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.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • 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

  • Featured News Polling Corbyn still in commanding position with members despite drop in popularity

    Corbyn still in commanding position with members despite drop in popularity

    Jeremy Corbyn has seen his popularity among Labour members fall dramatically in the last month – although he still has the support of a majority of the party’s grassroots. The poll of party members, carried out by YouGov for The Times this week, shows that if there were to be a leadership contest with Corbyn and a single challenger, the current Labour leader would narrowly win by 50 per cent to 47 per cent. When potential challengers are named, however, […]

    Read more →
  • News Scotland Time for Corbyn to consider his position, say Labour MSPs

    Time for Corbyn to consider his position, say Labour MSPs

    More than half of Labour’s Members of the Scottish Parliament have signed a statement calling on Jeremy Corbyn to consider his position as party leader. This comes several days after Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale made similar comments about Corbyn’s position. In the public statement, signed by 13 of Scottish Labour’s 24 MSPs, the parliamentarians say that Corbyn should “reflect seriously” on Tuesday’s overwhelming vote of no confidence in Corbyn by Westminster MPs. They say they “believe that the Leader […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured John Mann: Chakrabarti’s anti-Semitism report gives a route out of this mess

    John Mann: Chakrabarti’s anti-Semitism report gives a route out of this mess

    There’s nothing quite like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. On a day in which at least one major milestone in the fight against anti-Semitism in the Labour party was achieved the news instead, has focussed on the mishandling and outrageous racism at the launch event. Many outlets reported Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent equation of Israel and ISIS. Any correlation between the two would be wrong and offensive. His office claim he was misquoted and to me, his language was […]

    Read more →
  • News Whatever happened to the Angela Eagle leadership launch?

    Whatever happened to the Angela Eagle leadership launch?

    There is now unlikely to be a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn until next week, following the postponement of Angela Eagle’s leadership launch today. Eagle’s campaign was scheduled to kick off this afternoon, but was put on ice following a series of events this morning. Sources close to her campaign say that this is a delay rather than a cancellation, and that she still intends to go ahead with a challenge to Corbyn. They claim the delay is caused by several […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Uncategorized Corbyn critics aim to recruit “army of moderates” to win new leadership contest

    Corbyn critics aim to recruit “army of moderates” to win new leadership contest

      Labour MPs opposed to Jeremy Corbyn hope to replicate the success of last summer’s left-wing recruitment drive and sign up thousands of new members who will back a centrist candidate in a fresh leadership election. A series of high-profile politicians and activists, ranging from Jamie Reed to ex-spin doctor Alastair Campbell and novelist Robert Harris, have indicated support for Saving Labour, an online initiative which says the party requires “new, strong leadership”. The project, whose origins are uncertain, appears designed […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit