The End of the Party? Labor History and the Rise of the Greens.
- Introduction: The End of the Party? Hysteria and History
- Historical Context: Electoral Challenges to Labor from the Left
- Historical Context: A Direct Historical Parallel - The Lang Labor Split
- Lessons from History: The Limited Scale of the Threat
- Lessons from History: The Risks of an Ideologically Isolated Labor Party
- Lessons from History: The Risks of a Divided Progressive Movement
- Responding to the Challenge of the Greens: Political Philosophy And the Case for Government
- Responding to the Challenge of the Greens: Progressive Policy Making in the Real World
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?’