Political lessons learned close to home

DOES the second Blair Labour electoral landslide hold any lessons for Western Australia, or Australia, for that matter?

It’s something local political buffs are asking, with left leaning ones hoping there are.

This isn’t surprising for, whenever British or New Zealand voters do something seemingly extraordinary, local election watchers look for lessons, precedents and trends.

In this case there’s also a quaint dual Perth connection to the upper echelons of Britain’s major parties.

Premier Geoff Gallop is a close friend of Tony Blair and wife, Cherie. It’s an association from their Oxford days.

Less widely known is the fact that former Perth tabloid journalist (and author of a steamy sex-studded pot-boiler titled Scandal) Amanda Platell was Conservative leader William Hague’s media guru.

And Amanda – I can refer to her thus having known her well at university – is also close to Mr Hague’s wife, Ffion.

Although commanding a $250,000 spin-doctor salary, Amanda failed to pull off the big prize – putting the Hagues into Number 10.

But no one expected that.

I suspect Mr Hague wasn’t so much in need of a journalist as farsighted ideas people, so his demoralised party could re-emerge with new democratic programs to further reform and enhance Britain.

The Blair Government had much going for it, having accepted its Conservative predecessor’s far-sighted reforms, whereas his opponents seemed bereft of new ideas, like Richard Court’s Liberals in 2001.

On winning, Mr Blair dramatically expressed his elation.

“He said his long-range goal was to establish Labour as Britain’s natural party of government in the 21st century in the way the Conservatives, long the greatest vote-getting machine in Europe, were in the 20th century,” one report said.

Only this century will tell if that dream is realised.

One can argue until the goats come home whether WA or Australia have anything to learn from his win.

After World War II, both Australia and Britain elected strongly socialistic governments and each removed them at their next election – a similarity.

But in Australia’s case, non-Labor retained power for 23 years, during which time socialist Fabian ideas that were implemented in Britain between 1945-51 by Attlee Labour never gained as firm a hold – a difference.

British Conservative from the 1950s to the 1980s – Churchill (second time around) Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home and Heath – essentially administered a markedly socialised and increasingly ragged and almost Tito Yugoslav-style economy.

Fortunately, this never occurred in Australia. Even the hapless Whitlam Government never sought sociali-sation of “production, distribution and exchange”, words once in Australian Labor’s platform.

Margaret Thatcher, who’s hailed as the great privatiser, ignored the issue in her first term.

It was only after realising she was basically a pale image of Attlee Labour that she took advice from several farsighted ideas people who urged her to move towards enhancing democratic, not just corporate, capitalism.

If Conservatives win to simply administer a socialist economy more efficiently, better to let Labour govern forever, she was told.

On finally moving to alter Britain’s economy, she and her advisers not only markedly changed Britain, but also contributed to fundamentally altering Eastern Europe.

It’s worth noting that in Australia, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating embraced Thatcher-style privati-sation first – not Liberals like John Howard or Andrew Peacock – meaning Aussie Labor led Blair Labour by years.

Mrs Thatcher’s impact on Britain was so dramatic that a new generation of British Labour MPs emerged to reject Attlee’s calami-tous Fabian socialist blueprint, thus drying out Labour as well as the Conservatives.

Mr Blair is one of these and continues to distance himself from Labour’s wet post-war heritage by calling his party New Labour.

He deliberately slips in “New” to show he prefers dry Thatcherism to Labour’s Attleeism or Churchill and his wet successors’ conservatism.

Now that this big ideological upheaval has settled in Westminster, Canberra, and to an extent Perth – both Court Governments made some progress in privatising – Dr Gallop need look no further than his home town of Geraldton (indeed his family) on how to administer WA.

Last month, quite accidentally, I obtained a book titled The Birth of a Legend: The history of the Geraldton Building Company and the men and women who made it possible.

At page 47, author Keith Smith wrote: “1951 saw Geraldton Building Co become Geraldton Building Co Pty Ltd with a nominal capital of $100,000 and overdraft of $24,000.

“With Alf Crothers as chairman of directors, Bert Pepperell managing director, and Doug Gallop company secretary, the policies and business ethics of the company were developed and firmly established.”

Doug is Geoff’s father.

By following his father’s example he’d undoubtedly lay the basis for good and ethical government, giving WA Labor a chance to become what his pal Tony called the “natural party of government”.

What occurred in Geraldton after 1951 is now immeasurably more relevant to WA than what happened in British polling booths last Thursday.


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