Why does everyone hate the Labor Party?
Last year my partner Victoria ran for local council for the Labor Party. She’s a young mum with a kind heart and a passion for improving the lives of women and children. The local Liberal-run council, Ryde, was obsessed with development and, like many councils, consists of various middle-aged men with connections to the real estate and property industry. I think her candidacy was a very good thing- if she weren’t my partner, I’d be very pleased to vote for a refreshing change to the developer spivs and future Liberal Party MPs who inhabit the local council. She received wonderful support from her mothers’ group, from locals she spoke to at the playground and surprisingly, even the local independent media. But I confess that I was very worried. She’s no shrinking violet- she organised and led the International Women’s Day march the past two years with our little boy Bobby strapped to her front. She can more than hold her own. Yet, and still, I worried. There is a disturbing amount of invective and hatred expressed against left wingers, and left wing women especially, often by very disturbed people. Recently, a friend of mine was allegedly assaulted by a Westfield manager because he had the temerity to stand on a public footpath and protest against Westfield’s anti-worker policies. The manager was arrested and the case is ongoing, so I won’t say too much more, but needless to say, it is a cause for concern. Why do unions and the Labor Party arouse such strong passions?
I spent a lot of time doorknocking and phoning voters at the last State election in the seat of Toongabbie. Nathan Rees is the member there and he’s very popular with the locals, even though he ended up winning by just 205 votes. The swing against him was 14%, while in the seats around him it was 25, 25, 30, 22%. During the time I spent speaking with thousands of voters, it became very clear why people wanted to punish Labor.
Firstly it was the sleaze and scandal.
Secondly, the instability and factional games.
Third, it was Labor’s abandonment of traditional Labor priorities and values- Labor was acting like the Liberal Party by always looking at selling off assets, outsourcing services and generally looking after the big end of town.
It was heartbreaking and difficult, even as it was predictable. But it wasn’t hate.
The former Labor voters were disappointed and sorrowful. So it’s not the people who once regularly voted Labor that are hateful. They are disappointed. The recent issues give the haters a good handle to bash Labor, but they are not the cause of the fury.
There is a permanent group of Labor-despisers who are infuriated with Labor’s existence. I am not sure I was comfortable with my partner bearing the brunt of the attacks from these people. Especially since they are often slightly unhinged, bilious types.
Where does this hate come from and why?
Firstly, the Liberal Party and the liberal media dislike Labor opposing them at all.
They do not believe Labor is a legitimate political formation- they don’t like the idea that society should ever be run for the benefit of the people who do all the work.
They accept and promote hierarchical societies such as those that predominate in Asia and Europe and other more unequal Anglophone countries, such as the US and the UK. Joe Hockey has said it again and again- he’d like to see us more like South Korea.
My local member, John Alexander has said he thinks penalty rates for weekend work should be abolished, and Tony Abbott wants more ‘flexibility’ in workplace laws. This is all code for ‘society is naturally unequal, poor people have to work for rich people while they enjoy the spoils of wealth and fortune’.
This whole way of thinking is seen as natural and inevitable, necessary for economic growth and undoubtedly morally fair- the rich deserve wealth because they have worked harder at some point. Richer people are better people, and desiring to be rich is entirely praiseworthy, similar to desiring to be healthy.
Labor’s presence challenges all that and it makes them furious. We remind them that the laziest are those who earn wealth from interest or who inherit it. That behind many great fortunes are great crimes. That (as the facebook meme says) if hard work and enterprise were the key to producing wealth then every African woman would be a millionaire. That the rich are just as dumb, criminal, wantonly destructive and drug-addled as the rest of us, and have no greater claim on moral worth. The rich have failed again and again to protect democracy and fairness. The institutions of banking, the law, media, business and industry are riddled with nepotism, corruption, rorting, trickery and general psychopathy.
Labor, by stating, in the old fashioned Australian manner, that ‘jack is as good as his master’, upsets all the preconceived notions that make up the post-Protestant bourgeois modern mindset.
So they throw everything at us. They project all their worst nightmares onto us. ‘You’re all bludgers, looking after your bludging mates!’ they scream, as they head off on harbour cruises with their executive clients.
‘You can’t add up, you’re terrible at business and finance!’ the moan as their tenth company goes under, or the world economy goes into free fall due to their deregulation ideology.
‘You’re unfit for office!’ is sprayed by men who you wouldn’t trust with the tea money.
This isn’t to say that Labor hasn’t brought shame upon itself. As mentioned, Labor lost the last NSW election because its systems have produced people of dubious ethics and loose standards of behaviour. Matt Brown dancing in his underpants on Budget night is not the same as Eddie Obeid doing deals to secure windfall profits, but there is some connection- the mindset is the same- I’m in it for personal gain, not for the voters.
So the Liberals hate us and project all their worst nightmares on to us because we challenge a worldview that they regard as natural.
The Greens on the other hand also hate us, but for a different reason.
Their hatred stems from a similar psychological framework as the Liberals. Greens, at heart social liberals drawn from the great Australian upper middle class, see the world as a choice. You choose your political party like any other product or service. It is an expression of your individuality. And when buying a product the worst thing is to be disappointed by its performance, as Labor does when in Government, because it can never simply take over and fix every problem from global warming to faster Internet in five minutes. So it’s a permanent disappointment.
This has infuriated many Greens members and supporters. The Greens membership is very small- a few thousand in NSW. Of the active few hundred, many are former Labor Party members, and not a few are employed by unions. Their constant refrain is that the Labor Party has lost its way and is too right wing. They won’t get any argument from me on that score. But it’s your response to that problem that defines you and your politics.
The world is a bad place in many respects. It is violent, unjust, polluted, unequal, unfair, sexist and racist. What can you do about it? Well, the ability to change things is called power- potency. Women and men everywhere seek it to make their own situation better. Some seek it to make the whole world’s problems better. But if they’re honest, they’re seeking power.
Power is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It’s what that power is used to do that gives it a moral character. The Greens abjure power in order to remain pure. They refuse to contest for or create political power at the expense of the conservatives. On the contrary they seek to take power from Australian Labor, the most successful and enduring democratic socialist political grouping in the history of the world, responsible for creating arguably the most successfully wealthy, healthy, just and fair mass society in all human history- modern Australia.
Every effort the Greens make to attack Labor’s city strongholds, the seats of Sydney, Melbourne, Balmain and Grayndler, sucks enormous resources away from the battle against the conservatives in other areas, such as outer suburban Sydney seats like Lindsay, Robertson and Werriwa. That is nothing short of treachery.
To give a correlating example: in 2000, during the US Presidential elections, Ralph Nader ran as a Greens candidate for President. He secured 97,000 votes in Florida. Al Gore lost Florida by 537 votes. If Gore had won Florida he would have been President. Would Gore have invaded Iraq? It is extremely unlikely that a Democrat President would have done what Bush did. This is not a perfect example- NSW has optional preferential voting and Florida does not- a Green voter can give their second preference to Labor if they wish. But they don’t have to, and often don’t, up to 70% of Greens voters don’t give Labor a preference at State elections. Federal elections are run under compulsory preferencing- but still up to 25% of Greens voters preference the Liberals or Nationals ahead of Labor.
So what purpose are the Greens serving? They make the upper middle class, disappointed political shopper feel better. Politics should not be about making yourself feel better. It should be about gaining power to change a bad world.
Labor knew in 1891 that the only way to gain and exercise power for the democratic cause was to do so collectively, democratically. That’s why the indispensable feature of union and Labor organising is the binding caucus or binding strike ballot. The Greens refuse to participate in a binding left wing political caucus. They are therefore splitters. And splitting the power and unity of the left is politically insane and morally indefensible when the Right and the power of capital is so strong.
It was no coincidence that the rudest and most immature attacks on my partner in the council elections came from her Greens opponent, a young ‘gaming-enthusiast’ named Mitchell Ophir. And it continued after election day- when Victoria presented David Koch with a montage of women breastfeeding (to protest against his idiotic comments about ‘using discretion’), Mitchell took to Twitter to accuse her of using our son as a political prop. It didn’t matter that the issue at hand was breastfeeding and directly involved Bobby’s right to be fed, nor that Bobby stays attached or close wherever Victoria goes. No, for Ophir, Victoria’s wearing of Bobby had to be a stunt. Mitchell hated a Labor person being a genuine activist because it doesn’t fit with the Greens worldview that they are the only ones out there trying to rescue the world, and that Labor and the Libs are two conservative parties, Tweedledum an Tweedledee, as they like to say. Their analysis precludes the thought that Labor people could be real activists, instead of tricksy careerists. Thankfully, the Greens and their supporters don’t often turn this hate into the frothing invective that we see from Liberals, but they can certainly turn it on occasionally. Go to a house party in Newtown and say something like ‘the Greens are to blame if Abbott repeals the carbon price because they blocked Rudd’s original scheme’ or ‘the American Greens elected George Bush’ and you’ll find yourself locked out and looking for a cab home, if not confronted by an angry hipster with red wine stained teeth and a righteous fury that could move one to tears if it weren’t so funny.
Labor’s political opponents are legitimate political formations in my view. They represent a class position, conservative liberalism and progressive liberalism, that is entitled to a voice, perhaps not the leading voice, but a voice nevertheless, in Australian politics. I may fight them in word and deed, but I hope to always maintain some dignity in doing so. I won’t hold my breath waiting for them to do the same. In the meantime, I’ll just have to put away my anxieties about Victoria’s safety and well being. She is equally capable of handling the loonies as I am.