Thoughts from the outside

I wrote this during the week to a Labor shadow minister. It’s been on my mind for a while, and I just had to say it. I got a polite response to it, but expect that’s where it will stop.

Anyway, here it is, just for the record:

Hello xxx,

As it was for many, as I’m sure it was for you, the election defeat in May came as a devastating blow to me. An optimist by nature, I became bitter and angry afterwards. For a while I gave up hope and vowed to care no more. I cursed the voters I felt had sold us down the river for the illusory promise of trinkets. I was an angry man.

I am an optimist though, and it’s not easy to stop caring, let alone look away. The point is, I understand the angst and soul-searching after the election result, and discussion about where Labor is at and where it should position itself is natural. I’ve heard your comments on this subject, which is why I’m addressing this to you. I can’t give up hope, and as a proud Australian I feel compelled to share my perspective with you.

I’m a discerning, independent voter. My allegiances don’t hold with any particular party, though my inclinations – liberal and progressive – tend me towards the left. Back in the day, I was a devotee of Paul Keating, which probably brands me as a type. I believed in many of the things he espoused quite naturally – an open-minded, more adventurous society, progressive and confident. At the same time, he delivered economic reform that set us up for the future. He had what few do these days – a view of the big picture and a vision of how things could be better.

The reality is that I don’t remember the last time I didn’t vote for Labor, though sometimes for want of a better option.

It may surprise you to hear that when I cast my vote back in May, I did so feeling more hopeful than I had for many years. Indeed, while the prospect of ridding ourselves of the diabolical Liberal governments we’ve suffered was very alluring, I was also very definitely voting for something, and for the first time in ages.

I consider myself a well informed person. I’m a committed Australian, and I believe there is something better in us if only we can tap it. By nature, I’ll read deeply and seek different points of view. I’ll come to my opinions independently. And independently, I came to the realisation that the policies Labor took into the election were sensible at the very least, and potentially nation-changing. Dare I say it, Keating-esque in ways.

In the wash-up of the election, it appears that Labor is suffering an identity crisis, and the defeat is blamed in large part upon those very same policies. In retrospect, they’re considered too bold. I disagree.

Not every voter is going to be as discerning as I am, and that’s a fact of life. Unfortunately, much of the electorate is swayed by base considerations and broad stroke commentary and advertising, but that’s what you have to deal with.

Looking from my perspective as a voter, the election was lost for several reasons:

  • Policies were so poorly communicated that most didn’t understand (e.g. the implications of franking credits), let alone did they take root in the public mind. These were worthy policies, but they needed to be sold better. The electorate needs to understand what it means for them. These were good stories, but outside Kristina Keneally, no-one seemed able to tell the story.
  • The flood of negative advertising in the last fortnight, particularly from the Palmer camp. This might have been nullified if the fear-mongering had been met with more precise communication.
  • I’m not a fan of negative advertising, but for the life of me I cannot understand why when the Libs continually brand themselves the better economic managers that it isn’t countered with facts – like how the Liberal government has actually doubled the deficit (contrary to the vibe they give), or how they’re bigger taxers than Labor (again, contrary to the vibe).
  • And, sad but true, the Australian public never warmed to Bill Shorten.

They say we get the politicians we deserve, and perhaps that’s true. I’ve been around for a while and never has our polity become so dispiriting. I’m typical of most Australians, disenchanted with the politicking and self-serving nature of the government and opposition, and sceptical it might ever improve. Politics in Australia and much of the world have trust and credibility issues.

I can’t do much about the government but hope they get voted out. Very clearly they govern on principles of self-interest and political advantage rather than – as once it was – for the good of the country. They’re a terrible government full of terrible people, prepared to sacrifice the future for their political advantage now. I’m old school perhaps, but they appear without either ethics or honour and beyond redemption.

I’m writing to you now because the Labor party has the opportunity to differentiate themselves from what we have now, if only to define yourselves as the party that represents the best interests of the nation.

It confounds me why Labor should seek to become more centrist when the centre has moved so far to the right. It smacks of populist pragmatism when most of us would be thrilled to have an alternative based on core-values and integrity. There’s more talent in your party than there is the Libs, what’s lacking is belief. That can only come from the inside, not from opinion polls and focus groups.

What I’m saying is to stay true to your principles, and that means being consistent. If the policies you took to the election were good, then stay with them. You won’t be rewarded by ditching them now because the electorate will see that as inconstant, and as if you never really believed in them – or anything.

Stand for something. Be something. Stay true, and the trust that has been eroded from Australian politics might start returning to the party that believes in something. These are momentous times that call for brave and committed leadership. Stand for that.

By now you’ve probably got me pegged as a pure idealist, great in theory, no good in practice. I’d counter with the assertion that no party has practised this in years. And that the Australian electorate has become so cynical in recent times that they may actually respond to something authentic. That’s the pub test really – are you fair dinkum?

(To that end one of your best assets is Albo, but only as the irascible, earthy Albo, and not Albo lite doing the numbers in his head.)

Of course, I don’t believe this email will make any difference – but it’s the spirit that urges me to write it that is the spirit you should be engaging with. Let’s all be better together.

On a final note, I’ve despised the Greens for many years, ever since the ETS. The way it stands, I may vote for them next time, especially if Labor becomes Lib-lite, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. It needn’t come to that, especially since I reckon this government will be exposed soon for the mediocre and corrupt rabble they are.

Never before have the stakes been so high. It’s no time to play it safe. Be brave. Stand for something other than mediocrity and compromise. The people want something better. We want to believe in something, too. We’re aching for it.

Regards,

H

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