21 May 2019

Ten piping hot takes on Labor’s election defeat

Saturday was a bad day. Here are ten early analyses that I have found helpful in understanding what happened, and in forming an initial view about what needs to happen next.

1. Amy Thomas, What the hell just happened? Five arguments:

Labor’s promise for a moderate level of income redistribution was hardly big target: some things were big spending, perhaps, but it was not a significant vision for social democratic reform to undo decades of neoliberalism. The election was not a vote against social democratic principles nor a victory for neoliberal reform. The missing link here has been any workers’ action to challenge the economic set up. Left entirely in the parliamentary sphere, the promises to ‘change the rules’ fell flat. And if this strategy doesn’t change, we face the real and present danger of racism continuing to fill the void – and those on Manus and Nauru, those fearful to enter mosques, and the Chinese people being cast as the enemy within will be the ones made to pay. In fighting this, and building solidarity, we can neither discount the appeal of racism nor assume it is hardened and impossible to break.

2. Jeff Sparrow, Where to now for the left?

[I]f [commentator David] Crowe’s right, it’s not just ‘big ideas and ambitious plans’ that are dead to our politicians. It’s also, according to the best available science, a great chunk of life on Earth, with neither major party even trying to put forward the measures necessary to end extinctions. That’s a bleak conclusion — but, in a way, it’s a bracing one since it clarifies, in the starkest possible fashion, the strategic perspectives in front of us. The fight against climate change — and the broader environmental disaster of which it is part — depends on the construction of a social movement. It depends on the kind of struggle we associate with the civil rights campaigns of the sixties: on civil disobedience, on mass marches, on occupations, on ordinary people putting their bodies on the line to stop something we all know to be terribly wrong.

3. Elizabeth Humphrys, We live in anti-political times:

In the days to come, many will continue to speculate on Labour’s failings and offer opinions on what could have made a difference. It is likely commentators (and the ALP itself) will draw the worst conclusions from this result — that they need to offer and say less next time, when the opposite is true. There was no big target in this election, but piecemeal policy making and attempts to play both sides (most notably on the climate crisis and Adani). Numerous commentators, as well as ordinary Labor voters and members, say that Shorten lost because the ALP did not communicate their policies well enough. It is the height of hubris to have voters continually reject your party and policies and respond by saying that it is that people just don’t understand and imply they are stupid. And yet, this is not an uncommon message from progressive commentators either. … A lot is being said by voters in this election, but one wonders whether many politicians and pundits are really listening.

4. Guy Rundle, Losing the unlosable election: the aftermath for Labor [$]:

Well Labor was taking a risk, but it didn’t have the courage or imagination to go further and make a case as to what this was all for, what sort of society they wanted to create. They were running for federal office like it was a state election, emphasising redistribution without talking about the whole picture. … They bore the cost of their ‘big ticket’ strategy, and gained none of the benefit from a more comprehensive vision. Which is pretty ironic, for a party that has become so economistic in its manner. … The common refrain has been that Labor had two choices: a conservative small target strategy, or the ‘bold’ one they took. It wasn’t bold at all. It was piecemeal but pricey, an inept combination, the worst possible. Missing entirely was the third possibility: one in which Labor talked of production and work, not just distribution, about how we could transform the way we live, about our place in a changing world.

5. Daniel Lopez, How Australia’s Labor Party Lost an Un-Losable Election:

In some parts of Broadmeadows, the Victorian Socialists outpolled The Greens and the Coalition. Of course, the Victorian Socialists — who were founded only in 2018 — can’t take credit for Broadmeadows’ progressive character. Rather, the point is that the broader left in Victoria has consistently fought racism, denying it a basis in this state. The union movement is also strongest in Melbourne: for example, the NUW has played an important role organizing warehousing workers and farm workers in Melbourne’s north, both undermining racism in this ethnically diverse industry and proving that solidarity can win. … Shorten also failed to outline any measures linking action on climate change with improved living standards. That is, he did not attack climate scepticism at its root. This is why wherever mining and resources were a factor, Labor was punished badly.

6. Frank Bongiorno, Clearing the scrub:

[C]an those arguing that Labor should move to the right tell us what this might actually mean? … Does it, for Australia, mean an embrace of the coal industry? A softening of commitment to renewables? More ‘environmental’ water for farmers? Income tax cuts for the wealthy? A reduction in business tax rates (to encourage companies to employ more salt-of-the-earth workers wearing the same kinds of high-vis vests beloved of politicians on the campaign trail)? Does it mean a winding back of welfare entitlements? Rejection of the Uluru Statement? Higher university fees? More support for private schools so that the working class can afford to send their kids there? … And if it means any or all of these things, why would anyone vote Labor when the Coalition will always be more full-throated in delivering on them?

7. Peter Browne, Wrong-target strategy:

So is the failure of Labor’s ambitious reform plan the final nail in the coffin of big-target campaigning? Do the many parallels with John Hewson’s spectacular loss in 1993 — previously the most notorious case study — mean that timid, evasive campaigning is the only option? …  The party certainly needs to propose things — just as the Coalition needs to constantly assert its economic competence. It’s the reason it exists. … [But e]nough voters are sufficiently sceptical of politicians and parties — and are already feeling unsettled by pressures that Labor should be well aware of — for that strategy to end in disaster. This doesn’t mean small-target campaigning is necessarily the way to go, but it does mean that Labor — as the only alternative government — needs to make itself a much smarter target.

8. Osmond Chiu, Australian Labor’s Miliband Moment:

While some have sneered at voters for the result, the fact remains that Australian Labor’s offer was not one that captured the public imagination. Labor was unable to convince enough voters that their lives would be better off under its government. There was no public affection for the coalition but nor was there excitement for the prospect of the Labor Opposition winning under Bill Shorten. … The times require a popular leader with a vision for a better future that can excite voters. This will have to include an agenda that seriously tackles the climate crisis and has a credible answer for those who might lose their jobs and livelihoods. It is no easy task given the internal tensions implied by such a political coalition. But it is the only way Australia’s left can reclaim its future and win again.

9. Ben Hillier, Why did Labor lose?

[H]ad Labor articulated a more radical program to lift living standards and create jobs, it might have won back and energised some of its historic base. On this front again, the problem wasn’t being too bold, but not bold enough. … For the time being, we need not cry for the party. We have to organise against this rotten government. For all its triumphalism, on current counting the Coalition has registered its worst primary vote result since 1946, the first year Robert Menzies’ new party contested the federal election. It starts its third term as it ended its second: incredibly mean, but weak, divided and lacking much authority. There are wells of disaffection, which the ALP only half-heartedly was prepared to connect with. The task for the rest of us is to keep building an alternative prepared to stand up and start swinging.

10. Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin, It’s time for open rebellion you useless herd of motherflippers!

The born to rule boys of the ALP are just as bad as their Tory counterparts. They made a gormless wooden factional warlord their leader and he went on to utterly fail to convince the Australian people of the value of not being a dick. The list of reasons for removing this government is like the ocean, vast and deep and full of pilchards. Yet the ALP are inexplicably incapable of mounting a case for change. They are cancelled. I wish I could tell you how to win over the electorate but I can’t and that’s because I’M A PENGUIN and not some number crunching poll frotting genius from the ALP. Irregardless, do not lose heart comrades and do not give up, a penguin never surrenders. We shall return and penguin the barricades anew. In time we will give those fascist leopard seals a good flipping.