Hollow Men Led Labor To Disaster

Hollow men led Labor to disaster

Ross Gittins
The Age
August 23, 2010

Voters punished Labor for lacking principles and conviction. It is time for the party to ditch the thugs and recover some values.

THE one thing we can be sure of is that Labor has suffered a huge reverse. While we wait to learn which party will form government, it's instructive to ponder what it did wrong.

By all the rules of federal politics, Labor should have romped home. The rules say first-term governments get an extension to finish proving their worth. They say governments get tossed out after they've allowed the economy to bomb, not after they've seemingly avoided a recession. They also say voters distinguish between federal and state.

But one rule has stood up: oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them. This disaster for Labor is its own fault…. voters punished it for its lack of principles. Those who still voted for it did so with no enthusiasm and many registered their protest by turning to the Greens.

The great paradox of politics is that though voters hate change and hip-pocket pain, they want to be led by people with convictions and the courage of them.

First Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard were too conscious of the former and oblivious to the latter.

When the going got tough, Rudd threw overboard the … introduction of an emissions trade scheme.

… When Gillard deposed Rudd and set about getting the government back on track she had an opportunity to redeem the position to some extent, but again Labor's lack of conviction let it down. She toyed with taking tentative steps towards a carbon price, but in the end decided on a gimmick the public instantly saw through: the 150-person citizens' assembly. The end of Gillard's own brief honeymoon can be dated to that gutless decision.

Apparatchik Labor's lack of convictions saps it of the will to fight for needed but controversial reforms; the 24-hour spin doctors' dark arts sap it of the ability to fight.

It's a snare and a delusion. Senior ministers get so used to relying on media stunts and emotional button-pushing that their ability to explain and defend complicated policies atrophies.

That Labor ended up on the defensive over its enviable economic performance shows how badly it was served by its media minders.

Their stock in trade is always to change the subject, never to stand and fight; to bamboozle, never to educate.

Labor's Hollow Men period has brought it disaster. Time to recover some values.