Aussie rules: what Labour could learn from Kevin Rudd’s defeat

9th September, 2013 11:20 am

Six years ago the Australian Labour Party (ALP) was all-powerful. As a party, it controlled every single state government and had just achieved a stunning Federal Election result which even saw the Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, lose his seat. Today they are surveying the wreckage. Labor have lost control in five of the six states. In the case of Queensland and New South Wales, where Labor managed to retain seats, there was a huge swing away from the party in the Federal Election on 7th September.

Yet as a government, the ALP was a proven success over the last six years. It presided over economic prosperity and improving living standards at a time of global austerity. Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd as Labour Prime Ministers introduced a raft of popular and socially progressive legislations such as the Disability Rights legislation.

What went wrong and what can the British Labour learn from the experience?

Well the first rule of modern politics – division is death – was played out to spectacular effect with the ALP. Australian Labour’s politics turned into a Punch and Judy show: Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister before the General Election in the 2010 and Rudd replaced Gillard earlier this year, just before the federal election. This confused the public and created huge divisions within the Parliamentary Party. Simon Crean, a former leader and respected MP, summed it up in the Australian: “Their strength was in their combination,” he said. Rudd and Gillard was a godsend for Australian Labour politics; but Rudd vs Gillard was a disaster. The experience of the ALP over the last three years proves a stark reminder that the UK Labour Party, too, needs to move on from secret briefings and rivalries of the Brown-Blair, Ed-David type.

The Australian Labour Party failed to deal with long standing issues of party mis-management and dubious behaviour, especially by certain MPs and Trade Union leaders in New South Wales. The public punished such behaviour by a record 25% swing away from Labour in the last New South Wales state election.

Trades unions have a deep impact on Australian society. They are the default provider of private pensions, which every worker has to subscribe to and every company has to provide. These union pension funds have proved extremely popular, with low charges and better returns than commercial pensions. The trade union-led culture of decent pay means that few workers expect tips. Instead workers have a higher level of wages including guaranteed premium rates for unsocial hours. This embedded trade union culture meant that even Tony Abbott – the new Prime Minister leading the Liberal-National coalition – had to pledge to keep much existing employment legislation, in his manifesto.

Given the current fraught discussions in the UK, it was wonderful to see how strong the association between the trade unions and Labour Party remains in Australia. Trade unions and their members were absolutely central to the General Election campaign for Labour. One of the highlights of my time here in Australia was a party fundraising event where Bob Hawke – the veteran Labour Prime Minister – had the whole audience singing ‘Solidarity Forever’. Somehow I can’t imagine Tony Blair doing the same.

Whilst battered, the ALP survived the election in better shape than many predicted. In Victoria this was down to a grassroots campaign using trades union members to canvass friends and colleagues. Because Australia has compulsory voting, this campaign was not about securing turnout, but about understanding Labour’s core values both for this and future elections. The election also saw success for a number of new women Labour MPs such as Clare O’Neill in Melboune, Kate Harris in Adelaide and Alannah Mcternan in Perth.

For UK Labour, with the General Election looming in 2015, the need to maintain party discipline is absolutely critical. It is depressing to see battle lines being drawn up at senior levels over Party and Trade union links. The lesson from Australia is that such links need to be developed at a personal and local level, campaigning and joining together to secure rights at work for all employees, not just existing Trade Union members. Get that right and we could transform our electoral chances in 2015.

  • crosland

    Have the ALP learned anything much though ?

    According to reports like the one in the link below they are still squabbling over the succession, a bit like our party in 2010.

    http://www.news.com.au/national-news/bill-shorten-should-lead-australian-labor-party-says-ex-trade-minister-richard-marles/story-fncynjr2-1226715704702

    Hopefully they won’t repeat the mistake our united party did of having months on end of a leadership election, leaving the incoming coalition the time to consolidate is position and remain largely unchallenged on the message that labour left the country in a financial mess.

    After all, it isn’t exactly an unknown fact that the prima donna’s vying for leadership seemed content to letthe coalition get on with things while they tried to win over a very long leadership contest.

    Hopefully the ALP will try and involve the membership instead of just relying on the MP’s but keep the timescales tighter that ours was, so they don’t give Abbott’s coalition time to build without effective opposition.

Latest

  • Comment Featured Sajid Javid could be the sign the electorate is looking for that the Tory party has shed its ‘nasty party’ reputation

    Sajid Javid could be the sign the electorate is looking for that the Tory party has shed its ‘nasty party’ reputation

    This article is from the new Progress pamphlet ‘Face-off’, examining the potential successors to David Cameron as Conservative leader. You can read the full pamphlet here. Few leaders inspire true fear in their opponents. Those that do, do so because they force people to think again about the party they represent. Britain’s most electorally successful politicians, Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher, were able to reach such heights because they confounded the electorate’s expectations: Blair believed that wealth creation was not […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Tony Blair hits out at Corbyn’s “politics of parallel reality”

    Tony Blair hits out at Corbyn’s “politics of parallel reality”

    Tony Blair has made a new intervention in the Labour leadership contest with an article in today’s Observer, which the paper has splashed with on the front page: The former Labour Prime Minister confesses that he doesn’t “get” frontrunner Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity, but claims that he is “trying hard” to understand it, and compares it to similar waves of support for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the US presidential race. Blair also says he appreciates that his advice against […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Unions Anti-trade union legislation could face legal challenge for contravening human rights

    Anti-trade union legislation could face legal challenge for contravening human rights

    Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is ready to raise the prospect of challenging the Tories’ proposed anti-trade union laws in the courts, claiming it might contravene human rights legislation. Cooper says she has received legal advice that points to potential breaches of Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which preserves the right of freedom of association, including trade unions. The leadership contender will accuse the Conservatives of trying to use their position to cripple the opposition with […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Labour have been “in denial” about threat from UKIP, says Dan Jarvis

    Labour have been “in denial” about threat from UKIP, says Dan Jarvis

    Dan Jarvis has slammed Labour for being “in denial” about the threat caused by UKIP, in a new report published this weekend. ‘Reconnecting Labour’, which was commissioned by Andy Burnham in July as part of his campaign to become leader, looks specifically at how Labour wins back votes lost to the anti-EU party. Jarvis raises concerns that the EU referendum a new high-profile platform that could cause further problems for Labour. He says that Labour were too relaxed about the […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The Labour leadership contest: too much politics and not enough personality

    The Labour leadership contest: too much politics and not enough personality

    Our recent prime ministers were not elected to lead their parties following general election defeats, and there are many problems with electing leaders whilst on the rebound. One of the biggest is that everyone is still in General Election Mode, presenting manifestos rather than their qualities as a leader. Policies and ideas are not wedded to any one person – any candidate could institute a policy suggested by any other candidate. Having good ideas qualifies one for the top table, […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit