Class as a political tool has long past its used by date. People who comprise the ‘lower class' refuse to think in such terms these days. Instead, they aspire to reach the ‘middle class’ while the people who occupy this category now believe themselves to be 'upper middle class'. Consequently, the political debate has shifted. As Clive Hamilton points out in his 2006 essay What’s Left: The Death of Social Democracy: ‘The shift in the 1960s from a politics of inequality to a politics of identity involved a new focus on the cultural and social domain, rather than on underlying economic forces.’ It was clear based on each speaker’s content that they both failed to grasp these concepts, and in doing so clearly misunderstand the current political climate.
Its true that the Labor Party has a well thought out clearly defined set of values that make it distinct from any other political party in Australia. However we no longer live with the looming ideological threat of the Cold War and terms such as ‘democratic socialism’ remain vague abstract notions to many young people. They see ideological terms as a way that academics can look sophisticated, or as a debating tool for the well educated. It’d be interesting to see the reaction of Andrew Dettmer as he walked around the Café J at the University of the Sunshine Coast and asked students how they would define ‘democratic socialism’. He would get plenty of quizzical stares.
But if he asked what each student stood for politically I dare say he would get many different and articulate answers. Should the government invest more or less in services? Should the government provide services so the socially disadvantaged can gain access to equitable treatment? How much influence should the government have in controlling the economy? These three questions are where the political battle is fought in the 21st century.
So how does the Labor Party (or any other political party for that matter) respond to this changing political climate? The answers are simple. Create a political narrative and make it personally identifiable. I had to laugh at this forum because one of the audience members said: ‘Your Rights At Work (A political campaign against WorkChoices, an industrial relations reform package) was successful because the Labor Party and the unions returned to class based politics’. In fact the opposite proved to be true. Your Rights At Work was an excellent grass roots campaign that tapped into the personal priorities of working Australians. They could care less that the power of the unions was being eroded. Instead they knew that WorkChoices meant that their overtime was being cut, and sick pay benefits were being slashed (amongst many things). They knew that this meant they might no longer be able to afford their repayments on their house, or they could not spend more time with their kids. Your Rights At Work was personal, not communal.
‘Politics is Personal’ is the political maxim for the 21 century. It is why ‘Moving Forward’ has replaced ‘Bringing Australia Together’ as the dominant campaign line of the modern era. As voters across all generations gain more and more access to information on political content, the opinion makers that McLean and Dettmar dismissed continually out of hand are vitally important: they provide people with information that allows them to connect with issues on a personal basis. Blogging achieves just that but was criticised as ‘a political fad’ on Monday night, when it is in fact a great political weapon. This page is just one example of the ability to put forward a cogent argument uninterrupted whilst allowing audience members (or indeed voters) to provide real time feedback, a wonderful asset for any politician. A failure to comprehend this highlights an enormous generational disconnect in the Labor Party.
I attended this forum with my colleagues, branch members and friends Carl and Rachael, the tripartite force of Generation Y Labor on the Sunshine Coast. We were not surprised that we were the only members of the forum who did not yearn for ‘…the good old days of Labor politics where we used to protest about protesting…' The Labor Party for the past week has been all about moving forward and yet it seems the greater portion of Labor’s members remain stuck in the past still fighting battles that no longer exists. The question should not be ‘Has The Labor Party Lost its Soul?’, but rather ‘Can the Labor Party Truly Represent Modern Australia?’
Note: Readers who live in South East Queensland that are interested in attending Fabian Society forums should contact Joff at