Nov 242010

Wayne Swan says Labor needs to bring back the idealists to invigorate the party.

Labor seriously needs re-invigoration after the debacle which has been 2010. Abandonment of the ETS policy, poor management of the ‘Pink Batts’ program, cancellation of the solar energy initiative and all the deliberately bad press about the Education Revolution, capped off by the political assassination of a sitting Prime Minister have contributed to an Annus Horribilis for the party of government. The negativity associated with what has been in the main an economic rescue of this country has been deliberately fostered by a partisan media, fuelled by intense rhetoric, innuendo and abject failure by the government to adequately sell its own achievements in the wake of the GFC. Let there be no doubt, the actions of the Rudd government in moving swiftly and on the advice of Treasury and Central Bank, saved Australia from a similar economic recession to that experienced by the UK, US and Euro Zone. Granted, Australia’s regulatory structure is more robust than any of those nations, however the flow-on from a global retraction in linked trade economies cannot be isolated to some & not others in a globalised world. Trouble is, because we didn’t suffer the privations of recession, no-one in the street recognises the narrow squeak we avoided because of astute government intervention. Maybe a little unemployment might have been a good thing?

That action was the action of an idealist government bound to protect the jobs, productivity and future prospects of business and society in this country. That idealist government seemingly lost command somewhere between the end of 2008 and 24 June 2010. Perhaps because it surrendered its idealism. Was it because the idealism became one man’s vision and not that of the government as a whole? Was the loss of direction due to an isolationist viewpoint taken by the ‘Gang-of-Four’ in making all the policy calls without seeking Caucus approval? Hard to tell, given that Caucus was comatose for that period anyway. No, I think it’s fair to say that Rudd and Rudd alone alienated certain other idealists, with his lack of management ability in trusting his colleagues to do their jobs. The Mining Super-Profits Tax was evidence enough of that. My way or ….my way. Winners are grinners & losers may please themselves. Not exactly the strategy for a cohesive, compliant group of potential knife wielders to keep by one’s side and let’s be frank….politics is a game of attrition & survival of the most cunning.

The damage done to the party, and the Labor ethos by Rudd’s despatch at the hands of those who thought they could do a better job – the so-called idealists – has damaged the party’s standing amongst its true believers irrevocably. The current crop of power-brokers, the knife-wielders in the drama, will never be trusted, or deemed trustworthy again. Neither should they be. A trust has been betrayed and cannot be replaced by those who betrayed it. rightly or wrongly, a sitting Prime Minister must not ever be casually disposed of in the manner of Rudd. Whatever the supposed rationale, that simply isn’t the Labor way. I fully realise that among some circles it was mooted from election night 2007 that Rudd would not last a full term. Clearly, there were those within the party who knew him better than he allowed the voters to know him. Fatal mistake, and one no Labor Prime Minister has ever committed in my memory. Labor has always been of the people, working for the people. A reforming party, but we’ve seen precious little genuine reform.

All of which makes an absolute mockery of Swan’s call for the party to return to its roots, its basic ideals. Swan is not the one to be making such calls, indeed, none of the current crop on the front-bench – save for one I will continue to watch – I would deem worthy of the title of leader. There wouldn’t be one idealist among them that isn’t a creature of the party machine. We’ve seen what happens to those who fail to obey Sussex Street. Maxine McKew was one such & the machine left her by the side of the political highway during the August election. Why? Because she wouldn’t play the dirty brand of politics the machine wanted her to play. Is that the sort of idealism Swan wants to invigorate? The kind which says, “Hey, get down in the gutter with the rest of us, or we’ll sail without you”?

If Labor stays in government until the next election and manages to retain government, it won’t be due to any re-invigoration by a crop of hitherto unrevealed idealists. Except for that one I’ll keep a watching brief on. It will be due solely to the electorate’s fear of what the coalition stands for. Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zero. Zip. No policies, no imagination, no prayer, no invention. Only memory of the way things were and a willingness to take the country backwards. No, the electorate will prefer the devil they’ll know, rather than the one of their nightmares. One only hopes that somewhere in the interim, that devil finds it’s way back from the hell it’s placed itself in.


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