May 19, 2019


Morrison's miracle: why the Australian Labor party suffered a crushing defeat (ADRIAN PABST, 5/19/19, New Statesman)

[I]t was in Queensland where the election was ultimately lost. The primary popular vote for the ALP was a paltry 26 per cent. After counting all the votes (Australia has a preferential voting system, where voters score candidates in order of preference), the swing to the Liberals ended Labor's hope of becoming the largest party and ultimately forming a government. A Labor activist summed up the mood in the party: "I have never drank so much and felt so sober".

There are some stark lessons for the ALP and other social-democratic parties in Western countries. The first and most important is that the centre-left cannot win without cultivating working class support. Rather than staking its platform on workers and their jobs, Labor instead defended a position on climate change that appeals largely to middle-class voters.

In Queensland, for example, the party's constructive ambiguity over the controversial Adani coalmine backfired. By attempting to be all things to all people, the party lost core working class voters. And what goes for rural seats in southern Queensland also applies to a host of suburban seats across the country.

Secondly, the centre-left needs a strong narrative that binds together economic and cultural concerns. Progressive themes such as climate change, equality and the inclusion of minorities are key in the battle against the Green Party and some independent candidates, but they do not deliver a popular or parliamentary majority. If it is to prevail against the Liberals, Labor also needs to speak to small-"c" conservative values of belonging to community and country.

This is even truer in the fight against the far-right populism of the One-Nation Party and the new United Australia Party led by Clive Palmer. Immediately after the results, Labor MPs and Senators have rushed to blame Palmer and his multi-million scare campaign for the party's defeat. But in reality the ALP lacked a strong story that connected with people's values - economic justice, but also social cohesion and stability in an age of upheaval.

Thirdly, Labor requires leadership that embodies the party's purpose of defending both the labour interest and the national interest. Bill Shorten, who took over in 2013, was more of a party fixer than popular leader, and could never quite shake off his image as a trade union official.

Anglospheric voters are conservative, which is why parties of the left win when they run as compassionate conservatives, not Progressives--Blair, Clinton, Obama, etc.--and why Donald's loss of the House was such a staggering achievement. 

Posted by at May 19, 2019 8:53 AM