Sunday, 21 March 2010

Defining An ALP Member: What Mike Rann Taught Our Party

For all the bad press Mike Rann has received over the past few months, the South Australian Labor Premier somehow managed to win the state election by the skin of his teeth. Nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, it seems that Rann will form government with a majority of somewhere between one and three seats, securing a third term in office.

However I don’t think that was his greatest achievement yesterday. Amongst the backdrop of uneven swings across Adelaide, no one was quite sure who was going to emerge victorious when Rann took the stage at around 10pm. It is rare that a politician addresses supporters on an election night without actually claiming victory or defeat. Yet this is what Rann had to do.

From these unusual circumstances Rann gave what I believe to be the best speech of his political career. A particular passage of this speech resonated with me when Rann more or less defined what it means to be a member of the ALP:

Don Dunston won by one seat… and John Bannon won his third term by one seat and if we can win by more than one seat it will be history making for the whole Labor Party in South Australia…

I want to thank all of the volunteers who have been out there working tirelessly, because you are the heart and soul of the Labor Party, and that’s because when you look at the Ministry, and you look at the MPs it’s from your ranks that we come, and its your side that we’re on, and we are proud to represent a state that is now a leader, not a follower…

Since Latham left the political stage, Labor politicians have drifted away from defining the unique qualities of their party. It seems they believe that this sort of definition alienates the voters who do not support the party’s values. One can understand this logic, but I think it is nonsense. Rudd in particular has made an art form of adopting non partisan language in the attempt to win the ever prized collection of swinging voters.

This may result in winning and even obtaining government, but such politicking comes at a cost. Political commentators would have you believe the opposite through their pragmatic prose when they suggest politicians who revel in ideological politics are relics from a bygone era. It is in this context one must examine Rann’s remarks. I believe that what sets the ALP apart from other parties is its sense of camaraderie, in which as Rann suggests, all levels of the party work together to achieve an election victory. For all his psychological and leadership failings the positive example to take out of the Latham experience is that he joined his party in his teens, as a precocious outsider and worked his way up the ranks of the Green Valley Branch in Western Sydney. From there he was able to propel himself into the decision making apparatus of the ALP through hard work and dedication, eventually entering Federal Parliament, and finally becoming party leader. Although Latham rejects such concepts now, it is important to emphasise that despite the exaggerated presence of factions within the party (All organisations that fight for power have factions, even the Liberal Party) the majority of its participants come from diverse backgrounds to achieve common political objectives.

The words of Rann do indeed remind me of Chifley’s famous Light on the Hill speech in 1945, which is now the go to cliché for expressing the values of the modern ALP:

I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody's pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.

If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labour movement will be completely justified.

It does not matter about persons like me who have our limitations. I only hope that the generosity, kindliness and friendliness shown to me by thousands of my colleagues in the Labour movement will continue to be given to the movement and add zest to its work.

Rann may have barely succeeded last night, but perhaps he may teach Labor to find the light once more.

No comments:

Post a Comment