Shuffling the decks won’t win Labor more votes
It was the American economist Thomas Sowell who observed that "much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, is a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good".
It's a sober observation that rings even more true now than when he wrote it, in 1993, especially given last week's reshuffle where Opposition leader Anthony Albanese laid bare the great disconnect inside Labor between the climate zealots in the parliament, the activists they're trying to appease and the party's old blue collar base who feel abandoned.
For the life of me I can't understand modern Labor's obsession with climate policy to the exclusion of all else - sound economic management, manufacturing, energy, trade, agriculture, and more. All to chase a green vote that will nearly always come back by way of preferences as the typical green voter hardly ever ends up in the Coalition's ledger. Unlike the old Labor type that gets displaced by policies that send their jobs offshore and makes their cost of living skyrocket: as 'Howard's Battlers', 'Tony's Tradies', and the Prime Minister's 'Quiet Australians' have shown, helping the Coalition to stay in power.
At any time, a reshuffle is fraught given the egos of politicians, but one done from a position of leadership weakness nearly always makes a bad situation worse; the winners aren't grateful, and the losers become instant enemies for life.
Moving around the same tired faces to spruik exactly the same policies that consigned them to a third term of Opposition isn't a circuit-breaker. Indeed, the fact that the reshuffle has happened at the start of the year, days out from the return of the parliament, shows how much Albanese's position has deteriorated over the break; and how fearful they are that the government will head to the polls later this year.
On climate change, Labor just doesn't get it. Sure, it's rammed down our throats by the majority of the media, pseudo celebrities and the like, but the brutal reality is that the electorate isn't with them. Over the past 25 years, Labor has won majority government only once. Yet rather than listen to the people who want to protect the environment but not trash our economy to do it, and find
a policy middle-ground that's reasonable, Labor's climate policy record is one of ever-increasing targets and commitments that jeopardise our standard of living for no global environmental gain.
Over the summer break, it was interesting to see Tanya Plibersek trailing her coat as Labor's next leader. And it was even more telling that her pitch to win back voters was invoking the name of Labor great Ben Chifley.
If she was honest, she would admit that Chifley wouldn't recognise the party modern Labor has become or the narrow backgrounds of most MPs that now sit in its caucus.
In the surest sign yet she's after Albanese's job, Plibersek's media output has increased five-fold, and in the surest sign yet he knows it, Albanese dropped her down the batting order in his shadow ministry and stripped away key parts of her education portfolio. As a left-faction colleague of Albanese, Plibersek is alive to the reality that her chance as leader is this side of an election because there's virtually no chance with a loss that Labor will hand the leadership back to the left.
She must also be conscious that other likely leadership contenders, like the right's Jim Chalmers, offer generational change. The most influential player in all of this is the man not even in Albanese's shadow minister - the former frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon, who resigned over his leader's inability to develop a climate and energy policy that protected the jobs of Labor's base, as well as the environment.
Late last year, Fitzgibbon said the left powerbroker Mark Butler must leave the climate portfolio if Labor had any hope of regaining ground; Albanese declared he was not going anywhere, and now, he's gone. A leader trailing in the polls is one thing; but weakness is death.
Pinning his hopes on Chris Bowen to turn around Labor's climate change 'Titanic' just shows how desperate Albanese has become. This is the bloke who told retirees not to vote Labor at the last election (and they didn't), who wanted to rip into their modest nest eggs and who sees himself as Keating reincarnated, minus the brain and the wit. Worse than that, Bowen holds the record as Australia's worst ever immigration minister during his tenure in the Gillard years - 398 people-smuggler boats on his watch and over 24,000 illegal arrivals. Yet Albanese says Bowen is our climate messiah?
Go back to Sowell at the top of this article, 'replacing what worked with what sounded good' and tell me it's just a coincidence that Labor's electoral woes track almost lock-step with its demonisation of baseload energy, it's move to the green-left and near-hysterical climate zealotry?
While the Pliberseks of the world can quote Chifley all they like; and others, the sensible pragmatism of Bob Hawke, it's only since Kevin Rudd's time that most Labor figures have succumbed to the feel-good fantasy that unreliable intermittent power is going to create more jobs and higher pay. The big problem, as Sowell recognised, is the relentless demonisation of what works in favour of comforting illusions.
And unless Albanese, and any leader that follows him, tackles Labor's fundamental schism on climate policy, changing the personnel is meaningless.
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Originally published as Shuffling the decks won't win Labor more votes