Is this the end for Labor? And the labour movement?

Is this the end for Labor? And the labour movement?

If you’ve had even the slightest interest in federal politics, you’d probably agree that it looks like Labor is heading for a wipeout at the election in September. Bookies have got the ALP out to $7, and there’s talk that Tony Abbott will sweep to power with a 20 seat majority. Polls are showing that the ALP is going to lose swags of seats in almost every state except Victoria. It’s pretty confronting for a labor member like myself, and the mood was grim at the last labor meeting I attended. As always, such bad news puts me in a reflective mood (when I’m not swearing at the TV) and I think that it’s important to consider where it has all gone wrong for Labor.

The first thing that I think has to be said is that, policy-wise, it hasn’t really gone wrong at all. The Gillard Government delivered on most of its promises, and provided a genuinely progressive agenda for Australia. Carbon Price – delivered, and is already having the effect of reducing emissions. National Curriculum – delivered, whether you like it or not. MRRT – delivered, although not providing the income that was hoped. NDIS – Delivered. Gonski – Almost delivered. These are, I think, significant changes, and well in keeping with the Labor party’s mantra of building up not cutting down. In fact, although I was very young at the time, I was put in mind of the significant changes wrought by Hawke and Keating throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Where the failing has occurred is at the level of the politics of the ALP. For whatever reasons, and whether there was collusion of the mainstream media or not, the ALP must accept that it lost control of the political debate to the coalition – and never seemed to regain it in the last three years. Ridiculously, the emphasis has been on the Labor party machinations rather than competing policies – and not surprisingly, three of the biggest LNP policies (PPL, Buy Back the Boats and Direct Action) have been soundly ridiculed around the world. Instead this has become a simplified argument, reduced to which party can shout the words of ‘Debt’ and ‘Cut’ and ‘Boats’ the loudest. It’s depressing.