STRAWS IN THE WIND: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Rank and bile membership / ALP middle class
, September 20, 2003
Rank and bile membership
As the Federal ALP continues thrashing around looking for a leader, and a few policies upon which they can agree, the "grassroots" party members are preparing for the National Conference which is planned for later in the year. There are, officially, 50,000 ALP members - about the same as the Port Adelaide Football Club according to ex-Labor Senator Chris Schacht.
However, if one were to eliminate nationwide branch-stacking, such as in Victoria where 2,000 ethnic members are in limbo while the state branch and federal executive argue over their validity ... then one would get an ALP membership that was, quite possibly, much smaller. Perhaps a large basketball association.Membership
These members are going to exercise their newly-conferred power of electing the party President; so we could be in for a barrel of laughs. Were membership requirements diluted just a little further to, say, the procedures whereby masses of Turks, Albanians, Vietnamese joined Victorian branches - I can imagine Germaine Greer or Andrew Wilkie taking the coveted post. Bob Brown must be kicking himself - thinking, "I'm in the wrong party". And he'd be right, you know. He is.
But if the new President turned out to be a wild card, sponsored by a hastily assembled coalition of party knuckleheads, viz, unrepresentative of no one in particular, then so is the party membership itself.
Virtually no one pitches up to a party conference or branch meeting unless he or she is on one or another of the party gravy trains, which run in and out of the governments' treasuries bringing out taxpayers' money in exchange for truckloads of pink and red horse feathers.
All the talk in conference and the party is, and will be, about money and power - lubricated with terms like outrage, pity, injustice, rights, equality and so on. Other men's flowers.
Basically this crowd mimic the collections of hangers-on you see pressing around presidential candidates in Colombia or Mexico or Congo - camp followers after hand-outs; or loot. So themselves are unrepresentative. What have they to do with the workers, the poor or the underprivileged, who were the historic base of the ALP?
Perhaps it is time to ask the same question of the ALP's voters as they stand now.
In the Sunday Herald Sun
(September 7) Lincoln Wright tells us how Parliamentary Library researchers, drawing on income tax records supplied to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found that in 1999-2000 47 per cent of all Federal Labor seats were middle income, while only 23 per cent of Coalition seats were. Only 20 per cent of low
income seats went to Labor - yet 43 per cent of Coalition seats were defined as low income.
A paper from the Parliamentary Library says, "The ALP's biggest representation is in middle income Australia where the highest concentration of outer metropolitan seats is also to be found."
Incidentally, two-thirds of low-income seats were in rural areas, and the Coalition held 80 per cent of these. Many are actually economically depressed.
Perhaps one of the slightly confusing things here is that this is a story about income, not wealth.
Many of the people on bigger incomes don't own a great deal - yet. Wealth tends to increase with age - at least until a certain age, and many of those on high incomes are youngish, paying off mortgages and still running large debts.
While many others, possibly older, own a lot on paper; money tied up in farms, houses, super, etc, but not generating considerable incomes.
But most middle income earners, still carrying considerable debt, will join the ranks of the asset wealthy within a shortish time, provided the economy continues working.
But what this adds up to is that Labor is not the workers' party, the voice of the poor and the downtrodden. If any parties are, they would have to be the Coalition parties.Misguided
Now this may
be true of the Nationals, but can hardly be said of the Liberals whose gaze has always seemed directed towards the rich end of town. And the Labor leadership is looking in the same direction, but trying to remember the radical patter of earlier days - but purely for public consumption.
Incidentally, this has also been the dilemma of the British Labour Party. When Blair bit the bullet, he won - after a drought of 18 years in opposition when Labour continued using the old slogans and threatening, if elected, to proceed along its time-honoured path. But, having won, Blair has suffered the backlash from his own party faithful ever since.
The ALP does not yet seem prepared to change its image, while courting Big Business all day and every day. Hence the periodic charges of Labor hypocrisy.
What we are not told is what Labor's middle-income earners do for a living, nor, for that matter, what the lower-income Coalition supporters do.
If it were the case that a significant number of Labor middle-income people worked for the State in one form or another, one would expect Labor to favour a bigger-and-bigger state presence, with more-and-more on the public payroll. And this is what they do favour.ALP middle class
The new Labor middle-class, aware of the economic gap opening up between them and so many others in the community, expect Labor to retain the fig leaves of radicalism, egalitarianism and caring for others.
These fig leaves are to deflect the charge that the New Class is kicking the ladder away from others in society, particularly parents, and that its party is pushing not egalitarianism, not fraternity, but is simply replacing the old middle class with a new Labor version. The rest being simply window-dressing.
The conservatives, I have suggested, are in a different bind: but a bind. Their leadership and cadres are focussed on the very rich and the disappearing old middle class; their capture by the economic rationalists means that they do not, and should not, favour their traditional supporters - small business, small farmers, nor Australian business against international corporations. Menzies, for example, did
What John Howard has offered instead has been a return to the patriotic ethic, the public-spirited ethic, a defence of traditional social and moral values, and of the family.
In Australia, this can only work for a few elections, and it only needs someone like Bob Carr to turn up embodying enough of the Howard social philosophy for many of the Liberal support base to move over to Labor. For they are not being served or heard. So Hansonism had appealed as a half-way house between the two until outlawed.
But speaking of Bob Carr: he keeps insisting that Sydney can take no more migrants and that the present national migrant intake is too large and should be cut from 116,000 to 80,000 per annum.Charade
This is heresy for the Government, the ALP and the Beautiful People. Yet Labor wants
him as its leader! Everyone pretends he hasn't said it, so he repeats it again and again. Interesting.
In Victoria, poor grandstanding Bracks says he wants more
of these migrants - Sydney's too if that can be arranged. Thereby, Melbourne could take another million people. More sports arenas. More high rise apartments. More freeways. Even a second casino?
If the Victorian Liberals were political animals, and not restrained by business elements who profit from mass migration, no matter who else suffers, then they would have an election winner - by simply riding on Carr's coat-tails.
For Bob Carr is tapping into the sleeping Hanson vote, and the anti-mass migration sentiments in New South Wales. But both main parties in Victoria have been captured by their migration lobbies, so, barring a revival of Hansonism, the matter will rest there.
Victoria's Liberals will have to win on other fronts.