The coming anti-politics coup

Monday, 19 November 2007 

I’m not interested in arid debates about left, right, centre, up, down

Kevin Rudd AM 15 November

BARRIE CASSIDY: On AM during the week, Kevin Rudd got into trouble when he was asked whether the Labor Party was any longer the Labor Party of the Left, given your backgrounds and your factual affiliation, do you likewise say it’s no longer a party of the Left?
JULIA GILLARD: I am a published author of speeches and articles where I say these labels have very little meaning any more. I’ve been saying that for years. They hang off people, the media use them, sometimes we use them to describe each other, but they are really devoid of much meaning in contemporary times.

Insiders 18 November

While this contest has been seen as one between the government and Labor, there is in reality a more important battle going on within it. The real battle is not between Labor and the non-Labor parties as we have known for most of the last century. The real change going on is between the political class, led by the coalition, and a narrow clique in the Labor party that is about ending the way Australian politics had previously been conducted.

The most tangible sign is the straight-jacket that has now been applied on the campaign with the able help of Rudd under the guise of economic management. Rudd’s sudden slam on the brakes of election-spending has been discussed purely as though it was in response to an economic problem. What we are talking about is inflation going to all of 3.25% and expected by the RBA to then fall back below 3%. Hardly an economic crisis. Yet following a mildly-worded Reserve Bank statement last Monday, Rudd has not only dealt a blow to Howard, who had left himself exposed by becoming more reliant on throwing money at the hole in his programme while at the same time claiming to be on the right side of an economic debate that didn’t exist. When Rudd stood up in front of the Labor party and told them the spending must end, what he was saying was that the time when those in Labor could pursue their agenda through state spending is now over. In return, the party got the end of Workchoices.

It is a lousy deal. For the end of a minor IR reform, the party has lost a key means by which it generated support for its agenda since Whitlam’s day. And it is not only the left side of politics that has relied on this. When the auditor-general’s report criticised pork-barrelling favouring government electorates, it is not surprising that Vaile got abusive. Such targeted subsidy of the rural seats has been the bedrock of National/Country party politics since its foundation in the 1920s.

Such targeted subsidy sounds scandalous but it is a sign of how far politics has been given a bad name even since Ros Kelly’s whiteboard affair. Australian politics used to be about the pursuit of sectional interest through the Parliament. From the left it was the unions, from the right business and rural interests. From the party that first abandoned those sectional interests, something disguised through the current pantomime over Workchoices but confirmed by former ALP National President Stephen Loosley the other day, now comes a new breed like Rudd. The ABC called him a centrist politician after he made the above quote, but it is more correct to see him as a technocrat than a politician, who is using anti-politics against the left and right. He is not alone, he is joined by others like Senator Penny Wong, who led the anti-politics attack this year over Kirribilli spending and is now sorting out Rudd’s transition.

However, the most interesting to watch will be Gillard. Like Rudd, Gillard has also stopped attending factional meetings and yesterday on Insiders was joining her leader distancing herself from her left background (she was on Insiders because her leader preferred to go onto a show where politicians were made fun of). For this year she has played the role of attacking Workchoices, mainly for internal party purposes. Andrew Bolt on Insiders took the coalition line that this showed that she represents the party’s left in the leadership, but he, like the Labor left, may be in for a surprise after the election. Bolt was right that there would be a tussle after a Labor victory between the old Labor party and Rudd’s agenda. However, he is wrong if he thinks it will be a contest.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 19 November 2007.

Filed under State of the parties

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