Monday, July 2, 2012

Drowning, Not Waving

Today’s Newspoll results are a bit of a non-event, unless you happen to be in Queensland, where they are worthy of more than a second glance. Nationally, the changes are minimal: the Coalition is still leading Labor by 12 percentage points on a two-party-preferred basis, but when you get to the Queensland figures, the LNP lead is 30 percentage points, a margin devastating enough to be likened to Whyalla and the dawn of the Carbon Tax. Even Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith, along with Treasurer Wayne Swan and Trade Minister Dr Craig Emerson’s seats in Queensland, would be in danger. Labor could be ShamWowed right off the electoral map in Queensland, leaving their paltry seven seats in Queensland’s state parliament looking like a strong result.

You have to wonder if a two-party preferred measure is relevant any more.

Worse than that, some are wondering if the ALP is relevant any more.

It’s a ridiculous position. Of course the ALP is relevant. Even on primary votes, 32% of people indicated that they would vote Labor. That’s one in three people, but one in three doesn’t win an election. If the ALP is going to hold onto power – and that looks less and less likely – they need more than 50% of the 2PP number. Nationally, the ALP needs to find a significant slab of voters who will support them and their allies...if they still have any.

So where are they: Paul Keating’s True Believers must be around somewhere. Are they the one in three who are sticking by this wounded Labor Government against all odds?

I’m quite sure that the ALP doesn’t actually know where to look for the voters it has lost along the way…so I’m going to point them in the right direction. Look to the left, Labor. We’re all over here!

Take a look at the Political Compass, which made the following observations just two years ago:

Conservative parties in virtually all western democracies have shifted to the right economically, and the Australian Liberal Party is no exception. However, in most countries a new generation of conservative leaders display eagerness to adopt more socially liberal policies in tandem with full-throttle free market (ie right wing) economics. In the case of Tony Abbott's Liberals, however, the party has not only moved right of the earlier Turnbull leadership years, but it has also shifted to a more authoritarian position on the social scale. This is a move that will no doubt appeal to the otherwise mostly homeless former supporters of One Nation.

Labor reflects this drift, now occupying a space to the right of the 1980s Liberals. The debate between the two main parties, however heated, is within narrowing parameters. The two parties are now closer together than at any other time. The clash of economic vision of earlier campaigns is absent. It's no longer about whether the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy is actually desirable, but merely a question of which party can manage it best.

By contrast, the Greens, once pretty much a single issue party, have emerged with a comprehensive social democratic manifesto, more in tune with an earlier Labor Party, and significantly more socially liberal than either of the others.

Take another look at the compass above. Should the ALP be fighting for the small stripe of ideological real estate between where they are now, and the conservative crush of Nationals, LNP and Liberals, or should it - to quote an astonishing television documentary series - Go Back to Where It Came From? As hated as she is by the political right, Julia Gillard is dragging the ALP even further to the right, but there's no-one there to welcome her. We're all behind her, in that big slab of open space to the left of Labor.

The results in Queensland are more pronounced, and the reasons are varied. For many Labor and undecided voters, the issue of Julia Gillard’s ascendancy still burns. These voters will not support a government lead by the woman who knifed “our Kev” in the back, and then lied about the dreaded Carbon Tax. Another reason for Labor still being hated in Queensland is Queensland’s reliance on mining and the perception that the combination of the Carbon Tax and the MRRT will damage the mining industry.

And then there’s the Campbell Newman Effect: despite 99 days in office, in which promises have been broken and every Queenslander has been squeezed somehow, Newman is seen as a winner. That’s not a hard look to maintain in comparison to Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk. Unfortunately for Queensland Labor, Ms Palaszczuk was the most qualified and most willing to lead a small and lacklustre group of MPs. She makes Mr Newman look good. State Labor must regroup and bring in a leader from outside the parliament.

In 21st Century politics, conventional wisdom suggests that elections are won in the western suburbs of Sydney, and the south-east corner of Queensland. Both look lost to the more conservative of the conservative options.

The Australian Labor Party would do well to stop trying to take ground away from the Coalition, and turn around. There’s an enormous streak of centre ground where Labor Voters – the lapsed True Believers, the Greenies with moderate economic views and the genuine Centre-Lefties are waiting with votes and bags of money for their party to return to them.


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