There are actually quite a few Labor thinkers that I admire and respect and Lindsey Tanner is one of them so it will surprise no one that I cite him today from his piece in the Fairfax press:
There are three fundamental factors that have made modern Labor what it is.
The first is affluence. Our aggregate level of wellbeing, taking into account wealth, income, opportunity, personal security, environmental amenity, health, life expectancy and recreation, is probably higher than it has ever been. It is hardly surprising that much of the sting has gone out of Labor’s historic mission – redistributing wealth and income to ordinary working people – when many of those people are among the richest citizens in a globalised world.
The second structural factor that has changed Labor is the emergence of serious competition on the left of the political spectrum. As the focus has shifted from material concerns to more abstract issues of environmental degradation, international co-operation and human rights, the Greens have prospered at Labor’s expense. While our record on such matters has generally been good, the Greens can always outbid us because they are not weighed down by the need to deal with material concerns and to win majority support in order to form government.
The third fundamental shift is the emergence of a distinct class of political professionals, who now heavily inﬂuence the Labor Party. This group is extremely adept at the mechanics of politics, but largely uninterested in its purpose. Continuous interaction with our toxic media has magniﬁed its innately self-serving, cynical approach to politics.
In previous times when Labor has been weak, it has been sustained by grassroots idealism and the institutional strength of the trade union movement. If we ﬁnd ourselves out of office all around the country in a couple of years’ time, we will have very little to fall back on. Rebuilding needs people, resources and purpose.
There is only one way to deal with this challenge: a complete root-and-branch rethink about why we exist. What is our purpose? What is it we are seeking to achieve? When our answers to these questions no longer contain the empty shibboleths of a bygone world and vacuous appeals to defeat the conservatives, we’ll know we are on the way back.