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Thoughts on the Gillard-Abbott election

On the centre-Left, a new election meme has been incubating, one that attributes Gillard’s persistent unpopularity to the hostility of the media, which has been either too shallow (the Monthly) or too sexist (Anne Summers) to appreciate her achievements.

Now, obviously, News Ltd has campaigned against Gillard hysterically and relentlessly, and this will only intensify in the months to come. Mark Latham, of all people, came out with a decent line when he quipped that if Gillard cured cancer the Murdoch papers would attack her for neglecting other diseases.

Yet blaming the media rather misses the point.

The right-wing press – its sexism, its conservatism and, yes, its inanity – forms part of the landscape against which any reform project defines itself. A progressive candidate will inevitably receive constant visits from Murdoch’s flying monkeys; by definition, a successful campaign necessarily involves countering Tony Abbott’s grisly Hallelujah chorus on the op-ed pages. That’s why attributing Gillard’s woes to the right wing media might be compared to explaining the failure of a long-distance swimmer by complaining about the dampness of the water.

More fundamentally, the notion that Gillard Labor represents a progressive project somehow thwarted by the Australian and Larry Pickering simply doesn’t hold up. The ALP possesses, after all, a sophisticated media management strategy – it’s just that the strategy doesn’t involve fighting the conservative press so much as channeling it.

Hence Kevin Rudd’s famous response to policy advice: ‘That’s a fine idea – but how do I explain it on Today Tonight?’

Now, Gillard’s misogyny speech provided a glimpse of a different approach, one that sought to overcome prejudices rather than pander to them – and the ecstatic response that ensued hinted at a constituency willing to fight when given a lead. But, for the most part, Gillard’s political instincts are the same as Rudd’s, more given to pandering to backwardness rather than overcoming it. Think of gay marriage, think of the resources tax: two instances where a substantial majority could have been mobilised against whatever slurs and idiocies the Telegraph cooked up. Instead, Gillard has responded to controversies by giving the Right what it wants.

It seems odd to have to point out the fundamental conservatism of Gillard Labor, perhaps the most right-wing ALP government we’ve ever seen. After all, Rudd proudly proclaimed himself to be both an economic and social conservative – and insofar as Gillard has distinguished herself from the Rudd administration in which she was a key player, it’s been by lurching rightward on the most highly contentious issues.

Yet the imminence of an Abbott government makes an honest assessment of Gillardism increasingly difficult. For many on the Left, the prospect of a Liberal landslide under Tony Abbott seems so apocalyptic that preventing a Coalition victory becomes the first, second and third priority, and pointing out the ALP’s failings seems, at best, an intolerable indulgence and at worst the provision of aid to the enemy.

Clearly, the election of Tony Abbott will be A Bad Thing. Scott Morrison’s suggestion that refugees be monitored by police hinted at the cruelties we might expect under a Liberal government. ‘There is a register in relation to sex offenders’, explained Eric Abetz, in the wake of Morrison’s remarks, ‘and the community has spoken in relation to that. And communities do want to be notified.’

Yet you can’t discuss the ‘refugees as pedophiles’ notion honestly without noting the relationship between the Liberals’ plan to treat asylum seekers as criminals and Gillard’s policy of preventing refugees from working while paying them a pension that’s less than the dole. For what does the Labor policy do, if not establish bipartisan support for the notion that fleeing persecution makes a person in some way guilty? And, if they’re guilty, well, alerting the police makes sense, doesn’t it?

When Tony Abbott became Liberal leader, his extremism seemed, at first, likely to keep the conservatives out of office for a generation. Here was a hard-Right activist, deeply committed to a religiously derived social conservatism out of step with how most Australians live their lives. Surely he’d never become Prime Minister!

Well, Labor’s own conservatism has managed to normalise most of Abbott’s ideas, thus rendering him entirely electable. Take his ideas about sexuality. Same-sex marriage enjoys majority support, and has done so for a long time, especially among young people. If Gillard had backed equal marriage and quickly passed laws making it possible, she’d have neatly wedged the Liberals. Abbott would face a rank-and-file revolt if he lined up with the ho-ho-homosexuals. Yet, once same-sex weddings had actually taken place, a Liberal pledge to rescind them would have become equally difficult, since it would have committed Abbott to separating happy couples, whose union most people support.

Instead, Gillard, presumably on the basis of some sort of deal with the Australian Christian Lobby, announced her personal opposition to gay marriage, a stance that both demoralised potential Labor activists and, more importantly, legimitised the Liberals’ position. It’s now very hard for the ALP to paint Abbott as a bigot, when there’s not a lick of paint between his stance and that of the PMs.

So that’s part of the problem with using the prospect of an Abbott government to give the ALP a blank cheque: it means you can’t explain how Labor got itself into such a terrible mess in the first place.

But there’s more to it than that.

Given that every survey suggests the inevitability of Gillard’s defeat, the relentless warnings about the awfulness of the coming Libpocalypse run the risk of fostering massive demoralisation when the black day’s actually upon us. Now, it’s possible that the polls are wrong and Abbott will never see the inside of the Lodge – but you wouldn’t bet your house on it.

That’s why it’s useful to remind ourselves that, in almost every protest campaign in recent years, Gillard’s been on the wrong side. Think about the equal love marches, think about the refugee issue, think about civil liberties and war and pensions to single parents. It’s not as if activists and community campaigners will be losing an ally if Gillard goes. On almost any issue you can name, the struggles will continue, irrespective of who wins the election.

Yes, it’s possible that Abbott might open up some new fronts, especially if emboldened by a big win. Yet, while Gillard Labor is clearly hated, the popular mood doesn’t seem to involve a great deal of enthusiasm either for Abbott personally or conservatism as a whole. Rather, much of the sentiment comes from a deeper discontent about governments as a whole, part of the general anti-incumbent mood prevailing throughout the industrialised world at the moment.

Furthermore, the conservatives might have papered over their own divisions because of the intensity of their hatred for Gillard and the limitlessness of their personal ambitions but that won’t cut it in the longer term. It’s not as if Abbott’s put forward a philosophical manifesto to which he’s won his colleagues. On the contrary, the Liberal platform consists of a grab bag of whatever ideas seemed promising at the time. After the election euphoria subsides, an Abbott administration might very well replicate the same sort of internal shenanigans we’ve seen from Labor.

That’s not to discount how depressing an election this is likely to be. As well as a Labor wipeout, the poll might also mean a reversal to the Greens, who have placed themselves in a position where it’s unclear whether they’re running in opposition to Labor or whether they’re standing in defence of the alliance they made with it.

Yet, though an Abbott government will be nasty, it’s quite likely to be weak, too, and so we’re not necessarily facing anything like another Howard decade. A lot depends on how prepared the Left is for another round of struggles. Facing reality is a necessary first step.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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  1. I agree strongly with most of this, Jeff, but I’m very curious behind your reasoning that an Abbot government “will most likely be weak.” Surely there were many prepared to say that in ’95 against Howard. The Abbott government will have none of the deep ideological ambivalence that Labor possesses, none of the perceived ‘legitimacy’ crisis that has so hamstrung this government since 2010, even when it is seeking to implement a right-wing agenda.

    At the moment, the right is strong in the sense that it has an ideological hold in the press and it is constantly cowing and manipulating the Gillard government. But the power it possesses right now is by no means all that it seeks or could wield. Look at the weak Bligh government’s fit of asset sales in the dying days of its term in Queensland, compared with the roaring enthusiasm of Campbell Newman’s LNP. Nobody can argue the difference between the two is merely one of degree.

    The overwhelming sense in the Gillard government’s most reactionary turns is fear and desperation, not confident prosecution of a deeply-felt ideology. I’d suggest that for refugees, the poor, the people who rely on government services, the difference between what we have now and what is to come under Abbott is extremely meaningful.

    • Well, to an extent, it’s all a matter of crystal ball gazing, since the election’s so far away. But the Right has been an artificially cohered by the opposition to Gillard. Once in power, we’re likely to see tension between, say, the hardline neoliberals and the Kool Aid drinking Tea Partiers. In that sense, I’m sure it will be as simply as the confident prosecution of a deeply-felt ideology, cos I don’t think they necessarily agree on what their ideology is.
      Perhaps more importantly, the anti-incumbent mood everywhere largely stems from factors beyond any government’s control, such as the world wide economic turmoil. You could easily imagine Abbott, who has never been personally popular, becoming a lightning rod for a generalised hostility to the political class.
      In any case, I’m not trying to say that we should be indifferent to the election result. Clearly, an Abbott victory would be an awful result. But it’s important to think about the continuities it will involve.

    • Yes, QLD is an excellent example…just like Abbott they got a whole lot of what they didn’t bargain for with Newman – and still hurting.

      I imagine, after the the horde running after Gillard with pitchforks (inc most of the press gallery) wake up, they’ll be realizing they swapped bad for infinitely worse.

  2. Labor’s woes as I see it go back to 2001 and Kim Beasley well ahead in the polls attempting to court the popular vote instead of standing on what he believed after the Tampa / refugee bubble burst. Labor have followed that ploy ever since.

    • Labor’s woes go back more clearly to successfully attacking the living standards its unionised working class supporters and introducing neoliberal reforms under Hawke and Keating. But of course most of the Left think that was a successful period of Labor rule, rather than the principal cause of the unravelling of its social base.

      • Indeed, I went underground during the 80s to avoid the Hawke / Keating contamination – and there is too the problem of infinite regress once you start on Labor’s woes.

  3. Terrific post, Jeff.

    The most important thing is that there is no stable social basis (even in terms of a pliant voter bloc) for a coherent right-wing agenda to be implemented by the LNP. The weakness is material above all. Right now Abbott is living off the proceeds of Labor’s historic degeneration. Once in power & disappointing this or that section of his electorate, that will not be enough, although it may mean that the ALP will be unable to recover on the basis of his problems.

    See Italy for the kind of weird things that could happen thereafter.

  4. Not only has Gillard been on the wrong side of every march, but how many marches against Gillard government which should have happened did not? AEU for instance, won’t march for Gonski. Preferring to try to reinflate electoral victory for Labor whilst being anti-Liberal.
    Or how about ABCC? Mining tax back down?
    Unions both tied to ALP and indy have not mobilised enough during Gillard’s reign.

  5. The marches the loser of 2013 Julia failed to attend are irrelevant.
    There is no point participating in a save the ALP campaign, activists best hope is that the ALP implodes rather than withers. After all activist have “all” long since deserted ALP for the Greens or pressure groups or loner initiatives.
    Consider voting informsl with a write in objection to the TPP inhumanity, this is legal strategic and morally fortifying.
    Build our resources for activist campaigns make diverse contacts build alliances in what have previously been unconsidered areas ie Green/community sector.

    Look forward to strategies that activists might use after the first 12 month of an Abbott government. This way we don’t spend a year in shock and dismay we don’t waste resources or time.
    Look awry for opportunities.

  6. Hi Jeff,

    I agree with your arguments here against ‘going quiet’ on Gillard due to the impending threat of an Abbott government.

    But your characterisation of Abbott as being ‘weak’ I dont think is useful and could infact disarm people about the seriousness of the threat and the urgent and enormous task at hand to build a force that might actually be able to hold him back.

    Sure Abbott might not have laid out a blueprint, but neither had Campbell Newman and that didnt make him ‘weak’ and certainly didn’t stop him from launching one of the most serious assaults on the unions and the public sector in recent history. Ditto for state Liberal regimes who are slashing across the country without any serious challenge from anyone.

    There seems a huge contradiction between your correct picture of a Gillard government racing to the right and the assertion that conservative politics is somehow in a ‘weak’ position. If they are so weak why are all their policies currently being implemented?

    Do you seriously think Abbott won’t find new depths of cruelty against asylum seekers? What social force currently is currently organised with the capacity to stop him?

    Gillard may getting hammed in the polls but that hasn’t stopped the government getting away with its merciless agenda for NT Aboriginal communities and again, there’s no force to seriously challenge this.

    The union leadership has become entirely fascinated with demonising migrants – Abbotts racism hasnt been this strong for a very long while! – and nothings been done to seriously roll back work choices, fight the escalating job cuts etc etc

    Of course we need to say the agenda can be beaten – and that standing up to Gillard is the prime starting point. But the fear of Abbott expressed by left Greens and the better elements of the Labor party needs to be related to with plans for action in the here and now to stop his agenda – they are right to be scared, the question is what to do about it – not hosed down with reassurances that non existent social movements will be able to push him back sometime in the future

    • Hi Paddy,
      Thanks for the comment.
      I don’t think that’s a very useful way of posing the problem. After all, if social movements are non-existent and there’s no social force capable of stopping Abbott, what exactly are you arguing? I mean, that’s the starting point for left Greens and ALP people concluding that there’s no option but to concentrate on the re-election of Gillard, and so we need to abandon any criticisms that take the shine off her campaign. Aside from anything else, that just doesn’t seem very likely to work — the polls might all be wrong but at the moment it seems just about certain that Abbott will be elected. So then what do we do?
      I’m not trying to understate the seriousness of the situation (it’s a long time since anyone accused me of optimism). But whatever struggles can be mounted now, no matter how tiny, put us in a better position under the conservative government we’re likely to get.
      As for Abbott’s weakness, I don’t think it’s too Pollyannaish to note that there’s not a great deal of active enthusiasm for the Liberals. This is overwhelmingly an anti-Gillard mood, not a pro-Abbott one. And, in power, the Coalition will have to deal with its internal contradictions, which at the moment are suppressed by the imminence of victory.

      • We are obviously both arguing that there is a need to build social movements to challenge both Gillard and any incoming Abbott government.

        But the emphasis here is they must be built. They do not yet exist (the odd reasonable committee yes, but nothing with actual teeth), similarly there must be a union fight back etc.

        But your article says Abbott is week and will be somehow constrained in implementing his agenda. I think at the moment this gives false hope and we have to say there will be very little standing in his way.

        Maybe engaging with some of the examples I gave might put some real flesh on this. Was Campbell Newman weak as you say Abbott is? If not why not?

        • Paddy, the problem cannot be reduced to “building social movements” when the politics that dominate the Left actually stand in the way of mobilising social resistance.

          Let’s look at Campbell Newman, because he illustrates how two things can be true at once: that the Right can be politically weak and incoherent on the one hand, and that the Left can be politically paralysed in terms of resisting an unpopular agenda.

          So, on the one hand, Newman has rapidly lost authority by trying to ram through his agenda, one that stands in contrast to his small target electoral strategy, which is the most obviously “austerity” agenda being carried out anywhere in Australia (see Possum’s analysis, for example: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2012/10/01/qld-state-polling-and-bad-analysis/). His government is enveloped in scandals and instability.

          It is no wonder that the Liberal premiers in other states have been much more cautious in their agendas; they benefit from having at least some sense of political strategy in their heads, unlike the ex-military technocrat who misrules Queensland.

          On the other hand, the Queensland union leaders not only helped Newman win power (recall that some unions circulated his election material) but engaged a strategy of running a few demonstrations and then winding down the campaign, despite the fact that serious action would’ve been massively popular. You can see how their strategy is to do the least possible because you need to get Labor back in power to save you. Given their greater-than-ever political dependence on Labor being in office, and their sheer pessimism that unionised workers (a much smaller part of the workforce than ever before) could actually drive back the attacks, this trend is worse now than it has been in many years.

          The political question therefore constrains the struggle. It also entrenches the idea that despite the incoherence and unpopularity of his agenda, actually Newman is too strong to be defeated except through an election, and then we’ll have to accept that most of his agenda stays (as Labor will argue).

          This makes understanding the role of Newman’s divisive (and unpopular) race, sexuality and gender policies even more important, because they are a sign that his government knows it is weak and wants to re-establish authority through scapegoating. But, again, these policies have provoked major backlashes, although ones that are constrained and neutered by the dominant argument that the real struggle is to get a basically unreformed, neoliberal, ALP state government back, because that’s all we can hope for because the Right is too strong.

          Federally, it is no coincidence that the ALP people are arguing that “we must stop the Abbott apocalypse”, because that argument confirms the futility of social resistance, that only an ALP government — no matter how bad — can save us from the hordes of hell. They say, in fact, that we must defend an ALP government that is, as you say, implementing an agenda essentially indistinguishable from Abbott’s.

          The political problem we have on the Left is a problem that must be solved in relation to an actually existing Labor government, not the threat of a future Abbott government. If Labor loses this election, it is because the Left (including the Greens) accepted “progressive” neoliberal govermentality as the way forward for the Left, and provided no credible, independent alternative to this. We’ll still have that Left after S14 when Abbott is PM, and talk of how best to fight the Liberals will be meaningless unless we know how to fight for better politics on our side.

          • Thanks for the reply Tad,

            I don’t disagree with a lot of what you have said. I agree very much with Jeff’s analysis of Gillard too.

            What I disagree with is responding to the electoralism, the only an ALP government can save us etc by downplaying the severity of the attacks that we can expect from Abbott, or arguing that the ‘incoherance’ or internal divisions in the Liberal party will some how stop the social pain his government will inflict.

            What precisely is the meaning of Campbell Newman’s “weakness” if he can decimate thousands of lives and essential social services relied on by the most marginalised people in Queensland?

            The NT Liberals at the moment are in ABSOLUTE chaos, changing positions every two minutes, factions falling apart here and there. That hasn’t stopped the insane levels of police persecution and devestating cuts that continue under their government.

            By all means challenge the bankruptcy of the electoralism, argue for a full blown fight with Gillard etc. By all means point out the chinks in the conservative armour, identify and argue to exploit their divisions. But I just think running the line that Abbott or Newman are “weak” actually cuts you off from relating to people who are either currently suffering at their hands or rightly fear what we can expect.

          • Hi Paddy,
            Well, I agree that, unless we can organise some kind of response, then we’re screwed. But the way you initially phrased the response does seem to echo the electoralism that’s around a lot at the moment: Abbott will be unthinkable, there’s no force capable of fighting him and thus … we need to do whatever it takes to keep Labor in power. Now, obviously, you didn’t draw that final conclusion but it does rather flow from the logic, doesn’t it? That’s why I think it’s worthwhile stressing the continuities, emphasing that, whatever efforts are being made now to defend rights against
            Gillard will make the fight against Abbott easier. As for Abbott’s weaknesses, Victoria at the moment shows one possible future. Again, the weakness of a government doesn’t mean much unless (as you say) there’s actually some oppositional force. That being said, I do think it’s worth stressing that the other side are not in a great shape either, that if we do get our act together we’ll be confronting not a disciplined conservative juggernaut but (quite possibly) a chaotic rabble.
            Of course, this is all speculative, and there’s still months to go.

          • Paddy, you write: “But I just think running the line that Abbott or Newman are ‘weak’ actually cuts you off from relating to people who are either currently suffering at their hands or rightly fear what we can expect.”

            If challenging the ideas of those who think that the Coalition are necessarily and qualitatively worse than the ALP in terms of how they run the state is “cutting yourself off”, then we are left with not being able to argue against this reformist position in order to keep people on side.

            You are quite right that the NT Liberals are both in chaos and ramming through reactionary policies. But so is Lara Giddings’ “progressive” ALP-Greens government. Sure the style and exact details of the austerity programs of the two governments are different, but these are matters of degree and political preference. And indeed the actions of the Greens have given Giddings a free pass to maintain greater coherence by (at first enthusiastically) subordinating their independent position to Labor’s austerity agenda, privatisation, etc.

            In addition, the NT situation is not the independent product of the NT government’s actions. The NT is more subordinate to federal government policy than a state liek Tasmania, and both NT budgets and the NT Intervention are heavily shaped by Canberra. The fact is that Gillard is as responsible for the repressive attacks on Indigenous communities as the CLP incompetents who are in now, and while she may claim to be nicer to public servants it’s not like she’s made any real move to rescue any of them from the cuts.

            Unless we understand how much more than in previous elections the choice between Coalition and Labor has become less meaningful in reality, then we will not be able to effectively puncture the hollow partisanship that tells the Left that the only option is to submit to Labor’s reactionary positions in order to save ourselves from the Liberals’ reactionary positions.

            That significant sections of the radical Left have fallen into essentially reproducing the hollow partisan arguments is a real problem, because it weakens our ability to make a collective and united impact on how wider Left political forces understand the conjuncture and what to do about it.

            To put it very concretely, the best people in the Greens operate with one hand tied behind their backs by feeling obliged to “relate to” the fears of an Abbott Apocalypse. This not only prevents them attacking Labor as hard as they should, but absolves them from reflecting on the disaster of backing Gillard politically for the last two years or more. “Relating” to their fears of Abbott only avoids challenging the deeply problematic role the Greens played in tying progressive aspirations to Labor’s technocratic neoliberal govermentality.

  7. Great article. I’d also add the compromised resources tax (criticism from both left and right on this one) and the Gillard statement against ‘Big Australia’ (to my mind this was a statement against immigration rather than for sustainability). An article in the AFR on Saturday developed the contrast between a Labor for progressives and a Labor for unions. If Labor get wiped out in 2013 it might be time to develop a more progressive agenda and temper traditional union/Labor values.

  8. Also I’d be interested in any examples you have of people overplaying the threat of Abbott. I know there’s plenty of people saying the threat of Abbott means we have to support Gillard, mute criticism of Gillard. But the argument here is *how* you fight the threat of Abbott, not that it isn’t a threat.

    The vote for the CLP in the NT recently was overwhelmingly a vote against Labor rather than for them, but that didn’t stop devestating cuts, price rises and heinous attacks on the very Aboriginal people who elected them. ‘Public opinion’ means precious little if there’s nothing to cohere it into a social force and the Libs new this. There’s no coherent political alternative and their majority is huge so they don’t fear disgruntled opinion polls at the moment. Why would they?

    Also which internal contradictions do you think will hold back a regressive Abbott agenda? Are you suggesting that in power there would be serious opposition to ramping up attacks on asylum seekers? On Aboriginal rights? Obviously there will be tactical debate about how hard to go on IR laws given the response they provoked to WorkChoices, buts its easy to see Abbott riding high on big election win taking a few unions head on and we can’t say that the response to savage state government cuts gives us much hope at the moment they’ll be up to the task?

  9. Just a quick comment. There is one very big issue that the ALP has not been on the wrong side of and that is Climate Change and Renewable Energy. While much of their coal and wider environment policy is weak to say the least. The Clean Energy Future Package is a very big and very important step in the right direction on one of the most serious issues around. We very definitely wouldn’t have got it under a Liberal Government, and it is seriously under threat if the impending Libpocalypse becomes a reality (which I think is far from a done deal and is a self-fulfilling prophecy if we say it is).

  10. Hope I haven’t missed the party on this but…

    Jeff you’ve very clearly articulated the importance of continuing to fight Gillard’s policies in the lead up to the election and the reasons why. But like Paddy (maybe for slightly different reasons) I think you and Tad are wrong to characterise the coming Abbott government as weak and about to implode before it’s even elected.

    At the UTS O week 2 weeks ago we built a campus Solidarity meeting called “How can we stop Abbott?” and it was a debate with the Labor students where we argued precisely that we do so by fighting the Labor government in the ways you suggest.

    There is absolutely no contradiction between urging resistance to Gillard and recognising the fundamental difference between Liberal and Labor, and therefore why people are right to be afraid of Abbott.

    I’ve been thinking about this particularly as reflected through the question of who the Greens will preference. Like many people I wish the Greens had fought the Labor leadership harder and was not about to run its campaign partially on its credentials in creating stable government, passing market-based climate taxes etc. But at the same time I think the best ‘Milne’ is her being anti-Abbott, and would love to see the Greens direct their second preferences to Labor in a principled recognition of what Labor stands for in class terms.

    Again there is no contradiction in this – it’s about drawing a sharp distinction between the neoliberal/right-wing ALP Leadership and the Labor Party as a movement, with an ongoing, formal and organic relationship to the unions, and therefore to huge numbers of (more or less) class-conscious workers.

    Before I go on, I know that this link between Labor and the working class, the size of the unions, the number of class-conscious workers etc is mightily diminished since the 1980s. This was painfully obvious explaining to students and contractors what a picket line is at Sydney Uni yesterday morning. And I think it is Labor’s ongoing love affair with neoliberalism – in power in Hawke and Keating and the Accord (and its impact on the life of the Labor Party) that is responsible for the decline.

    But I think it’s fundamentally mistaken to suggest that this section of the working class no longer exists or is no longer important, nay crucial, for the left. Think Your Rights At Work to remember what happens when the union movement moves, even post-decline.

    It is mainly these people who have a “I will NEVER vote Liberal” attitude. They recognise, at whatever level, that the Liberals are the out-and-out unashamed party of the bosses – that a Liberal victory for them is always a blow for us. And if the Greens related to that sentiment (alongside consistently social democratic policies) as opposed to the “progressive” middle way –meaning either Liberal or Labor defectors – they would start to really shake things up in the Labor Party and more widely.

    Lastly about Abbott. I can’t see that there’s any difference between Howard winning out of hatred of Keating’s neoliberalism, and Abbott winning out of disappointment with Gillard. The Liberals don’t need much of a support-base or certainly not a coherent ideological program to rule, and rule brutally. Neoliberalism hasn’t been a coherent program since forever, well at least since the anti-capitalist movement of the late 1990s, and certainly not since things fell to shit for their “new moderation” in 2008, but (as important as that is for the left and the climate we’re all operating in) that doesn’t equate to the inability of vicious austerity-wielding governments to govern, and I can’t see any reason why Abbott won’t be one of them.

    Given that, all speculating about Abbott’s supposed weakness does is imply that there’s nothing to worry about and that you make no distinction between Labor and Liberal.

    • Jean, I’m not sure anyone is saying that Abbott is about to implode before he is even elected. What I’m saying is that there is no social basis on which to drive through a “vicious austerity-wielding” program, and so this cannot be done on the same politically stable basis that Hawke and Keating managed, precisely because they did so with the open consent of the trade unions (with a few exceptions).

      This is not a question of “ideological” coherence. The early ALP-run phase of neoliberal reform involved pragmatic and stepwise worsening of attacks up to 1993 when Keating beat Hewson by ideologically attacking the economic rationalism he’d once championed. That didn’t stop the Hawke-Keating period being more systematically pro-capitalist in its effects than the Howard years or after.

      None of this is to say that Abbott *won’t* be worse than Gillard. He may well be, especially if the economy tanks. But I’m not calling for a vote for Abbott — I’m wanting to talk to the most Left/class conscious people on the wider Left who have fallen into defending what they secretly know is the indefensible. Because the key task is not stopping Abbott but building a Left politics that is independent of an internal battle between the two wings of neoliberalism — conservative and Laborist. That is why the question of the Greens is so vital. In however a confused, problematic, overly non-class a way, the Greens vote represents the possibility of a break from that neoliberalisation of official politics, and therefore opens up the question of more radical independent political projects on the Left. That is a more important line of division, and so the last thing we want is the Greens to become so anti-Abbott they once again cuddle up closer to Labor.

  11. I like the reasoning, however, relying on memory, the Greens won something like a record 13% swing (for minor parties) at the 2010 Federal Election, and performed badly in a public sense after that. It’s hard to see that swing being maintained, particularly as environmental questions and issues seem to have taken a back seat since Bob Brown resigned, and their agenda is not that strong on social issues. Also, the Greens cohort is a sketchy lot, politically, and I guess it would have to be sold, but at best how many of those numbers would be likely to fall behind some radical political project of the left? I have no idea of possible far left numbers, but enough to make the project viable and sustainable, even with a possible Abbott government cave-in?

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