Labor had been in the doldrums for a long time and then along came a Newspoll, probably errant, but buoying the ALP nonetheless. That pleasant feeling must not have lasted for long. Another Essential Media poll this week put the lead Coalition lead at about where it has been this year, 55% for the Opposition and 45% for the Gillard Government. As if the realisation that things were likely nowhere near as good as they seemed last week, along came Lindsay Tanner today to make unpleasant feelings a whole lot worse.
The former ALP MP and Finance Minister under the leadership of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd again sparked the flames that Labor probably felt had been extinguished, or at least brought under control after the February leadership vote which Mr Rudd lost so comprehensively. But far from just rubbing salt into the slowly healing Labor Party wounds in relationship to leadership matters, Mr Tanner also ventured deeply into criticisms of the ALP, questioning whether or not they still hold any values.
The former frontbench MP today said of the decision to dump Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard that it was a “poll-driven panic” which of course even the most casual of political observers, even the uninformed, would say is an accurate classification of the circumstances and events that saw Kevin Rudd so ruthlessly dumped by the Labor Party.
He goes on to say that the factional bosses have learnt from the shockingly stupid and incredibly premature move in mid 2010. That is almost certainly the case too. While now actually faced with little to no prospects of re-election for a long period of time, the Australian Labor Party have remained strongly attached to the leadership of Julia Gillard.
Again covering old territory, though slightly more recent, Tanner said that the strongly vitriolic criticisms directed at Kevin Rudd, just prior to and during the February leadership brouhaha were silly then an would have lasting consequences for the electorally troubled party.
But where the dismay at the ALP from Lindsay gets more interesting, though no less dated, indeed, arguably much more long-term than the Rudd leadership coup and internal party ructions around that, is whether there are any Labor values anymore. He says that “the Labor Party is ceasing to be an incubator and a driver of reform.”
This is not far from the truth. Despite what you think about the costs and benefits of the National Broadband Network, which are both high and highly questionable, it is essentially a Labor reform and one that would have historically been recognised as such.
There are other Labor reforms, like the NDIS and the recent Gonski and dental health announcements which would be recognised as Labor reforms. But these have tended to be grand announcements which the ALP has little or no intention of funding, nor would they think that their administration would have to fund them, though part funding has been allocated to both the National Disability Insurance Scheme and oral healthcare changes. In the case of the NDIS too, Tanner says the design and development was outsourced to the Productivity Commission and would not have been in the past.
Tanner goes on to say that the Labor Party is becoming “a reactor, a passive political player that sits there responding to circumstances and pressures rather than being the driver of where our nation heads.”
This suggests that Tanner believes the ALP is becoming more conservative in nature, that is not tending to engage in change because it might be the smart thing to do in certain policy areas.
The use of the word ‘reactor’ by Mr Tanner also tends to bear out this argument as conservatives too, when actually engaging in change tend to react well behind the curve.
It has become clear, through actions too, particularly post-Rudd that the plea of the former ALP PM in 2010 to not swing to the right, has fallen on deaf ears. Almost immediately the new Prime Minister swung to the right on asylum seekers, a move that probably resulted in a wry smile on the face of former Prime Minister John Howard.
But again, this is old news. The party of the right, the Liberal Party swung farther to the right, from social liberal mixed with some religious conservatism to almost full-blown conservatism with a little liberalism mixed in from time to time. This probably occurred earlier than Labor began their evolution into a party that doesn’t particularly represent their traditional values.
Uncomfortable for some, this could be largely down to political realities which appear to show that some form of conservatism suits the people, those going out to vote. But both sides of politics could lose more true believers of the ideologies that are supposed to dominate the core thinking of the two major political parties.
These lessons from Tanner are in no way new, apart from the fact that this is really the first time he has publicly directed both barrels at the party he once served in government. What his words do is bear out some truths in the shift that has occurred in ALP politics both after Kevin Rudd and more broadly over the political history of the ALP, the last 15 to 20 years in particular.
Tanner’s words, repetitive as they are, also prove that these lessons, though repeatedly taught are proving hard to learn from.