.

    If you want to change the social-relations of the system, you have to change the economic-relations. Refusing to do so is an ideological position as opposed to a materialist analysis. Attempting to change things without a materialist analysis in a material way will lead only to disaster.

    In the material conditions we face, the capitalist class controls the means of production. Meaning they hold all power in society, financial (in the form of money), physically (in the form of police/military/judicial system) and ideologically, (propaganda through ownership of media). This power will keep them from achieving anything. It is also why reform does not work, and why only revolution brings victory.

    Suppose the Green Party won a majority. There are only 2 ways the scenario would play out.

    1. The party actually comes into power and genuinely tries to put through the reforms to capitalism they intend. The capitalist class fights back using the media to give the impression that everyone hates them and go the other parties to force them out. They would create all kinds of scandals and lies to basically bash them out of office and call new elections.

    2. The party actually comes into power and genuinely tries to put through the reforms to capitalism they intend. The capitalist class fights back and the party leadership gives up because they can’t win. Immediately they sell out the voters and become just another group of tools.

    The Greens can never fight back because they do not control the means of production and the power that flows from them. Nor do they have the intention of ever doing so.

    In the concrete material reality the ecological crisis is caused by capitalism. No amount of reform can possibly effect this bringing it to an end, because it remains capitalism. Ecological destruction is a part of economic relations. The only solution is to change the economic relations in a way where the goal is not profit at all cost, but to the sustainment of human life. We achieve that by abolishing capitalism. This is not possible under Eco-capitalism because it is capitalism.

    Eco-capitalism in concrete material reality, is another “Third Way” trap that offers no viable solutions to the problems and dangers we face. No amount of spiritual or ideological re-flavouring can change the fallacy of the “Third Way” position. Revolution is the only solution.

  9. Warren Joffe

    Kiron soda – is there a clue in the name? If so, I’m too dim or ignorant to get it. But I can pick a good spoof anyway. Almost Swiftian satire though that is perhaps too much praise….

  10. AR

    Not an anagram of Dave Spart.

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