CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Voters abandon directionless Labor
, November 13, 2010
The fact that Labor's primary vote has sunk to 33 per cent in the wake of the August 2010 election, and of Julia Gillard's subsequent historic pact with the Greens, suggests a subterranean shift in voter judgment on the party.
Years of ideological vacuum combined with cynical spin and opportunism and the gradual takeover of Labor by apparatchiks and staffers with no real-life experience outside politics, have combined to strangle the soul of the party.
Voters are starting to realise that the only thing Labor believes in is the acquisition of power and a determination to keep it at all costs.
Labor's vote is being eaten away by disenchantment with its performance and policies on one side and by a drift in the younger vote towards the Greens on the other, while middle Australia is growing increasingly concerned that the country has lost its way.
Ms Gillard's strategy of turning Labor into an "anti-Tony Abbott party" will not suffice, nor will hitching its stars to Greens-inspired policies of "saving the nation's environment" by destroying its agricultural heartland or by ratcheting up electricity prices for the greater goal of "saving the planet".
Labor's problems are in part due to downright incompetence over the past three years and its pre-occupation with the 24-hour news cycle rather than concentrating on good government. As more stories emerge about the inner workings of the former Rudd Government, it is becoming self-evident that it was an extremely dysfunctional, panic-driven and messy administration.
The Gang of Four (Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan, Ms Gillard and Lindsay Tanner) has now been reduced to a Gang of Three after revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald
that Finance Minister Tanner was squeezed out of key decisions and brought into "mock" Budget meetings to dupe him into thinking he was still in the loop. According to the SMH
, Mr Tanner only learnt about key decisions after being told about them later by his department.
And Labor is now crippled in much of its decision-making because of fears of a repeat of the pink batts debacle or the school halls fiasco.
But there is a deeper malaise eating into the party, and no obvious answer on how to remedy it.The Australian
's editor-at-large Paul Kelly recently discussed Rodney Cavalier's important new book, Power Crisis: The Self-Destruction of a State Labor Party
, and quoted the Labor godfather who launched it, Senator John Faulkner, who admitted his party was perceived as being "very long on cunning but very short on courage".
Kelly wrote: "Faulkner admits that Labor's defects are serious and fundamental. At a time when Labor ministers, state or federal, are unable to even mention in public the identity and institutional crisis afflicting Labor, Faulk-ner's comments are a crack of reality in the ocean of delusion that constitutes Australia's political discussion. ...
"Cavalier and Mark Latham are opposites in many ways, yet Cavalier has penned the most damning internal ALP critique since The Latham Diaries
Senator Faulkner himself said: "According to the author, the modern ALP is unrepresentative of its membership, values-free and unsure of its future direction. In this book he [Cavalier] focuses on what has come to be called in the media the 'NSW disease'; the churn and burn of political leaders, the perceived short-term focus on polling and the relentless tactical battle for day-by-day advantage in the media and the endless, constant, politics of spin."
Faulkner added an appeal of his own: "We are struggling with the perception we are wholly and solely driven by polling and focus groups. For the Labor Party, steeling our spine and showing real courage, not just cunning, is the challenge that lies before us."
Kelly summed up the book by saying: "Cavalier's conclusion is that 'in the absence of an ideology, gesture politics has become all important to those wearing the label of Left'. Yes, gesture politics can invest the Left with wider public appeal. But the ideological vacuum within the traditional Left is being rapidly filled by the Greens. It is the Greens who possess the strongest, clearest, most universal ideological position that converts into general principles to underpin public policy and mobilise voters."
Ms Gillard's latest ploy is letting it be known she has decided she does not want to appear "too prime ministerial" because this will get her off-side with voters who may think she is "up herself".
Again, this shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Australian people, who are harsh on their political representatives, but who also demand leadership and strength from them. Arrogance, in varying degrees, was present in the personalities of Menzies, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating, Howard and Rudd.
Paul Keating almost took pride in is his braggadocio, but was ultimately brought down by losing touch with voters with his extravagant "big picture" policies, including the Republic, treaties with Indonesia and recessions which we supposedly had to be have.
And it was not the "appearance" of being arrogant, but misjudgements, which ultimately brought down Howard (arguably the least arrogant of the leaders listed). He ignored all the warnings against Americanising the industrial landscape. In doing so, he overturned 100 years of social compact and turned his back on his self-created battlers in the process.
Ms Gillard appears to have no clear policy ideas, no ideology, and no vision for the country. She has handcuffed herself to the Greens for the duration of her prime ministership. The Labor left is becoming more and more disenchanted, and the Australian people appear to be walking away in droves.