“I’m not the leader of a party called the progressive party, I’m not the leader of a party called the moderate party, I’m not the leader of a party even called the social democratic party. I’m the leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately, because that is where we come from, that is what we believe in, that is who we are.” – Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Australian Workers Union National Conference, February 18th, 2013
When I heard the Prime Minister utter these words last night on Lateline, I felt a twinge of anger and despair in my stomach, not because of the words but because of their intended political purpose.
As someone who identifies with words such as “social democrat”, “progressive” and “moderate” and considers the Australian Labor Party to be the natural home for someone who believes in all of those approaches to issues, I felt quite alienated. I believe that emotion is the opposite of the very foundation of what the Australian Labor Party is meant to be about!
Many times Prime Minister Gillard has spoken about “Labor values” without specifically defining what they are in terms of what people value or values systems people have established throughout their lives.
I consider inclusion to be a core value of the Australian Labor Party and the words uttered by the Prime Minister last night were exclusionary and go a long way to explaining many of the political problems the party is currently experiencing.
Leaving aside words such as “social democrat” and “progressive”, the fact the Prime Minister would disassociate herself from the word “moderate” is a major mistake!
Many people who are supporters of a so called “centre-right” agenda identify themselves as “moderate.” These are people who need to vote for the ALP in order for the party to win the next federal election and they have many trigger points that will turn them away from the Liberal Party such as asylum seeker policy, an emotionally reassuring, pragmatic and optimistic approach to the economy, addressing dangerous climate change and the extreme social and economic positions of their current leader to name a few.
When many of these “moderates” see Tony Abbott, they feel a deep sense of concern. When they hear Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan dissociate themselves from the word “moderate” and “the middle ground” in order to re-appeal to the old anvil of the blue collar manufacturing base and the old economy of the industrial age, many feel passively indifferent about him.
They don’t lose the feelings of concern, they simply disassociate themselves emotionally from what is happening in the national conversation.
Whenever the ALP attack Abbott or any of the other Liberal state Premier for being extreme all it does is intensify this emotional state of concerned indifference.
There is a lot of talk right now that suggests the ALP should adopt the successful campaigning methods from the Democrats in the USA in order to win the next federal election. The exclusionary rhetoric on display last night is inconsistent with what the Democrats were doing during that campaign and why it was successful.
I have never once seen Barack Obama disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.
I have never once seen Bill Clinton disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.
I have never once seen Bob Hawke disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.
I have never once seen Paul Keating disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.
I have never once seen Kevin Rudd disassociate himself from a socially democratic, progressive, moderate position.
In short, no one who wins elections at a national level either in Australia or the United States says what Prime Minister Gillard said last night!
Many people in the ALP wonder why the party has struggled since 1996 to consistently get over 40% of the primary vote at a federal level. I believe excluding people in the community in order to play to the ever diminishing base vote goes a very long way to understanding why this is and has been the case for such a long time.
The Prime Minister and her people should think very long and hard about the effects of this exclusionary rhetoric before engaging in it again. It will not win the next federal election for the ALP and it’s extremely damaging when the party needs to be opening itself up to the community and the people living in it so they can win as many votes as possible rather than closing itself off and engaging in an ultimately self defeating race to the bottom with the Coalition parties.
“Too many people in the Labor Party don’t like the society we created” – Paul Keating in conversation with Kerry O’Brien in 2011
Mr Keating has a very unique way of summarising situations and people in a single sentence. I think this one as applied to what was said last night is dead on the money!