We can expect the battle for the soul of the Labor Party to be waged furiously after what seems like an inevitable election loss in September.
IF asked a month ago which books offered real insight into what’s happening inside the federal Labor Party, and why, I’d have suggested two titles.
First comes retired Western Australian senator Peter Walsh’s Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister, (1995), followed by Labor Without Class: The gentrification of the ALP (1999), by Sydney lawyer and one-time Labor adviser, Michael Thompson.
If a week’s a long time in politics a month must be an eternity, because if asked today I’d add journalist Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture, due for release next month, since it confirms Messrs Walsh and Thompson’s analysis and farsighted warnings.
All that needs saying of Mr Walsh’s candid account of his time as Labor’s finance minister is that it was arduous dealing with the 1980s crop of Labor parliamentary wastrels and spendthrifts – succeeded by the self-righteous 1990s entrants such as Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan – in the battle for prudent public finance administration.
Confessions of a Failed Finance Minister is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand how Australia reached its present parlous over-spending, over-borrowing, over-taxing and over-regulating state.
Mr Thompson’s Labor Without Class continues on from Mr Walsh’s work by explaining the origins of Labor’s shift from a worker-based party to one enveloped by middle class, generally university trained, (but not truly educated) types.
He began by acknowledging a former Labor leader who’d been prescient about the rising new class taking over Labor.
Here’s what I wrote when previously referring to Mr Thompson in this column (Labor battles to reconnect with ‘its people’, January 25 2012).
“Thompson … began by following on from a little-known comment by one-time Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, who’d contended in his 1972 memoirs, Be Just and Fear Not, that already by the late 1960s there had emerged what he called a ‘faction’ of (Labor and non-Labor) individuals in parliament that he regarded as ‘aggressive, assertive, philosophical, way-out people’.
“These people seek to challenge all accepted views and standards that govern our society,” Calwell wrote.
“Nothing that exists is above criticism to them.
“There are more of them in the Labor Party than any other party.
“But the newspapers, radio and television media have also been the object of similar penetration.”
Mr Thompson says such gentrified new-class Laborites are primarily: “Drawn from among the tertiary-educated middle class whose members have gone to university since the 1960s, where they imbibed the social causes of feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism and the like, which their counter-culture lecturers had imported from America.
“They now occupy many of the senior positions in politics, the ABC and SBS, universities, schools, government departments and agencies, courts, anti-discrimination and other such boards and non-government organisations, and also in the private, non-traded-goods sector (e.g. journalists and human resource management).
“All, or nearly all, invariably draw taxpayer-funded perks and salaries.”
I added: “Among those now occupying Labor’s top strata are: Kevin Rudd, diplomat/public servant; Julia Gillard, student activist, lawyer, political staffer; Wayne Swan, lecturer and political staffer; Greg Combet, union leader; Penny Wong, lawyer and union official; and Tanya Plibersek, campus women’s officer and domestic violence unit, NSW Government’s Office for Status and Advancement of Women and political staffer.”
Unlike Mr Walsh, they’re all greens eco-oriented new leftists.
Mr Cater has previewed his forthcoming The Lucky Culture in The Australian newspaper, where he made mention of former minister Martin Ferguson, who wrote the forward Mr Thompson’s book.
Mr Cater wrote: “The resignation of Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson from Gillard’s cabinet may in time come to be seen as a turning point for the party.
“As former ACTU leaders old enough to remember the party as it once was, and smart enough to realise that it still needs the votes of working people, their removal from the highest echelons of the federal party is a significant loss.
“Ferguson has been telling his colleagues since he entered parliament that it would be a mistake to repackage the party as progressive or as a rainbow coalition of special interest groups.
“In 1999, two years before the rise of the Greens as a serious national political force, Ferguson wrote a tough and prescient foreword to Michael Thompson’s book, Labor Without Class.
“It made him unpopular with many in the party at the time, but the accuracy of his predictions is now clear for all to see.”
Mr Ferguson wrote: “There is a view – forcibly expressed in some quarters – that the interests of narrow, well-mobilised groups have sometimes taken precedence over the interests and concerns of ordinary working people.
“(Thompson’s book) draws attention to the too often self-serving agendas of special interest groups, who are skilled at cloaking their self-interest in the language of compassion, and whose moral outrage is often levelled at fundamental working-class values such as hard work, independence and the traditional family.
“We must ask whom we truly represent.”