The ABC’s Drum site has picked up my riffs on the sorry state of federal politics in Australia and the need for a new 21st century political party that isn’t shackled to unions or religion.
It’s an issue I’ve been thinking about for quite some time – well before this shambolic campaign was thrust at us. Both the Labor and Liberal parties in Australia political anachronisms today, with neither representing the growing number of voters – particularly those under 40 – who believe in economic liberalism but are also socially progressive.
Labor is socially progressive, but its unionist and socialist foundations (and ugly factionalism) make it increasingly unappealing. The Liberal party has embraced more liberal economic principles – often too laissez faire – but it’s also the haven for religious social conservatives, and promotes a brand of fear-based, racist, xenophobic and homophobic politics that many find repulsive.
The Greens are a promising party in many respects, and I heartily applaud their commitment to sustainable economics and social progressivism. But The Greens are prone to big government semi-socialism with some issues; their wonderfully clear policy document (why don’t the major parties have such a coherent document?) involves a lot of spending without necessarily facing up to the cost of such government activity. In fact, the election results suggest many voters who went Green did so through disillusionment with Labor, and distaste with the Liberals, rather than a broad commitment to Green values.
Some commenters on the Drum article have suggest the Democrats were the party. Perhaps they were (emphasis on were). The Democracts allowed themselves to implode for the very reason that they were beginning to shift – under Natasha Stott-Despoja – to the kind of centre-left party I’m talking about and, for a variety of reasons (internal personality conflicts being a major one), they couldn’t make the shift. They’re not the party I seek.
So where to now? I think we’re ripe for a new major party, one that brings centre-left politics to the fore, one that embodies the shift to economic liberalism that Labor has attempted (but failed, largely thanks to its unionist/socialist underpinnings), and the shift to social liberalism and tolerance of diversity that is a hallmark of generation X and Y.
Could it happen? It wouldn’t be easy to build critical mass sufficient to overtake Labor (which would be the likely casualty), but it is possible. It just needs the right leadership, the right strong and well-respected voices backing it, and a clear values and policy message to be delivered to the people. It might take years – and a couple of elections at least – to really take hold.
But we live in a democracy, after all. The habit of voting Labor or Liberal is just that, a habit. There’s nothing stopping us from voting differently as a nation, except the expectation that no-one else will vote differently. Make an alternative party look electable, and it will be electable. We now only need those brave enough to try.