Sunshine politics

Thursday, 13 November 2008 

It’s no surprise that those who wish to explain the present by constantly using history, never know that much about it. The latest examples are the media’s frequent comparisons of Rudd to one-term Labor PM Scullin of the 1930s. You know the shtick, Scullin won office just before the Wall Street crash by defeating a Prime Minister who lost his seat trying to bring in anti-union legislation (geddit?). Scullin lost his Queensland Treasurer to scandal so all we need is Swan to buy shares in some dodgy copper mine and the analogy would be complete. The idea seems to be that just as Scullin sat and waited for his popularity to fall as the economy worsened, so will Rudd end up with the same fate.

There is that extra detail that before it happened, Scullin’s government broke apart and the Labor party split, mainly because of conflict between the pro-business and pro-union sections of the Labor party as anti-crisis measures were implemented. However, what distinguishes Rudd from Scullin and Curtin/Chifley and Whitlam and Hawke/Keating is that this is the first Labor government to be unable to do what unfortunately they usually do, namely call on their relationship with the unions to restrain their members’ living standards to help solve the crisis (what those who bang on about Howard’s Workchoices never like to remember is that the average worker did better under Howard than they did even during the good years of the last Labor government). With the left now party functionaries and the ALP Right now effectively dead, a Scullin-like split seems highly unlikely.

Labor’s inability to call on the unions anymore is going to make what passes for economic policy fairly difficult. Instead the government is more focussed on trying to hold on to its own credibility than develop anything really meaningful to deal with the economic crisis.

That is why the government is becoming increasingly schizophrenic in its reaction to the turmoil. On the one hand it claims that there is a rolling economic security crisis, so as to look good, on the other hand, it claims there isn’t anything to worry about and growth will chug along with a two in front of it, so as to not look too bad either.

The economic response is guided by the same principles. Australians must be enjoying this downturn so much that we must be wondering why we don’t have them more often. Never have we had so many cash hand-outs and our bank accounts are safer than Chifley’s wildest dreams. However, to know that this is not about any principle of economic management, other than handing out money until it runs out, you only have to look at what Labor is doing in NSW where the money has run out and the cuts are on. People have complained that Rees’s cuts are going to reduce consumption. Well yes, that is what is known as a recession.

But even if Federal Labor does have to start making unpleasant decisions, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will lose support, at least on a two-party basis. Unlike Scullin, Rudd does not face any alternative.

The Liberals have complained that the government is refusing to accept any criticism. But the opposition are also refusing to make any. The whole focus of their economic critique seems to be on those who are advising the government in Treasury and the RBA. The government is hiding behind bureaucrats no doubt, but amazingly so is the opposition, preferring to attack them than the government itself.

The opposition is focussed on procedure because they can’t focus on the government’s politics and they can’t do that because of the collapse of their own politics last month. Janet Albrechtsen is so perplexed by Obama’s win she gives it the usual name sophisticated thinkers give to something they don’t understand, a paradox. But to explain how Obama won in a country showing no other sign of becoming more liberal you would have to fill in the missing gap, what happened to the Republicans, whose abandonment of their pseudo free market principles in the face of the crash was almost as craven as her own.

The US are having their own sunshine moment of Obama-mania and worrying about the name of Malia’s puppy. Over here we have a leader that the media was never thrilled by and still don’t get. So we get cash instead, thank you. Sometimes it’s nice having a weak political class.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 13 November 2008.

Filed under Tactics

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