Today Julia Gillard, arguably Australia’s most divisive Prime Minister, announced her vision of a refreshed and reformed Labor Party.
Visions are wonderful things, right up there alongside motherhood statements and that overused rhetorical term, ‘reform’. Most of what Gillard had to say came directly from the Faulkner-Carr-Bracks inquiry into Labor’s 2010 election performance. The ideas of online memberships, further embracing of internet-based engagement with the populace and American-style primaries to decide nominees for electoral contests were mentioned. Whether such strategies will have any traction with true believers, or indeed, whether the conference is going to be prepared to take these ideas on board, are complete unknowns.
The party has to do something to re-invent itself for the current age, or it risks descent into complete irrelevance. Today’s Labor Party is not the Labor Party I grew up with and believing in. It’s not the party which once delivered the greatest good for the greatest number. It’s also no longer a recognisable party of the centre-left. The rise of ardent conservatism which began under Howard, with the socially destructive re-writing of history, and ignorance of true Australian culture, egalitarianism and the ‘fair go’ has changed the Australian ethos. We are now, generally, a nation of frightened, tremulous children only too willing to continue to be frightened because somehow, we’ve become used to that paradigm.
Political engagement via the internet already exists, but it’s only one-way. From those of us so inclined, to the politicians. There is very little, if any, genuine feedback from political parties and their memberships back to the blogosphere or twittersphere. There seems to be only engagement between the political executive and main stream media in this country, and it’s angst-filled engagement. Certainly not anyhing which could be said to be constructive.
Modern Labor is a victim of its own inability to grasp nettles, make big decisions and explain those decisions to those of us who want to know the whys, hows and wherefores. In attempting to out-right the right, Labor has lost what Gillard likes to claim it is. The Party of the “greatest moral challenge of our time”, FairWork Australia, Mining Resources Rent Tax, Asylum Seekers and a slew of other initiatives which it has either lost faith with the electorate on, or allowed to be watered down as a salve to the toothless challenges from conservatism.
Most damningly, Labor has become the party of the same fear & loathing which is conservatism’s stock in trade. Kevin Rudd categorically ruled out a lurch to the right on Asylum Seekers, as an example. He bulldozed ahead against a greedy and mainly foreign-owned mining lobby on the MRRT and admits in hindsight, his abandonment of the ETS because some nervous nellies within the party told him he should, was wrong. Labor has caught the same disease that much of the electorate suffers from. “let’s not doing anything in case it backfires” Reform does not come from that route. The greatest good for the greatest number doesn’t live down that road. The proud and courageous Australia acts decisively, for the benefit of all and doesn’t listen to nay-sayers. The most telling evidence of the devolution in Labor today is the over-throwing of a sitting Prime Minister in the first term of having overwhelmingly taken office from a tired and strife-riven conservative opposition. Labor just wasn’t ready. Rudd was, and very, very few other party personalities, but the movement as a whole wasn’t. That the party generally hated, and still hates Rudd and his personal style is well known, but the party failed to ensure that communications between the individual and the cause remained open. Rudd didn’t fail. The party failed him.
In my view, the Australian Labor Party has much, much more to do besides changing nomination protocols and adopting more online presences. It needs to challenge itself and forget about challenging it’s opposites. To the believers, of which I am one, the opposites don’t matter. Only the party and the cause matter. Egalitarianism matters, the fair go matters, social democracy matters. Examine your navel a little more closely, ALP. It’s still full of someone elses ideological lint.