Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Part 9: Conclusion

The End of the Party? Labor History and the Rise of the Greens.


In two years time, it is possible that Labor will be out of power in every jurisdiction in Australia. With a seemingly ever-decreasing number of voters and members, it is easy for supporters of the Party to become disconsolate. However, Labor will always have one asset that will never diminish; its history.

 Labor’s history provides important perspective on the scale of the threat posed by the rise in prominence of The Greens. To this end, history suggests that while The Greens are unlikely to usurp Labor’s role as the major party of the Left in Australia, unless their agenda is confronted and rejected, they could do serious damage to the electoral prospects of the progressive movement. Labor’s history also provides practical lessons on how the party ought to engage with the threat posed by The Greens. Importantly, Labor’s history offers warnings of the electoral danger of giving into ideology and cutting the Party off from the concerns of the mainstream of Australian voters. However, Labor’s history also shows the futility of engaging in the fractious, emotional splits of the past and the need for the threat of The Greens to be confronted in a way that does not alienate future potential voters and supporters.

More than anything however, Labor Members and the Party’s fellow travellers, Labor’s rich and meaningful history will always be a source of solace and strength for those who study it closely. In a world in which there are three media cycles in a day and the attrition rate amongst MPs, staff and journalists has never been higher, it can sometimes feel like the institutional memory of Australian politics does not stretch beyond the current term of the Government. In this environment, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that we are living in unique times and that our democracy has never seen the likes of the forces that are buffeting the political actors who are currently on stage. It is only when one consciously steps back and look at the long arc of Australian political history, that it becomes clear that there are bigger, more enduring trends at work. For better or for worse, over the past 120 years in Australian progressive politics, those bigger trends have unfolded through the Australian Labor Party. With the benefit of a historical perspective, Labor members can take comfort from the fact that despite the Party’s current difficulties, there is nothing in the emergence of The Greens to make one think that this will not continue for the next 120 years.

As Paul Keating once said with an eye to the Party’s history:
‘We at least in the Labor Party know, that we are part of a big story, which is also the story of our country. And what do they know?’


  1. So after wading through all this, the key points I caught were :
    * this is not the fist time Labor has had low electoral support
    * voters generally choose between Labor and LNP
    * the Greens are unlikely to get more than 15% of the vote
    * Labor must pursue its own principles and goals rather than collaborate with the Greens, regardless of Labor's current level of electoral support
    * if a party is not in government, its not making a difference - progressives should not be shy in pursuing power

    My response :
    * You go through lessons to be learned from Labor's history but it might pay to also review lessons learned from the Liberal party's history.
    * I don't agree with your assertion that the current parliamentary relationship federal Labor has with the Greens as any kind of permanent "alliance", its just a reasonable consequence of hung parliament and is unlikely to exist after the next federal election.
    * People will vote for you if you earn their vote, if you are 'votable'. For too long, Labor has been the default choice for progressives but now progressives have a choice. Labor (and the Greens) now have to work for their votes. Thats not such a bad thing -- its an opportunity for them to better advertise themselves, to clarify their principles, and differentiate themselves from each other (and the Liberals).
    * I'm not sure "confronting the Greens" is all that necessary. They are more Labor's allies than enemies and the more Labor uses its (limited) resources fighting them, the less resources they have to fight the real enemy (the Liberals, and in particular, the Tea Party like elements that appear to be gaining some traction in the Liberal party). If Labor is effective in confronting the Liberals (and clarifying and pursuing Labor principles is certainly the best way to do that), I think any issues with the Greens will sort themselves out in due course.

    In conclusion, it seems to me that agonising over the Greens is playing the man rather than the ball. People will vote for Labor if it best represents them and acts in their interest. That is regardless of anything the Greens do.

    I am not a member of any political party, just an interested onlooker.

  2. A response for your consideration.