by David Ward
Today Julia Gillard asked her colleagues to yet again decide between her and Kevin Rudd, and was removed in the same way she had removed him several years ago. But the soap opera aside it is worth here in Britain thinking about what the peculiar situation of a centre left party, having led the country through the global crisis in relative prosperity, heading towards an electoral wipeout against a Liberal party promising austerity.
Firstly, it shows the importance of avoiding internal squabbles. The ALP ditched its most successful politician since the 1990’s after only one negative poll. Rudd did not have the friendly relationship with his ALP colleagues, or backing amongst trade unions as Julia Gillard. One of Ed Miliband’s great successes has been to keep the party largely united, however the current troubles with selections in Falkirk and candidates for the European Parliament show there is no room for complacency.
Despite continued economic growth due to demand for Australian coal, uranium and iron ore, there has still been an unwinding of the New Labour style model set by Hawke and Keating in the 80s and 90s. Australian households are the second most indebted in the world after the UK and manufacturing has been weakened by high Australian Dollar. In parallel to our finance sector those who did not work or own shares in mining have seen higher prices while their earnings have not kept pace. Many people feel under pressure and the ALP is not offering a clear vision, often blown off course by media focus on issues like ‘boat people’.
Here Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been talking of ‘pre-distribution’ and how we move beyond sharing the proceeds of growth, while others such as ‘In the Black Labour’ have contributed other ideas. Whatever the answer, it is clear that a narrative for change in the new world is needed. Recent polls showing only 30% trust Labour with the economy are a worry only two years away from a general election.
A clear narrative on the past is crucial as well. The ALP was quick to trash its own record to explain why it ditched Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard, highlighting the “chaos” and rule by cabal Rudd presided over. This just played into the hands of the media and opposition who have won the argument on the incompetence of the ALP. In the UK Labour have failed to successfully challenge the notion that our financial difficulties are due to excessive borrowing under the last government, even though that argument is not supported by the facts. If we acquiesce to those talking us down we should not be surprised when the public agree.
Lastly there are similarities with the media. In many Australian states it is impossible to pick up a paper not owned by Rupert Murdoch. Mining companies have built share holdings in media companies which some suggest has helped build a consensus against policies to address climate change like the mining tax. We may not have such a paucity of choice in opinion here in the UK, but we all know the challenges. Harriet Harman has suggested a media ownership cap, and Ed Miliband was quick to take on News International in 2011. The hammering the Australian press gave Julia Gillard about knitting or cheap rumours about her husband is a reminder that Labour will be given no quarter in 2015.
The big takeaways from the ALP crisis for us have to be to stand up for ourselves, develop and convey a compelling vision for a post global financial crisis world, and avoid the sort of self-destruction a right wing media will jump on with glee.
David Ward is a member of Streatham CLP, and the only non-Australian in his immediate family.