It seems, then, that we have a government. What to make of the result?
Andrew Robb recently wailed that a Labor-Green coalition would install ‘the most left wing government in Australia’s history’. Now, of course, that’s not, like, actually true or anything, but the rhetoric does highlight how remarkable this outcome actually is.
Remember, a year or so ago, Ruddism was in full bloom, with Labor presiding – just as Kevin07 had promised – over a tremendously socially and economically conservative administration. What’s more, it was cocky in its conservatism. Against critics on the Left, Rudd could point out that he’d campaigned as Labor’s most right-wing leader and had defeated John Howard on that basis. Whether that’s an accurate understanding of the 2007 election is a different question but the point is that Rudd had a more-or-less coherent story to tell about his government’s conservatism.
Gillard can not make the same claim. We have a Labor government but, as Rob Oakeshott plonkingly pointed out, it can’t claim a mandate for anything much at all. And nor, of course, can the Tories.
This election thus forces an opening in the public sphere, creating more room for progressive ideas. The Greens, for instance, have emerged with far more programmatic coherence than either Labor or Liberal, especially since both Gillard or Abbott have been diluted by their already asinine campaigns with weeks of undignified horsetrading. The promised debate about Afghanistan is one example of how issues previously quarantined from the mainstream will get a public hearing.
That being said, we shouldn’t lose our bearings. All the talk about ‘new paradigms’ is utter nonsense. There’s nothing democratic or progressive in braying calls for civility and unity and consensus. Actually, democracy depends on the contestation of ideas – if that dismal election campaign proved anything, it’s that we need more political conflict (real debates, real arguments, etc) rather than less.
Likewise, the rural independents are not Philosopher Kings, somehow perched above the political fray. Their prominence doesn’t represent anything much else other than the specific vagaries of the electoral result, and the statesmanlike airs they’ve been giving themselves will not last very long.
What happens now? Obviously, expect to see a ferocious campaign from Murdoch’s flying monkeys. The Op Ed pieces are already being written, explaining how we’re all a hop, step and jump away from the gulags that Adam Bandt’s constructing from his red base of Melbourne.
Whatev, as the kids say.
What’s more important is that it’s going to be very difficult for a Gillard minority government to impose the kind of neoliberal policies that are the default setting of Labor in government. One of the positive aspects of the Independents’ showboating is that they will hesitate to support unpopular policies. That means that any austerity measures Gillard has in the pipeline will be very difficult to pass – or, at least, will only get through parliament after an agonising debate.
In other words, the prospects for grassroots campaigning actually look quite good.
Of course, nothing is assured. Who knows how long this strange parliamentary interregnum will continue? But while it lasts, it does provide a perhaps unexpected opportunity for the Left.