Labor, at the moment, has indeed lost it’s way and especially so under Julia Gillard. Kevin Rudd may well have been a divisive leader between ideological factions, but it was that divisiveness and rigour he instilled into the machine’s daily functionality which gave the party direction. Love him or hate him, that direction had purpose.
Currently, despite being the party of government, albeit by dint of tacit independent member support, Labor appears more akin to the Greek water thief with the holder’s finger slipping continuously. The party’s values appear to be slipping away. Those values of egalitarianism, fairness and protection of the rights of the individual, reform of the past with a view to the future. There is more focus today on the political process, the continual seeking of power and retention of power to the detriment of what people like myself really want from the political party we’ve looked to all our lives for exposition of those values we hold dearest.
For far too long, in my view, politics in this country has been all about pretending to be of the centre. The vanilla or generic presentation by political parties of what they perceived the electorate wanted. Focus groups, research & marketing organisations took precedence over reality and core beliefs. There is a view, espoused this morning on ABC Radio National Breakfast, that unless Labor fights for and retains the centre on the political battlefield, it will cede that centre to the current conservative parties. That Labor must not chase the left ideological view of the Green movement, else be found like the cricketer suddenly stranded between wickets. As if the centre is some form of holy ground, the nirvana all political parties strive to be seen to be occupying. Nothing could be further from the facts.
As readers of this tome would realise, I do not hold with the labels ‘left’ and ‘right’. Neither do I have any great affection for this new determination of ‘centre’. These labels are only that. Labels used by those who fail to comprehend ideals in order to wrap their limited understanding of the whole around the concept of different ideas and opinions. For example, care of and concern for the environment is not an attitude exclusive to the ‘left’, just as a desire for stringent border protection is not exclusive to the ‘right’. To be perfectly accurate in assessing these many and varied opinions and attitudes which arise from everyday living, by definition of these ideological labels there can not be any centre. As with the pinnacle of Mazlow’s Heirarchy – self-actualisation – the centre of political ideology can never be held or sustained for any given period of time. Attitudes change, so the ‘centre’ will always move on the scale between extremes. To chase the ‘centre’ is to chase the ethereal.
Which brings me to my current disenchantment with the Labor movement, especially under the focus-group driven executive which fears, yet believes it needs the Green movement for continual political survival. Labor has always survived and prospered on its own because of it’s core beliefs. Those core beliefs are not those of the Green movement, as much as those beliefs may appear to be of the Green movement. The reality of the Greens being that their policies ARE their core beliefs and those policies are malleable. Labors core beliefs have never changed, and never will. Therein lies the difference. The conservative parties in this country will always be overtly religiously based, inspired by free-market dogma, oriented toward business and industry to the detriment of the average working Australian and unwilling to embrace true reform.
To properly understand the differences between Labor and Conservatism, one need only read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s address at the Boston Masonic Temple 9 December 1841, entitled “The Conservative”. Neither ideology – reform or conservatism – is perfect. Neither has all of the answers, yet both believe they exceed societies demands. What Labor needs to understand is that the ‘centre’ is a wasteland. It is filled with the sands of reform and conservatism which blow across but never fall into the ‘centre’. Labor needs to understand that it’s core beliefs as the party of reform do not lie within that desert. It needs to understand that for the Green movement, life is wonderful on the fringe. That’s where the Greens exist and that’s where their powerbase comes from. Ultimate ideology espoused by the ultimate dreamers. Labor is the party of the realists. To believe the real ideological battle for society is over the so-called ‘centre’ is to dream the same impossible dream of the Greens, just as conservatism dreams their own impossible dream of the so-called ‘right’. Under the current leadership of Tony Abbott, conservatism in Australia will never succeed to political power. The dangers for Australian society are too evident, the wounds of his political mentor too fresh within the fabric of Australian society for him to ever succeed within his political lifetime. He represents all that Australia denied in 2007 and that is his Achilles Heel. To better understand conservatism in this country, one need only take from Emerson’s address the following:
There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact. It affirms because it holds. Its fingers clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact. The castle, which conservatism is set to defend, is the actual state of things, good and bad. The project of innovation is the best possible state of things. Of course, conservatism always has the worst of the argument, is always apologizing, pleading a necessity, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate; it must saddle itself with the mountainous load of the violence and vice of society, must deny the possibility of good, deny ideas, and suspect and stone the prophet; whilst innovation is always in the right, triumphant, attacking, and sure of final success. Conservatism stands on man’s confessed limitations; reform on his indisputable infinitude; conservatism on circumstance; liberalism on power; one goes to make an adroit member of the social frame; the other to postpone all things to the man himself; conservatism is debonair and social; reform is individual and imperious. We are reformers in spring and summer; in autumn and winter, we stand by the old; reformers in the morning, conservers at night. Reform is affirmative, conservatism negative; conservatism goes for comfort, reform for truth. Conservatism is more candid to behold another’s worth; reform more disposed to maintain and increase its own. Conservatism makes no poetry, breathes no prayer, has no invention; it is all memory. Reform has no gratitude, no prudence, no husbandry. It makes a great difference to your figure and to your thought, whether your foot is advancing or receding. Conservatism never puts the foot forward; in the hour when it does that, it is not establishment, but reform. Conservatism tends to universal seeming and treachery, believes in a negative fate; believes that men’s temper governs them; that for me, it avails not to trust in principles; they will fail me; I must bend a little; it distrusts nature; it thinks there is a general law without a particular application, — law for all that does not include any one. Reform in its antagonism inclines to asinine resistance, to kick with hoofs; it runs to egotism and bloated self-conceit; it runs to a bodiless pretension, to unnatural refining and elevation, which ends in hypocrisy and sensual reaction.
For Labor, political power will remain difficult to hold onto while-ever it searches for a way to hold the so-called centre. The desert of ideologies. Leaders on both sides will come and go and the Green movement will grow to become more what it looks like today. The movement of political refuge, of protest and complaint for the electorate. We’ve seen this already, and we’ll see it again. The Green movement will nev
er take precedence in Australian politics because it offers nothing of either conservatism or reform, only pseudo-alternative which is constantly changing shape. From my perspective, there is a genuine third force in Australian politics. That of Liberalism. Genuine Liberalism, in the Menzies tradition, which of course, stems from that of John Stuart Mill. True Liberalism, of and for the individual. It will arise again within Australia, if it’s proponents can muster the political will to make it so. Whether that will exists, or Australia destined to follow the American road of the two-party state, remains to be seen, but I hold out hope for a revival of true Liberalism in this country.
For Julia Gillard to deny the importance to Australian society of issues such as same-sex marriage, is for her to deny the inevitability of reform. She espouses reform as a mantra, but avoids it at every turn. She is not the leader my Labor Party needs. For the sake of the country and stability in government, she and her kind must either see the error of their ways or be removed, just as they removed Kevin Rudd. Australia will never move forward while it’s elected representatives do battle over the ideological wasteland of the ‘centre’.