The Problem With Labour

One thing I’ve never understood is why the Australian “Labor” Party is spelt thus, when every other Labour party in the world is presented as a “Labour Party.” Still, despite the iffy spelling, Australian “Labor” shares some less-than-flattering characteristics with its cousins abroad.

Tonight I want to do things a little differently; I ask my readers to read an excellent opinion piece from Britain’s Telegraph, which in itself is an analysis of the problems within the British Labour Party.

It won’t matter if the names of British public figures are unfamiliar; it doesn’t matter if the place names are unfamiliar to those who have not visited the UK. The upshot of the article will be abundantly clear, and the reason why I think it relevant in terms of a discussion of our own polity will become immediately clear.

Please read this¬†and then we’ll talk about it…

Far, far removed from the now-daily leadership squabbles between Julia Gillard and all other comers, far away from carbon taxes and other similar red herrings, the ALP has changed, and in so doing has become a shell of its former self.

For starters, substitute “Ed Miliband” — leader of the British Labour Party — for “Julia Gillard” and the parallels begin to become apparent.

And for an Australian equivalent of “activists, super-organisation and hard-core adherents,” read the NSW Right, the Sussex Street tactics of the NSW ALP specifically and the infection they have spread across the ALP nationally, and the trenchant union apparatchik base that now constitutes so much of Labor’s parliamentary presence.

To say nothing of its political agenda.

This post tonight is more to stimulate discussion than it is to lead it; my view is that “labour” parties the Western world over are all traversing the same, introspective, self-obsessed and insiderish slippery slope that is completely disconnected from their constituents, the wider electorates in which they stand, or from reality in general.

Let’s be frank: the type of governments we have in Australia — in tandem with our electoral systems — generally only lose government when they have committed some fatal cardinal sin.

Even the Howard government is not immune from this analysis; had “WorkChoices” been a little less doctrinaire, and had the Liberal leadership passed to Peter Costello in good time prior to the 2007 election, the Liberal Party would probably still be in office today.

But as it stands, the ALP is now falling out of government everywhere there is an election: it almost happened federally last year and will certainly happen when next there is a federal election.

It has already happened at state level in NSW and Victoria; in Queensland and WA and the NT in 2012, it’s simply a question of how much Labor loses by, and not whether it loses or not.

Yet this is not a phenomenon unique to Australian Labor.

In Canada this year, the parties of the mainstream Left was decimated; to be fair, the so-called New Democratic Party recorded huge gains at the expense of the traditional party of Canada’s Left — the Liberals — yet the Left overall lost a lot of ground, and a two-term minority Conservative government was re-elected with a healthy majority.

In Britain, Labour was ejected from office on its lowest vote in 25 years last year; yes, it has periodically led British opinion polls in the months since, but for no other reason than a short-term response to the Conservative Party undertaking the painful but crucial process of undoing 13 years of Blair/Brown mismanagement and waste.

Across Europe, left-wing parties have fared badly at elections in the past few years; even in France and Germany, where centre-right governments are currently experiencing mid-term unpopularity in the face of continuing economic tumult, there is no guarantee (or even a likelihood) that the Left — again, the local Labour parties — stand any chance of winning.

And in the USA, the Democratic Party (read, Labour Party) and its once-shiny pin-up boy, Barack Obama — stare down the barrel of ignominious defeat and the humiliation of a one-term Presidency barely three years after the historic triumph of 2008.

In all of these cases, the same insiderish, apparatchik-driven machine mentality exists.

These parties — with occasional historical exceptions — were once a by-word for unprofessionalism, dogma, lack of intellectual rigour, policy sloppiness, and, by and large, unreconstructed socialism.

Everyone knows the lesson was learned; names such as Jean Chretien, Gerhardt Schroeder, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and even Bob Hawke and Paul Keating are illustration enough that the mainstream Left learnt its lessons and became professional political outfits across the world.

But the circle has now completed. It’s possible to be too professional in politics. The mainstream Left does not need a steady feed of unionists, academics, political staffers and classroom teachers to fill its ranks — such a base is too narrow, and leads to the insiderish, us-and-them mentality I’m talking about.

Still, that’s how the land lies these days. I think the Left across the democratic world is paying the price. But rather than recognise the problem and broaden its bases, the insiders will move further inside, and the barrier between those who are one with them and those who aren’t will be continue to be elevated ever, ever so much higher.

As I said at the outset, this post was intended more to stimulate discussion than to lead it, so it’s over to those who want to put their opinions to their keyboards.

What do you think?