Progressive reformers are attempting to take control of the major parties of the nominal left in the United States and the United Kingdom, in the wake of losses in national elections and the rise of reactionary forces. Even if the rebels do not take full control there is some prospect that the parties will at least be substantially changed.
No such fate threatens the Australian Labor Party. There is no flicker of unorthodoxy from within. There is little prospect of the plebian hordes storming it from without. The ALP stands, inert and impregnable, occupying the political space where a progressive party ought to be, the greatest obstacle in Australia to the constructive reform we desperately need if we are to have a tolerable future.
Suddenly our leaders and their lackies are all over the airwaves warning the unwashed hordes of the perils of rejecting the glorious benefits of free markets and free trade, as those ingrates have done in the US and UK.
Their favourite line is “Twenty five years of uninterrupted economic growth.” You hear it almost every day. It represents unparalleled economic success. It is uniquely Australian, because no other country avoided the 2008-9 recession. It’s all because of Australia’s lean, deregulated, open, agile economy, managed brilliantly by [insert current Treasurer].
Except for two little caveats. Australia’s economic performance during the neoliberal era has never matched that in the post-war decades to the early 1970s. And we avoided severe recession in 2008-9 only because the Rudd Government intervened heavily in the economy.
Back in the 1960s authorities were very exercised that cells of violent hippie peacenik leftists were plotting to overthrow the Government and establish an anarchist hippie socialist dictatorship (there were no greenies yet). This would inevitably morph into communism, the dreaded embodiment of all evil.
The conspirators were a very small fringe of a very large but not very coherent movement that wanted more love, less war, less consumerism and healthier living. Oh, and some drugs and weird clothes, or no clothes. There was the odd kidnapping and a few small bombs let off, some of them doing more harm to the conspirators than to the Establishment, but the large anti-war movements did not automatically join the revolution and the whole thing fizzled. The hippies got mortgages, Ronald Reagan was elected, and Big Business resumed gobbling up the world.
Disaffection with old parties and old politics continues to grow, here and abroad. Unlike the US and the UK, however, progressive politics in Australia is hardly progressing. The Greens are the obvious standard-bearer, but so far they are missing the wave. It matters because the destruction of the informed, fair-go society and the sell-out of our sovereignty continue apace.
In the recent election the Greens pulled only 10% of the 23% of primary votes that went to non-major parties in the House. For the Senate, they got 8.7% of around 35% of non-major primary votes.
No doubt the apparatchiks of the Australian Labor Party are currently very exercised with how to counter the Turnbull Coalition Government. It is now possible to conceive that Malcolm Turnbull could comfortably win the next Federal election. Or perhaps the Coalition will tear itself apart and Labor will coast in. In these early days no-one knows.
But the ALP would do well to focus also on a more profound challenge, one that may turn out to be existential. The personification of this challenge is Jeremy Corbyn, who recently won a landslide victory in a ballot of members and supporters for the leadership of the UK Labour Party.