Not exactly great news to wake up to but it’s not as bad as it might be.
Sure, it’s more likely than not that Tony Abbott will be the new prime minister, and the prospect of a conservative government propped up by sinister bumpkins like Bob Katter is pretty grim. Certainly, when Abbott became leader, I was among those who thought the move rendered the Liberals unelectable for a decade. But cometh the hour, cometh the man — and, hello, here’s Tony.
But there are reasons, if not to be exactly cheerful, than at least to put the razors away for a while yet.
Firstly, the incoming government will be unstable and weak. Given the conservatism of both parties, this can only be to the good. In the wake of that entirely empty campaign, what mandate could either party claim? An Abbott government, particularly resting on disaffected Nationals, will be very circumscribed as to what it can actually do. That doesn’t mean Abbott and his crew won’t be already hatching all kinds of evil schemes but it does mean that each new horror they unleash will be met with considerable scepticism, and so the prospects for resistance are better than might be expected.
Secondly, there’s the Greens vote. Adam Bandt in Melbourne, the Green senate result: it’s clear that a constituency exists to the Left of Labor. And success begets success. Bandt’s result in particular shows that alternatives are possible, that you don’t have to succumb to that old Labor mantra that outside the ALP lies only the wilderness.
Thirdly, the disastrous ALP showing might open a discussion about the strategies the backroom brainiacs in Labor have been pursuing for so long. One cannot underestimate the magnitude of the disaster the ALP has brought upon itself. As all the papers today note, for a first term government to go from where Rudd was in 2007 to where Gillard is now, well, words fail.
And it was so, so predictable. There’s an anecdote about how Robert Conquest, the historian of Stalin’s terror, was asked, after the collapse of Stalinism, to suggest a new title for his classic book on the Great Purges. He offered: ‘I told you so, you fucking fools’.
The problem for Labor wasn’t about the replacement of Rudd by Gillard. It was about the repudiation of the very few progressive policies associated with Rudd on the basis of nothing other than opinion polls, and the assumption that Labor’s progressive constituency could be fobbed off by the symbolism of a shiny new leader even as the party shifted further to the Right. Shorten, Howes, Gillard and the rest of them (just in passing, can anyone explain what exactly Bill Shorten and Paul Howes have ever achieved?) calculated according to the wretched old formula where any votes lost on the Left trickle back according to preferences. But the problem with that — and it’s always been the problem — is that if you systematically demoralise and humiliate your supporters (and what were Gillard’s statements on refugees and the mining tax other than a systematic demoralisation and humiliation of her supporters?) then there’s no-one to campaign for you, there’s no-one to argue your case and there’s nothing enthusing the ordinary folk who normally convince their friends and neighbours to vote one way or another. Is anyone really surprised that this election saw a record number of informal votes?
And that’s the last point. It’s clear now, if it wasn’t already, that the immediate future of progressive politics lies outside the parliamentary sphere. Whatever unholy combinations take shape in Canberra (let me say again: Bob Katter!), what really matters now is the determination of people to organise, to campaign and to protest. It’s true the social movements are not exactly in a great shape. But, as I said, this government might be nasty but it’s also going to be feeble. So let’s not panic. The future’s not written yet.