Bill Shorten stumbled, and the ALP is looking for a new leader; what went wrong?

Anthony Albanese who is the favourite to win the Labor leadership on August 3 2011. - Toby Hudson

The democratic process inevitably leads to political casualties. With the Australian election done and dusted, andBill Shorten

having resigned on

Saturday

as Labor Leader, the fight for the

soul

of the party is now on. The sad truth in politics these days is that, all too often, the victors are cheered to the rafters, and the losers are remembered for their failings only. In today’s media environment, it is hardly surprising that Prime Minister

Scott Morrison is already portrayed by some in the commentariat as a political genius and master tactician. In truth, Morrison is none of these things, but a genuine political pro, understanding, rightly as it turned out, that the Coalition had only one path to victory. This meant pursuing a strategy of micro targeting swing seats throughout the country. Internal

polling

suggested very early on that such an approach was particularly effective, taking into account Labor’s policy platform and the Budget delivered by the Coalition government in April. Whilst Morrison must be commanded for his performance from any professional and analytical perspective, the pathway to victory was pretty straight forward. In the case of Bill Shorten, focusing mainly on his alleged shortcomings would be particularly tragic, since his contributions to the Labor movement have been profound. Thus, as the political obituaries are written, it is worth remembering that Shorten, despite his controversial

role

in deposing

Kevin Rudd

back in 2010, managed to unite the party after becoming leader in 2013 and restored Labor as a competitive force in federal politics. Beyond that, he took the most ambitious reform agenda in the postwar era to the electorate, an act of the utmost political bravery. To what extent this has been an unnecessary and costly gamble will be debated among Labor’s rank and file for a long time to come. Sadly, the election outcome has demonstrated that Australian society is not ready at present to embrace the sort of wide-ranging reforms the ALP put forward. Former Prime Minister

Paul Keating

hit the nail on the head by saying that you have to bring the mob along with you. This Labor failed to do and paid the price on Saturday. The

progressive majority

postulated by social researcher

Rebecca Huntley

may well be out there, but pinpointing this group in sociological terms is incredibly difficult. The urban rural divide complicates matters greatly for progressive politicians, and this challenge is by no means unique to Australia.

Chris Bowen in 2011 - Kate Lundy The new Labor Leader, whether it is

Anthony Albanese

or

Chris Bowen, will have to tell a story to voters that bridges not just this geographical divide, but unites this progressive majority under one political umbrella. Rhetorically at least, the ALP will approach the next election with a smaller and perhaps even less ambitious policy platform in order to start a much needed and probably rather lengthy conversation about where the country needs to go. Some aspects in this campaign were beyond Labor’s control of course, and they must be discussed briefly too.

For a start, there is no country in the Western world more obsessed with polls than Australia, and even though it is true that most pollsters got it wrong this time around, their failure to anticipate the outcome of this election accurately need not be overstated. Social media use has certainly complicated matters enormously in recent times, but a lot has to do with the way in which polling has been reported in the press itself, and it is somewhat disingenuous if the journalists, reporting polling results day in and day out, now complain about their unreliability. In a country using proportional representation, forecasting election results is much easier than in a country using not just elements of the

First-Past-The-Post System, but also

preferential voting. Any movement among the electorate is never uniform, and since elections have been very close in recent times, taking account only of the projected national swing can lead to misplaced expectations. For example, when the Coalition struck a deal with

Clive Palmer

and his party, it was already evident that this could derail Labor’s campaign in key marginals as Palmer’s party polled very strongly there. Additionally, the preferences flowing from One Nation back to the Coalition in

Queensland

helped ensure Labor’s comprehensive loss. The media was certainly not the cause for the ALP’s inability to take government on the weekend, but the

rightwing press does not make campaigning any easier for progressive politicians and left leaning parties. At the same time, the role of the

Murdoch press

Must not be overestimated. The view that Murdoch owns 70 percent of Australia’s print media is factually not correct, at least not when put about in such a simplistic manner. This is not to say that the Murdoch press poses no dilemmas for democratic decision-making in all sorts of other ways, but it should not serve as a scapegoat for trying to explain Labor’s failure on Saturday.

Finally, there is no need to despair. The prospects for the Labor Party are not as bleak as some may believe at present. The Coalition won, but only just. The Labor movement will have ample opportunity to bounce back quickly. Climate change will remain potent in Australian politics for quite awhile, and the Coalition will have to address issues the Labor Party did try to tackle during the campaign already. Take, for instance,

Negative Gearing

which, most experts predict, the budget will not be able to afford much longer. The Coalition, having won the election on the promise of tax cuts alone, will have to start grabbling with all of these issues sooner or later, and it stands to reason that Labor is much better prepared to engage in these policy debates. How little attention was paid to any serious governing agenda for the future by the Coalition was evident when it was hinted that the promised tax cuts might have to be

delayed

for quite some time. If the new leadership gets up and running quickly, the ALP will have a good chance to earn the trust of the electorate in a relatively short period of time and will manage to achieve what Shorten sadly did not: Winning again. In a way, the next election campaign has already started.

For more on Australian politics read

this.

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