Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Labor, not the media, responsible for party woes

The rock solid Labor supporters will all be blaming the press for the hyper activity last weekend over Labor's leadership.

This week's delusion is that Monday's poll shows that Julia Gillard is doing better than some had thought and if only Labor MPs would stop talking about the issue then it would all go away.

We regularly had the same thoughts in the Howard-Peacock years. And sometimes the issues would subside for a while, but they always came back. Arguably we lost the 1987 and 1990 elections through a mixture of internal division and the wrong leader. There is a good case to say that we lost the 1993 election because we had the wrong leader with the right ideas, but not the political savvy to get into office.

History shows we got back in 1996 because we finally elected the right leader. It is not easy to find a good leader. In Australian politics once you have a good one, they tend to stay a while e.g. Hawke and then Howard.

The right leader is the one who has the experience, the balance between pragmatism and policy ideals, the sense of direction and the ability to engender some unity out of the rabble. Kevin Rudd was not a good leader. By my definition, anybody who loses the prime ministership in their first term clearly has not got what it takes to be PM. Julia Gillard has some good qualities that got her into the job, but it is obvious she does not have what it takes to be successful. On the carbon tax and Wilkie she has left the Australian public with no choice but to conclude that you cannot trust what she says.

Annoying and trivial as the press can be, the reason they are after Julia Gillard is because they can smell blood in the water.

They talk about Kevin Rudd because he invites them to do so. Labor might go back to Rudd but why? I doubt he has changed that much especially given the way he has been stalking Gillard. If he has not really changed and if he is motivated by revenge, which seems likely, then putting him back would lead to another disaster.

Labor's problem is that the unions swapped Rudd for Gillard, but she is no better. Neither of them have a compass to chart their course. They're both nominally social democrats.

Read the speech drafted for Gillard last week. For Tony Abbott, all he had to do was write his own speech and he was already ahead. Except for a funding scheme for TAFE students, Gillard's speech was more like a script for West Wing than a vision for Australia in 2012. The rest of it was waffle and it finished with waffle.

We will build a new Australian economy.

We will get the country ready for the future.

We will see our nation stick together.

We will see our nation win through.

Gillard said Rudd had lost his way but actually her speech demonstrates she is, at best, a social democrat living in a vacuum.

Rudd, the social democrat, in February 2009, poured scorn on neo-liberalism and then says that the practices of democratic socialism are the answer.

The time has come, off the back of the current crisis, to proclaim that the great neo-liberal experiment of the past 30 years has failed… And, ironically, it now falls to social democracy to prevent liberal capitalism from cannibalising itself.

He spoke too soon; three years later the big problems are most obvious in Europe where the economic policy failures of democratic socialist governments have brought the entire eurozone to near collapse. The Europeans are struggling to save themselves let alone anyone else.

Kevin Rudd must find it embarrassing to reread his statement.

The challenge for social democrats today is to recast the role of the state and its associated political economy of social democracy as a comprehensive philosophical framework for the future...

The contrast between the competing political traditions within Australia on the role of governments and the market is clear. Labor, in the international tradition of social democracy, consistently argues for a central role for government in the regulation of markets and the provision of public goods.

Certainly inadequate regulation of the capitalist system was a major factor in the GFC, but the lack of productivity and rigid labour markets under Rudd's preferred system have exposed why Europe has not had the resilience to work their way out of the massive debts that threaten to bring down the eurozone.

The Gillard Government is full of waffle, directionless but still clinging to democratic socialism with its signature programs characterised by massive spending, burgeoning debt, the introduction of the mining tax and the establishment of a massive new government-owned broadband supplier.

It's no wonder that Labor is in trouble.

Labor today is not as forward-looking as Labor in the 1990s. Whereas in the 1990s some Labor people denounced social democratic philosophy, you never hear such comments today.

You never hear the sort of remarks made by Bill Hayden in an article in the Australian on September 5, 1995. Bill Hayden was well-respected, partly because when he got his chance to be treasurer in the dying days of the chaotic Whitlam government, he brought down an economically responsible budget. It was the only half-decent budget in the Whitlam years.

In his article he says;

I was deeply committed to a faith in democratic socialism. I believed big government was good for people, the bigger the better. I believed that competition was wasteful and destructive of human dignity, and so on.

I progressively discovered that we politicians – irrespective of our party labels -were not all that good at administering business enterprises. That instead of risking other peoples scarce capital in such things it was better to adopt a 'no lose' position; let the private investors take the risk.

The evidence justifying greater competition is overwhelming. For instance, we now enjoy cheaper and better telecommunications services and air travel. Air fares were 26% lower in real terms in 1995 than five years earlier.

These were not the products of some well-intentioned government, but rather the result of government making room for more competition and choice to determine outcomes and thereby to allow more freedom in the community.

If socialism is ideologically about extensive government enterprise and a large level of government spending, which it is, then I ceased being a democratic socialist long ago.

Seventeen years later Bill Hayden's comments are still relevant. Compared to Kevin Rudd, clinging to social democracy, and the vacuum of Julia Gillard, Bill Hayden was a leader who knew what he stood for and was a lot closer to the values of Australian voters than Gillard or Rudd.

No wonder the press gallery can sense the instability in Labor's ranks. Yes, the press exaggerate, they sometimes tell porkies and worse still they do it just to make a profit. But, as long as that political uncertainty of purpose and direction remains, the press will report every last snippet of internal Labor conflict and fill the front pages of our papers with scurrilous tales of leadership ambition.

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