Per the weekend Newspoll, national affection for Bill Shorten hovers somewhere just south of Morris dancing. Commentators have offered two chief explanations for a survey conducted late last week. The first rationale for the crash was the Prime Minister’s butch declaration that he would commission, ooh, a feasibility study. The second was Sally McManus.
This is how the analysis goes: Turnbull had a moment of seeming visionary and statesmanlike, the Opposition Leader one of powerless myopia. While the PM appeared to look to the future, Shorten felt the need to blind himself to his party’s past. On the face of it, these assessments are correct. But, when we consider Shorten’s loss and Turnbull’s gain beyond the context of a poll, they may hint at something bigger. In terms of delivering consistent policy, major Western parties have become every bit as stable as my IKEA flatpack desk.
As G Rundle offered in Crikey last week, WTF, Malcolm. Here was Elon Musk naked in a bow offering himself up to the Prime Minister as the sexy antidote to all the grid’s libido problems. Turnbull, so fond of the empty language of Silicon Valley and so sure of the infinite capacity of capitalism to innovate its way out of its own mess, shunned the Tesla guy in favour of a retro-statist solution. He was offered Adam Smith’s purest Viagra. He chose sexless Keynesianism instead.
Meanwhile, Shorten managed to confirm all of the Prime Minister’s worst charges of working-class duplicity. When he distanced himself from McManus’ perfectly reasonable statement that the law had become unreasonable for workers, he appeared, as Turnbull has claimed, like a rich man in a poor man’s shirt. If there ever was a time for Labor to remember the origin of its name, it’s right now. The median Australian wage is at $50K, there is a crisis of housing affordability and no reason at all to keep believing that Keating’s move to a market-friendly regime is a workable model for the present. Underemployment is a problem so vast, even the confident liberals of our central bank concede that they may need to consider it a factor. Still, Shorten continues to make like an under-done Blairite, equally under-committed to the everyday needs of workers and the quarterly confidence of bosses.
Turnbull gained approval in rejecting foreign ownership of our energy supply. Shorten lost it in chiding a protector of dignity in labour. Who knows? Next week, Peter Dutton may claim, like the execrable Steve Bannon, that he is a Leninist.
A man just a few SS artefacts short of a putsch can now call for the withering of the state. Marine Le Pen can offer a suite of economic policies quite far to the left of those proposed by France’s putative socialists. Donald Trump was, save for Bernie Sanders, the only presidential candidate in decades to publicly utter the term “working class”. Where it has no meaningful opposition, the right has effectively appropriated the language of the left.
While the right in many Western nations publicly concedes the failure of market-friendly policies, with every intention of privately upholding them, the establishment “left” has managed to forget what it opposes. It remembers only that it doesn’t like the right. So, the reasoning seems to go, if the right is now apparently Occupying Wall St, then the true defenders of the faith must be Wall St. Nowhere can this perverse logic be seen more clearly than in the past weekend’s “leftist” championing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leader whose mania for surplus helped ensured the destitution of the Greek people.
Whether Trump shook Merkel’s hand or rejected it, he remains just as committed to unsustainable market-friendly policy as the Chancellor. Trump, and many of the other Trumpists rising to power in the West, serve largely to obfuscate the maintenance of a now 40-year-old regime. But so does the establishment “left”. The chief disagreement between the two sides is about the ugliness of the language used to conceal the policy. Of course, the language of Trump, Le Pen, Hanson, Wilders et al is obscene, not without consequences and I would prefer it not be spoken. But with no true declaration made of the true solution to now critical wealth inequality, this ugliness is, regrettably, inevitable.
If Shorten is to have any hope in any future poll at all, he might do well to listen to some of Turnbull’s theatrical parliamentary charges. Quit appeasing workers with your occasional reflex sentiment and start meaningfully addressing their needs.