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Mar 28, 2013

The 15 shades of Gary Gray -- Labor on the edge of the abyss

What's wrong with Labor? Well, everything ... but here are at least 15 of the reasons. Let's start with Gary Gray.


Julia Gillard

My god, what are we going to talk about when the ALP gets its crap together? Well that’s a problem for the 2020s. In the meantime, there are laffs aplenty just watching the great and good within this party trying to work out where the hell it has gone so wrong.

In The Oz, Graham Richardson quoted Jack Lang to the effect of, “You can always back self-interest” before saying the actions of Simon Crean and Co. had proven that wrong. In Fairfax Bill Kelty advised the party to “reject the ideas that distract, divide and discount the nation”. Meanwhile the Victorian Right rallied to the cause of reconstruction by … launching a microfactional battle for the seat of Gellibrand.

What was remarkable here and elsewhere was the sheer vacuity of response. Richo, Kelty et al weren’t just playing down crisis — they really don’t have anything to say about the party’s deep dilemmas. The seeds of anti-intellectualism within the party have now yielded a bumper harvest — Labor, once a party that thought hard about how society worked and used ideas to overcome the superior heft of its opponents, has deprived itself of all the intellectual tools that would allow it to analyse its own problems and challenges and come up with new ideas, philosophies, strategies and tactics.

Everyone is trying to interpret last week’s farce as a matter of personalities and snap decisions. But surely it is obvious that such stuff-ups only happen when someone has no framework, no map of the territory? Even when people understand what’s going on they make mistakes — but they don’t make farcical mistakes like last week’s aborted leadership spill. Or the Rooty Hill episode. Or the call-the-election-six-months-early episode. Or … Labor resembles a squadron flying blind, sans radar, crashing into hills. But how did it get this way, and what can the party do in what may be the decade to come out of power?

Some points in what, given the masochistic mood, I would like to call “15 shades of Gary Gray”:

1. Progressive parties stay in business by attending to three things: i) the demands of the class from which they arose, ii) a more general philosophy of the good life, iii) longer-term considerations of the general good. Progressive parties have to open up the space between what is and what could be — not merely in piecemeal terms, but in wider terms. Conservative parties aren’t burdened by this demand.

2. Progressive parties succeed by persuading people that what they think of as “natural” or inevitable is really political and changeable. If a progressive party gets into a position where it only responds to the demands from the class it represents, it’s in trouble. Conservative parties work the other way — they take stuff out of the political realm and make it fatalistic, inevitable. The eight-hour day movement came from the grassroots. But the idea of universal free healthcare or higher education came from the Labor party, proposing to its social class they don’t have to accept disease or ignorance.

3. The ALP’s great century-long internal struggle can be seen as two versions of this mix. The Right has been more willing to accept the given framework of capitalism and work within it, the Left to change it structurally. The Right’s philosophy descended from the Catholic social movement sparked by Pope Leo’s 1891 Rerum Novarum letter “on the rights and duties of capital and labour”, which established the idea of a living wage, etc, while the Left came from Protestant Fabianism and a bit of Marxism, arguing for a greater ability to change structures and human behaviour.

“Labor … has deprived itself of all the intellectual tools that would allow it to analyse its own problems”

4. From foundation to the 1960s, the ALP responded to the demands of a working class who were fairly unified in terms of their fate and prospects. Living wages, minimal pensions, extended education, some health care, national development, etc, was the party’s scope. Wider possibilities — urban reconstruction, universal higher education, etc — were barely considered. From the mid ’60s to the early ’90s, the party was a mixed one, representing the mass of people who wanted a prosperous but settled life with expanded improvement for their children, while also expanding opportunities and possibilities for a rising generation.

By the mid-’90s, the “settled” version of Labor had been largely abandoned — Labor’s elite, of both Right and Left, became entranced by the dynamism of globalisation. Isolated from their constituents, they didn’t realise many found such globalisation alienating and alarming. John Howard grabbed this constituency by promising a more “comfortable and relaxed” life — exactly what Labor had offered its constituency for decades.

5. Howard lost when, and only when, he gained control of the Senate and imposed the discomfort and anxiety of WorkChoices, sending voters back to Labor. But Kevin Rudd’s Labor had become, in the interim, even more “unsettled”, even more devoted to the reconstruction of everyday life, with a relentless focus on growth and education. Such passions went far beyond people’s desire that their kids have opportunities for advancement and improvement — it was a mix of Whitlamism and Keatingism in which the focus was almost exclusively on the future, not the present, on the lives that might be made, rather than what was.

Perhaps that would have been sellable if it had included the genuine Whitlam-era ideal of real self-emancipation. Trouble was, Rudd had no real positive alternative vision. There was no light on the hill, simply a space where it might be put, by crowdsourcing, with the bizarre 20/20 conference, a government leading by asking grandees to tell it where it should go in a one-day conference run by McKinsey. Soon after Rudd was gone in an evening.

6. So now, Right and Left of Labor do not differ on how they should make people’s lives, right now, today, better at an individual and family level. They agree the current population are simply the raw material for social reconstruction. The Right has become enamoured with markets, mobility, Americophilia and the minimal state. People in this faction know that their base remains statist, protectionist and economically nationalist, and so they are determined to bully and push them towards a more US-style economy and mindset. The ALP Left has abandoned any notion of real emancipation and channelled its energies into behavioural control, largely via “nudge” theory, changing behaviour via small changes such as plain cigarette packaging. Such strategies treat people not as citizens or supporters, but as lab rats — as objects, not subjects.

7. People see this with Labor, and they hate it. They hate both the relentless “growthism” where everyone has to get a PhD in cyberengineering before lunchtime, recycle their gruffnuts and wear an implant to monitor their obesity levels. They hate it even when they can see the sense of reducing smoking, etc.8. Neither Right nor Left of Labor can see this hatred, because they are too busy blaming each other for losing public support. The ALP Left continues to believe it represents some sort of will to social progress, when in fact it simply expresses the mindset of “social managers”, policy implementers distanced from the public and close to disdainful of them. Those in the Right are more self-deluded — they channel the old anti-theory anti-socialism of the past and believe they represent the real will of their base. The angrier people get with them, the more they blame various enemies and spit fire at the Greens, whose responsibility, apparently, is to save the fortunes of another political party that is unable to save itself. That’s why Richo, more perspicacious than most, can’t understand how self-interest gets clouded. He’s so accustomed to seeing the Right as the sensible faction he can’t see how it has been sucked into a delusional self-regard.

9. For decades, even at its most conservative and modest, Labor included ideas about society and how it worked into its deliberations. It had to, because its great challenge on the Left was Marxism. From John Curtin, the socialist organiser of pre-WWI days to Whitlam, through to the Labor Essays of the 1970s and 80s, Labor used ideas, theories and debate to think about what was going on. That has now ceased. Labor is the most extraordinary intellectual deadzone, in which any attempt to theorise or think through is taken as the sign of a “wanker”. Kevin Rudd’s essays in The Monthly drew on the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and name-checked Friedrich Hayek as a bad guy — but there was no actual social, historical or class analysis. Mark Latham — pretty much the only person who wants the party to be in the business of categorical change — wrote a big book that was pretty much a crib of Francis Fukuyama, and his recent Quarterly Essay, disappointingly, is a series of policies lacking a centre, and often contradictory. Lindsay Tanner loves nudge theory. In Sydney Michael Costa and his cohort proselytise Hayek with the same fervour as he once spruiked Trotsky, and with the same disregard for the real politics of Australia. The “intellectuals” around Labor, such as Nick Dyrenfurth have not even the ghost of an original idea. The only one who does, Tim Soutphommasane, proposes to use cultural engineering to create social cohesion through a rather characterless confected patriotism — a solution for a problem that is far from uppermost for Australia, and that would simply add to the impression people have that Labor wants to push them about and engineer their souls.

10. Labor has done that most marvelous of things — it has created what may be the single worst policy mix of any party in the Western world. It responds to the narrow demands of its social base — for a strong economy, etc (the first part of my original point) — and then imposes the future needs of society such as education and action on global warming. But it almost entirely leaves out presenting people with improvements in their lives in areas where they regarded hardship as “natural” or “inevitable”. Labor relies on the fact that people tell surveys that they are happy and satisfied, in order to take no action on really making their lives better. So when it comes to the election, it has nothing to tell people it is defending, nothing it can warn them they will lose if the Coalition gets in. It attends to early childhood development and aged care, and leaves everyone in between to fend for themselves.

“Labor has done that most marvellous of things — it has created what may be the single worst policy mix of any party in the Western world.”

11. The result is a displacement effect of anger, which would be obvious to Labor if it thought about it. Australians are told so ceaselessly how lucky they are that the truth — that for many life, while prosperous on paper, is squeezed and limited — has no explicit outlet. So it goes into an inchoate anger, which then attaches to the leadership, and especially to Gillard herself. They are squeezed by absurdly inflated house prices, absurdly high grocery and basics prices, overpriced telecoms services, a working day creeping up in length, pitiful parental leave, and poorly designed cities. The social advances of the past 30 years have been co-opted to the squeeze — so the entry of women to the workforce has been entirely absorbed by rising house prices. People know their parents’ and grandparents’ lives were more limited, and oppressive, in many ways than theirs — they also know that a house could be bought and maintained on one wage, that people had more time and space, more ease of life.

12. Labor could have dived right into the heart of such a challenge — creatively offered more possibilities for existence in such a way that would have appealed across the party’s increasingly fractured base. Instead it chose to be the party that imposes discipline — economic discipline, social discipline, behavioural discipline — without reward. It did it with such ardour that the Coalition nipped into the gap and advanced a parental leave policy Labor should have been leading with. By now, in 2013, the higher reaches of Labor have become wholly dominated by a caste — lifers who join the party at university and become intellectually detached from the people they represent, even if they live among them. Eventually they lose all sense that such a division exists. To watch the celebrations over cigarette plain packaging was to watch different abstract elites – pollies, policy wonks, healthcare pros – talking to each other, unaware that anyone else existed, that there was any other way to be or think.

13. Because they now lack any capacity for this sort of thinking, they blunder from one obvious error to another. They have no means of reality testing. They reject any process of wider debate or reflection, become more anti-intellectual, anti-theoretical until they are wholly painted into a corner. Their brightest idea has been to pour enormous energies into attacking the Greens – which managed to depress the Greens polling by a point or two, before they bounced back to their solid ten per cent average. The attacks were obviously more than strategic. The Greens are smarter than Labor, more capable of reflexive thought, and have increased their vote by 900% since 1996. If Labor were to dip lower, to say, a 28% primary, and the Greens rose to 12% or so, then the Greens will have stolen half of Labor’s primary vote. That is a diabolical position for Labor to have got itself into.

14. This could go on for a long time, even in opposition. The Right could continue to insist on its relentless indifference to real quality of life, and that anything other than nibbling round the edges is pointy-headed, and the Left could continue to have nothing to offer but nudge theory and same-sex marriage. But they would do better to try and rebuild the intellectual and theoretical processes they use to have – something beyond narrow policy think-tanks – that connect both inside and outside the party. Quite aside from coming up with a policy which spreads the prosperity in a way that people can live or feel, they will need to come up with a way to connect future needs – preparing for an inevitable global economic recession/depression, and at a longer stretch, that of climate change – with current policies. They will need to create a politics of solidarity that is not based on old, and now superseded forms of class, but assumes and includes the irreversible individualism of contemporary life.

15. Labor’s factional warlords clearly believe – or believed – that they could do what they usually do, take a loss and keep the party. Perhaps they still do – or perhaps even they are now starting to panic. They are now talking of a loss down to 50 seats as manageable. Perhaps what is now required is a catastrophe below a big loss, something of the order of 1975 or 1931. The near solid state of Australian politics makes real party change rare, but the ALP now faces a challenge not only to its inner-city left vote, but potentially – in the form of the Katter party – in its heartland. They are helped in avoiding that by, well, Katter, and his crackpot bumpkins, but if they can excise much of the tinfoil hat stuff, they could eventually lay down a marker in Labor’s heartland. They sure deserve it in places like Gellibrand. Labor has a future – but without a real productive crisis, that future may be as the PASOK of the South.


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60 thoughts on “The 15 shades of Gary Gray — Labor on the edge of the abyss

  1. paddy

    [There was no light on the hill, simply a space where it might be put, by crowdsourcing]
    Wonderfully, terrifyingly accurate description of the current state of play Guy.

    Also, bonus points for Americophilia.
    A word that will now give me nightmares for the foreseeable future.

  2. Mr Tank

    Thanks Guy, says it like it is…

  3. GF50

    Thank the lord and bless the baby jesus that this is only your opinion and very opinionated it is.

  4. klewso

    Now the party is being run by “anti-intellectual tools”?

  5. klewso

    See “Dustbowl” on SBS this last month – the seeds of destruction sown by the rapacious and greedy, in the good times – how everyone suffered reaping that subsequent decade-long whirlwind of decimating turmoil?

  6. JMNO

    What about the impact of minority government on what Labor thinks it can achieve? Everything has to be negotiated.

    Also the fear of losing government and losing seats has translated into fear of doing anything bold and thereby seems to be bringing about exactly what it feared and on a grand scale.

    If Labor had won a thumping majority and could have afforded to lose seats, I think it would have been a lot bolder.

  7. klewso

    I couldn’t figure out why Gillard wanted to embrace that “greasy pig” like she did – unless it was for the glory of being “Australia’s first elected female PM”? Surely she was smart enough to see what was ahead, how sick it was?
    She could have played dead and let Abbott have it – how long would he have lasted? Then she could have been looking at being PM for the last year and the next ten?
    …. Maybe she just isn’t?

  8. shepherdmarilyn

    Labour grew out of the gold fields and was based on rank racist attacks on Chinese workers.

    Not a thing has changed since.

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    Klewso that doco. was so impressive that I watched all 4 hours in one sitting.

  10. Kinkajou

    Depressingly relatively true….look forward to your dissection of the other side so that we can have an informed choice of failed parties.

  11. GF50

    Klewso Agree! and having watched avidly, all channels, that fateful night of the deposing of Rudd it was, to me, obvious that she did not play any role in the upset and that she did not want to sip from the poison chalice (too soon for her) on offer, she WAS trying to reason with Rudd for a change in his style. Then shouldered all the “blame Yes I dun it”, for the gormless conniving now Rudd supporters. Me screeching (at TV)Julia don’t do it! suicide by public hate! and that is why the PR unmitigated disasters of Julia The real Julia. She was the fall guy, and has the wear all the bigoted crap thrown at her.
    As, I see it that is the only factual lie she has told the electorate and man oh man has she paid the price in spades,
    and to me proven that she is the only ALP true loyalist left standing.

  12. Em_E

    Great read Guy

  13. Achmed

    Be interesting to see someone dissect the Liberal manifesto “Real Solutions for all Australian”

  14. Robert Brown

    People know their parents’ and grandparents’ lives were more limited, and oppressive, in many ways than theirs — they also know that a house could be bought and maintained on one wage, that people had more time and space, more ease of life.

    1. Isn’t this the question put to all left leaning, first world political parties? And if so, should we expect Labor to come up with the answer on their own?

    2. Is the premise correct (that the grandparents had less affluence but better quality of life)? Or is it just something we feel is true, or romanticise? I really want to know – has there been objective studies in this area (and how does one measure something as amorphous as quality of life, or happiness)?

  15. ianjohnno

    A much needed analysis. Thanks Mr Rundle.

  16. Andybob

    Unfortunately Guy, the ALP no longer has a motivated intelligentsia who can participate in policy development. It now pays people to do that for it, rather than relying on the talent it used to have as members.

    I used to know people who were proud to call themselves ALP members and who devoted enormous time and effort to policy development (as well as factional infighting). I don’t know any current members. Some became disillusioned by top down dictation and branch stacking and didn’t renew memberships. Others joined the Greens.

  17. Achmed

    sheperdmarilyn – incorrect

    The Australian Labor Party is the oldest political party in Australia. Its origins stem from the maritime and shearers strikes of 1890 which were brutally suppressed.

  18. Sabre Bleu

    The best analysed commentary on the state of the ALP that I have read. The only thing missing is an observation on the PM’s lack of awareness that the “nutjobs” she has previously referred to actually reside within the ALP apparatchik.

  19. shepherdmarilyn

    The unions started the party to kill off foreign workers in the gold mines.

    Achmed, the formal party might not have started until those strikes but the racist attacks on the other started way back in the 1850’s.

  20. Flowers Barbara

    OK I’d love to see a similar critique of the Abbott government we’re apparently going to get before the year is out.

  21. Mark out West

    Guy you an intellectual w**nker, not one idea in the whole thing. I love the paragraph numbers you worked the whole thing out and number it, GO BOY.

    Australians mostly have First World problems, where to shop, what weight loss products to buy and how many MCMeals to consume during the week.

    Our grandparents travel the world akin to the most wealthy people of their youth.

    Hey Guy why don’t you use that huge cranium of your and actually tell US what is going to make Australians feel “HAPPY WITH THEIR LOT”?

    The only thing that you can be sure of is that swinging voter always wants handouts, there is no aspiration to have a equitable society let alone world. We are all Nero’e ready to burn the house down cause we haven’t got enough.

  22. Wobbly

    Mostly spot on, but there’s a few hints that Guy is a smoker who doesn’t want to quit, which is a quaint parallel to the type of ALP lifers he’s describing.

  23. Diane Patricia Harpley

    Silly me….. so I have supposedly been waiting for some Light on the Hill speech? Actually since 1990 I have not been in any mood to spend any time waiting for some inspiring speech. 27 years of speeches and I have had an absolute gut full of speeches.
    1990 with my son of five years still on my hip, I participated in my very first rally outside the NSW Parliament in Macquarie Street when I faced being lawfully obliged to enrol my son into school. Only to be confronted with the sheer horror of the SSP he was enrolled. The sheer horror of it. The filth, the dirt, the building, classrooms devoid of paper or pencils, the stench of sodden nappies, teaching staff were the cleaners, profoundly disabled students were the groundskeepers….. a speech, give me a break. My five year old son in 1990 was cast aside as waste, to be locked up, kept quiet, corralled. My son’s fingers are now deformed. His finger joints slip back and forth due to the stress of his early years corralled in this urine stinking cesspit.
    This was a school campus filled entirely with single mothers. My husband was killed and stupid me I decided to arrive in Sydney seeking a better opportunity for this strange little boy who was my son. Only to be scurrying around with only women whose partners had grabbed their damaged penises and fled. A speech…. yep we wanted speeches. Instead we were conspiring amongst ourselves who would take shifts to be overseeing the needs of our children corralled at school.
    Thirty years parents and campaigners representing this minority community have been swept aside for the lack of the essential bells and whistles the elite commentator seeks to employ to further their careers amongst their peers. This is arrogant self interested tosh.
    The only speech I am interested in is the passing of essential legislation concerning DisabilityCare for the very young facing a life excluded as an inconvenient minority. And quite obviously there is absolutely a hope in hell the elite will stir their mighty pen with any regard the interests of them to secure this legislation. To hell the lot of you….

  24. Chips

    Wow, this article has really brought out the crazies…

  25. cannedheat

    Guy, think you are correct but what you highlight is the bloodless intellectual vacuum of modern professional management, indeed middle management. Careerism has replaced every other ism in politics, and not just in Australia.

  26. Damien

    Great analysis. Why is it that, periodically over the last 100 or so years, the Labor Party self-immolated (like a Hindu goddess) when the conservative side does not?

    BTW Rerum Novarum was an encyclical, even though Leo referred to it as a letter in the text.

  27. Damien

    Why is this comment in moderation?

  28. Achmed

    Cannedheat – I agree. We have career politicians. Gone are the days when a person “sacrificed” a career to take on being a politician for the good of the community.

    We no longer have the statesmen and visionaries

  29. Bill Parker

    Does it matter two hoots which collection of suits (her included) runs the joint? They obey the instructions of the corporations anyway.

  30. beachcomber

    You are over-analysing.

    The main problem with the Rudd and Gillard Governments is that they no-one capable of selling a message. The Government is full of Lawyers, Union Officials and Political Staffers. All used to arguing a point long and loud, and thrilled at their capacity to say in 300 words what others would say in 3.

    Up against Tony “stop the boats” “scrap the tax” Abbott, a journalist with a sound bite for a brain.

    And up against a mainstream media determined to misrepresent every fact to suit their own agenda.

    Compound that with a need to get all legislation accepted by a group of ex-Nationals, an Ex-Democrat, the Greens and Main Party Rejects, and Senator Single Issue, and the ability to steer a clear and consistent course is impossible.

    Despite all this, Australia is in a far better place than it was under Howard. Our economy is the wonder of the World. We have joined international action on Climate Change. We are investing in Education instead of giving handouts to the rich. We are empowering the disabled.

    But no-one seems capable of selling the message.

    The media fascination with Abbott seems set to ensure he sails into power as the least capable of any leader since Billy McMahon.

  31. wbddrss

    “Guy, think you are correct but what you highlight is the bloodless intellectual vacuum of modern professional management, indeed middle management. Careerism has replaced every other ism in politics, and not just in Australia.”

    Totally , agree, nothing further to add to this point. If u don’t have those skills you just don’t progress in this society. Sad indeed, very sad

  32. AR

    The Left once believed in the possibility of the improvement of the material conditions of the majority of the population (wage earners) and that the WEAs would furnish their minds in the new found spare time.
    The Right is terrified that this is true.

  33. Axcellence

    The biggest wrong that Labor did was get ambitious. Too many goals and too many enemies, eg mining, news ltd, pokies, ciggies, liquor, NIMBYs, etc.

    They could have won the next election just by keeping their head down a bit.

  34. Elvis

    cannedheat and Achmed – I suggest you’ll find a worthy exception to your career politician generalisation in Christine Milne. She was a career teacher and mother and was drawn in to politics somewhat reluctantly mid-career by genuine concern for the environment. She comes with real life experience and perspective. Regardless of whether one agrees with her or likes her, I suggest she deserves more attention in the national debate.

  35. Robert Murphy

    “Instead it chose to be the party that imposes discipline — economic discipline, social discipline, behavioural discipline — without reward.”

    I think this is the key to what has gone wrong.

    Labor has turned itself into the “punishment party”.

    – Jobless? You need to be punished.
    – Earn more than $150k? You need to be punished.
    – Single mother? You need to be punished.
    – Trying to escape the chaos in Afghanistan? Punishment.
    – Smoke? Punishment.
    – Aboriginal? Punishment.
    – Drink “Alcopops”? Punishment.
    – Use electricity? Punishment.
    – Want more health services or roads or schools? No, that’s irresponsible. You need the punishment of a budget surplus.

    Sure, they’ve spread the punishment pretty widely, but they’ve managed to annoy almost everyone in the country, to the point where a majority will vote for Abbott just to make it stop.

  36. Robert Murphy

    Put another way, the Labor party when in government acts like an abusive parent. And we ungrateful childred in the electorate will not tolerate that at all.

  37. klewso

    Damien “Howard (Fraser’s Treasurer) and Peacock – playing with hubris & matches”?

  38. Hunt Ian

    Robert Murphy has put his finger on what MSM exploit to get people annoyed. The basis of this annoyance goes far deeper than the points Rundle makes, which go close to the problem but manage to skate over. Putting aside MSM, whose propaganda is one of the main drivers for a change to an “austerity” government, the problem with Labor is that they have adopted the strategy of fitting in with the basic assumptions of the restoration of inequality over the last thirty years but believe, contrary to all the evidence, that they can squeeze out reforms to make the future better.
    Rundle is absolutely right to point to the crimped lives that people see, despite the relative prosperity in Australia, which has largely escaped the GFC. The low taxes mantra has been the framework because this is supposed to be the magical key to an efficient economy. It has been attractive to the owners of MSM because income has been shifted to profits in an unprecedented way. Even the US has managed to continue the shift to profits as it struggles out of the GFC. The downside of it is the “punishment” Robert Murphy refers to, against those who want “more health services or roads or schools” but get silly promises of a surplus. This low tax straightjacket applies even when there is no demand for a surplus. It leaves cities without key infrastructure projects, or ones funded through distorting “Public Private Partnerships.”
    It applies to the dismantling of unions and is the basis of the corruption that is emerging in our unions as conditions become more like those in the US.
    It is the dead hand of what used to be called “economic rationalism” but is hardly ever talked about today. True, governments should keep a close watch on their money, but the low taxes assumption deprives people of needed infrastructure, which is most obvious in Sydney.
    The light on the hill is greater equality of opportunity but, because of the power of MSM and the low taxes assumption, we get the curious look of the Labor Party that it leaves untouched the crimped circumstances of people’s lives in the present and promises a better future for people’s children. Its promise of greater equality of opportunity has seen it manage a system that has produced more inequality of opportunity, stemming from the greater inequality in society produced by the low taxes assumption: radically less equal incomes, less effective health care, and the better off increasingly going to private schools.
    As for the right wing loonies in the ALP ( I know he raves about Hayek but is Mark Costa really still a member of the ALP?) and the old strategists who want to extract good fortune for workers out of good fortune for capital, Rundle documents well their confusing whirl and the dust they kick up to hide the light on the hill.

  39. wally atkinson

    Were things better in the past? As a Great grandfather some things were others not so. My grandmother lamented “two-bob millionaires” helping the Tory vote. It was about greed but compared to today it was minimal. Now everyone’s a two-bobber.

  40. bruce prior

    They are so far removed from their constituency that they will need a focus group to tell them what people aspire to. They cannot hear us any other way!!

  41. rob Atkinson

    Dad. Not all of us are two-bobbers, and despite the rhetoric,
    the true heart of the Labor movement lives on. Perhaps a
    breakaway idealist movement with old values and name change is required. A good PR manager would be handy too.

  42. Australia Sex Party supporter

    A smart centrist political party tends to try take a few issues on at a time. This government feels like it is trying to take everything at once. It was funny to see Wayne Swan take on the Monarchy. I mean you have already waging a multi front war against the mining industry, the media, and countless others but lets get in a fight with the monarchists as well.


    Don’t be shy Guy, tell us what you really think of Labor.

  44. pritu

    rob Atkinson. That true heart now resides in the Greens. I was once a Labor member. Beasley’s operation on Telstra was my wake up moment. A party that wants to be only half pregnant is doomed.

  45. Achmed

    After stating they will do away with the “income” of the Carbon Price and MRRT while still somehow being able to keep the tax cuts and compensation financed by this income streams – the Liberals are now saying they will still fund the superannuation increase to 12%.

    The Libs keep talking about reducing income but still funding the outgoing.

  46. Australian Sex Party supporter

    The truth is that the Greens economic model is totally unrealistic and out of touch with any sense of economic reality, and this is coming from a social democrat. They also seem less concerned about the fate of lower income families, and more concerned about pumping millions of dollars into renewable energy, even when the projects are fundamentally flawed.

  47. Soph

    I could have enjoyed this article a great deal more without its jab at same sex marriage (putting it in the same category as nudge theory, no less). Political wonks love to dismiss the merits of same-sex marriage as policy, seeing it as just a bit of leftist showmanship that we gay people don’t “really” care about. Those parties that do push it are pandering, it’s not a pressing civil rights issue but a bit of window-dressing, and so on.

    As Guy’s article otherwise was pretty hard on politicians whose theories have no experiential basis, let me throw some more in:

    Until you’ve lived in a long-term homosexual relationship in which legally your commitment can only be a seperate and federally tenuous civil union, you’ve no idea how important same-sex marraige can be.

    Until you’ve seen a transgender person forced to file divorce papers alongside their sex change papers, because it’s illegal for their transition to cause them to end up in a same-sex marriage, you’ve no idea how traumatic the illegality of same-sex marriage can be.

    Until you’ve seen countries across the world one-by-one accept same sex marriage, all the while your own country’s government continues to deny you the opportunity and to play down its importance, you’ve no idea how disillusioning the refusal of same-sex marriage can be.

    Until you’ve seen the Prime Minister continually take the moral high-ground on issues from women’s rights to asylum seekers, without even bothering to articulate her moral opposition to your right to marriage, you’ve no idea just how much this supposedly trivial political issue can damage your faith in this country’s leadership.

    So tell us… did you really mean to imply that same sex marriage is as politically vacant as nudge theory? Were you determined to be so scathing of the ALP that you couldn’t even commend their half-baked endorsement of a world civil rights movement, and instead had to sneeringly depict it as just another uninspired political move?

  48. Hunt Ian

    Oh yes. But I do not blame Labor or Julia Gillard for the lack of same sex marriage, which is a perfectly obvious change for the better. Parliament is to blame, as it is a change that should be put through without party discipline. The problem is that Abbott gets away with imposing party discipline in a party that does not officially insist on it. But Guy seems critical of other perfectly good changes, like moving to plain packaging for cigarettes. Nor does Guy observe that the Right of the Labor Party, as he represents it, differs from the Coalition only in the tiniest details. It is surely a bit broad brush to suggest that the Right of the ALP is best represented by Michael Costa. The Australian Treasury observes that our level of taxation is now higher only than the US, Korea, Chile and Mexico in the OECD. Labor will continue to have pain for so long as it believes that it can squeeze out a better health and education system, and deal with the long neglected infrastructure of cities, highlighted in Sydney, from such a small tax base.

  49. Hunt Ian

    Low taxes do not make an economy more efficient, as abstract economic theory would suggest, if only it applied to the real world. Where in the OECD should the ALP aim to be? 40% of GDP would free us from the straightjacket that leaves rusting bridges all over the US and leaves Sydney without a mass electric rail system, like the one Vienna has, made possible by Austria’s tax level of 43% of GDP.
    Would we be less efficient because we move further away from some other worldly ideal of zero per cent GDP, Robert Nozick’s “minimal state”, or Hayek’s state, where we let the market rip with only a minimal safety net to prevent social disorder? Germany is the most efficient economy in Europe with tax at 36% of GDP, even though it is the fourth biggest economy in the world. 26% of GDP of taxes, which includes the states, is the problem Guy, the rest are symptoms of it.

  50. shepherdmarilyn

    Actually GF, that is absolute crap. She had been angling for the job since early 2009 and according to others that can be bothered telling the truth undermining Rudd every day.

  51. Guy Rundle

    same-sex marriage may be important to GL people Soph – though not all of them – and symbolically important to a cultural left. But it directly affects only 2-3% of the population, so it’s hardly the basis for a mass politics. I’m simply interested in what will create a better life for the 60-70% of middle australians (including of course many GL people), that could form the basis of a mass progressive politics. The problem is that samne-sex marriage has become a symbolic cause in the absence of a real politics around mass change.

  52. Australian Sex Party supporter

    Surely more then 2-3% of the population is gay. But I do agree with you that the Labor Party seems more or less devoid of ideas or the will to pursue them.

  53. tonyfunnywalker

    Gees Guy what a load of bullshit. Always look on the bright side of life > Its the life of Brian.

  54. Petronius

    It is a shame Labor does not take more of it clues from the Scandinavian social democratic states rather than shopping around in the USA for managerialist free market mass society corporatist solutions. For instance can you image the Northern European SD states outsourcing their state schools to the Catholic church? or providing pin money to rich private schools? Nor would they stoke up their economies by importing masses of disparate people from overseas irrespective of the impact upon social amenity or social cohesion generally. A small quiet clever and cohesive society is much better and easier in the long run.

  55. Roy Inglis

    What’s with the fixation on plain packaging? I asked the local cigi seller about plain packaging & no display of packs and he said sales were down by 2/3rds. It’s the best long term health improving and future health cost reduction any federal government has done for a long time. It’s the sort of systemic policy setting that Guy wants for inflated house prices and global warming. Methinks Guy’s personal prejudices are on display re cigies. If cigies, how much more of his article?

  56. Karress Rhodes

    very ego centric… written mainly as an attempt to win complements on being “Clever” for the author than anything else…ho hum.

    Never before have so many been so prone to media propoganda without ever realising it.

  57. ben host

    You forgot “International Embarrassment” which I think was the title bestowed by some Western Australian identity.

  58. macca

    Thanks Guy ….good stuff, but the alternative is similarly depressing.

  59. Mike Flanagan

    Guy; Thanks for your foregoing, but I feel you r use of Fukuyama and Graham Richardson as sources and influential players in the discourse needs to be questioned.
    Fukuyama builds his thesis and postulations on the acceptance that “trust” is both endemic and profoundly evident in our economic practices and markets.
    The parallel exponential growth in Law firms to the growth of the markets’ influence in the past twenty or so years, on the body politic, is indicative of mistrust not trust.
    The libraries of certified documents associated with M or A’s do not imply ‘trust’ in the market, or elsewhere, rather , it implies a determined mistrust underlies many of our constructed social and economic practices.
    Many of our laws such as property rights, Sale of goods acts, etc, etc, are to quarantine the manifestation of this mistrust and give recourse to offended parties to activities of counter parties.
    It is my contention that Fukuyama’s use of ‘trust’ as a fundamental in our every day experiences, is flawed and hence much of his postulation is a ‘straw man’.
    Not unlike Fukuyama, Richardson is nothing more than a PR driven pawn and product. They both serve similar masters. Today he still lives on his only claim to fame, the preservation of Hawkies political bacon with a million trees. Most of which didn’t get planted.
    The depth and quality of Richardson’s contributions must be viewed and valued according to his associates, every bloody spiv and street corner tout that adorns the metropolitan areas of the eastern seaboard.
    No, I suggest both of these people are part of the reasons for the malaise we witness in the operations of democratic governments throughout the world .
    Until, we re-discover that democratic politics is a contest of ideas, not a juvenile PR machine driven celebrity contest, that sells advertising space and mediums, the political parties will persist in bowing to the demands of a myopic servant of this PR machine, the media

  60. Dogs breakfast

    Shooting fish in a barrel there Guy, I imagine you would have struggled to keep this ‘What’s wrong with the modern day Labor Party’ to less than a thousand volumes.

    Can’t disagree with any of it. At the centre of your piece is the kernel of the problem, they basically have no ideas left. They, through Keating and Hawke, won many of the old battles and can’t work out where the new battles are. Apparently ‘good public policy, for all, devoid of ideology’ is too hard a concept for them to capture. There is no analytical heft there.

    Canned Heat at 25 nails it, the malaise of the Labor Party is the malaise of modern management, feckless, humourless, useless, self-aggrandising, entirely without any self-awareness and lacking any analytical nous. Couldn’t agree more with your comment CH.

    Ms Shepherd, love your words, as usual.

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