The common media narrative on the ‘left’ of the Labor Party is that it’s leaders, like Anthony Albanese, are unelectable. John Passant disagrees, both about the electability, and the ‘left’.
Is Labor Party luminary Anthony Albanese too left wing for his party to be electable if he were to replace Bill Shorten and become leader of the Opposition? Many media commentators certainly thinks so.
For example, according to Peter van Onselen in The Australian, Albanese is ‘probably too left wing for mainstream voters. From asylum seeker policies to his liberal attitudes towards social issues, Albanese lives the politics of his inner city electorate. His personality connects with outer metropolitan voters, whereas his politics may not.’
Most Labor Party members would disagree. Sixty percent of them voted for Albanese in the leadership contest. Shorten only won with the backing of the Caucus. It is likely that if a vote on the Labor Party leadership were held now Albanese would increase his membership vote and win more of the caucus vote, possibly making him leader.
So would Albanese lose a general election? It is a common trope of Murdoch papers that anyone left wing is unelectable. The barrage of propaganda against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK from the Murdoch, and to be fair, other media, is a case in point.
However the ascendancy of Corbyn to the leadership of British Labour has seen a massive increase in membership (more than 200,000 new members have joined) and re-energised the grass roots. Not only that but his politics have thrown the Conservatives off and he seems, from afar, to be winning many of the debates.
His pro-working class policies have seen a shift of former Labour Party voters, some of them bedazzled by the racism of UKIP, back to the Labour Party.
And it’s is not just the UK. In January, Greek voters elected the left-wing Syriza Party on an anti-austerity program. Canada has just thrown out the austerity of the Harper government and elected Justin Trudeau and his Liberals on a soft left program. In doing so voters rejected the move to the right by the formerly left wing New Democratic Party.
In the US, Bernie Sanders’ campaign for nomination as the Democratic Party presidential candidate has inspired millions. The more he talks about democratic socialism the more support he wins.
This shift to the left in comparable countries shows that various radical and progressive ideas can win support. This is not surprising. Poll after poll shows that on most economic and social issues Australian voters are well to the left of their politicians.
This helps explain the widespread dissatisfaction with neoliberal Labor in particular, and politics more generally in Australia. Given the right circumstances, a number of the disaffected and disillusioned would flock to a credible left wing party with anti-austerity and pro-working class policies.
The other problem in this ‘Albanese is unelectable’ propaganda is to imagine Albanese is left wing. That term in the Labor Party context does not reflect deep ideological differences over policy and the nature of Australian society.
Left and right in the ALP are now more about tribal divisions than principle. Albanese himself has been a key player both as a Minister and leading member of the party in its degeneration to the anaemic, scared of its own shadow party the ALP now is, bereft of any working class politics.
Indeed, at times the Party has been better able to deliver shifts in wealth from labour to capital than the conservatives could ever imagine.
Labor would not be unelectable under Albanese, especially if he adopted a left cover. However if elected to government Albanese’s real neoliberal agenda would become clear to people and they would reject it and him too, just as they rejected the neoliberalism of Tony Abbott and may well do of Malcolm Turnbull, given time and the lived experience of the deleterious impact of his anti-working class policies.
A genuine left wing party of the working class in Australia has not yet developed. Until it does we will remain in the Sisyphean oscillations between neoliberal Labor and pro-austerity Liberal governments.
Because Albanese is no Jeremy Corbyn.
* John Passant is an occasional NM contributor, a PhD student in the School of Politics and International Relations at the ANU and a member of the small revolutionary socialist group Solidarity.
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