It wasn’t any one thing that cost Labor the election it was everything – The Guardian

Posted: October 18, 2019 at 2:45 pm


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Like survivors of a disaster that may or may not have been caused by climate change, Labor is slowly emerging from their bunker to survey the wreckage wrought upon them.

Five months on from their night of horrors the opposition is showing the first signs of regrouping after what has been a soul-destroying period as the Morrison government has resumed the treasury benches sans agenda or any real sense of purpose.

In this time opposition politics have seemed to be more like muscle memory, jumping on the leak of government key messages as though they were state secrets, confecting outrage at the prime ministers faux Trumpism, goading Barnaby into saying something else ridiculous.

Under their new leader Labor has ducked and weaved as the government has attempted to draw them into political alleyways on tax cuts and medevac and lately on the drug-testing of welfare recipients, recognition that they are in no state as yet to reengage in real fights.

A harsh but fair assessment would be that the opposition has been such in name only, with an election postmortem ongoing and increasingly public disagreements from senior figures inside and outside the parliament on what comes next.

This impression is reinforced by responses to questions in this weeks Essential Report designed to get the first real take on perceptions towards Anthony Albaneses Labor.

The low regard is unsurprising, just a quarter of all voters rating Labors performance as excellent or good. Indeed, a majority of Labor voters mark the performance as fair or poor, suggesting the current stasis is not sustainable for any extended period of time.

But before anything changes, the opposition needs to agree what went so horribly wrong in May and what can be done to ensure it is not repeated.

At the heart of the rebuilding exercise is the critical question: was it the progressive platform or the political campaign that drove a bare majority of Australians to reject Labor at the ballot box?

There is one school of thought lets call them the Joels that start with the premise that Labor got captured by the left and the progressive agenda was roundly rejected by mainstream Australia as a consequence.

There is another group lets call them the Waynes who are adamant it was the campaign and not the policy that failed the party.

Ahead of the release of the official election review, Labors position on climate change has emerged as a proxy battleground for these two world views.

The Joels are arguing to wind back ambitions on emissions to neutralise the attacks from the Coalition on the impact of policies on jobs. But in Waynes world, to walk away from progressive issues such as ambitious action on climate change would be to lose the election twice along with a generation of younger voters.

This weeks rebuff of the Joels by way of a largely symbolic climate extinction motion suggests the Waynes are gaining ascendency within the opposition. But the instinct to kick the big issues down the road means the debate will be ongoing.

A separate set of findings in this weeks report backs in the theory it was the campaign, not the issues that were Labors achilles heel; with Albaneses personal attributes significantly stronger than his predecessor.

This reinforces the argument that Labors campaign and, more pointedly, the Coalitions personal attacks on Bill Shorten fuelled by a third party-funded social media info-war had a significant impact on the final result.

This uptake in leader approval is reflected in general satisfaction with Albaneses performance, although he has not put a dent in the prime ministers preferred PM status.

These findings should give succour to those who argue that it was the execution of the platform and not the platform itself that needs the rethink.

Closing tax loopholes, acting on homelessness, investing in early learning, recalibrating workplace laws, repairing the NDIS and, yes, taking decisive action on climate change, were all popular progressive policies.

The majority of the public went with Labor on the journey, but too many baulked at the final hurdle, convinced the risk of change was too great and the returned Morrison government was the safe bet.

The failure of 2019 was actually one of cadence. A campaign full of announcements and promises simply overwhelmed the public. It wasnt climate change or any one thing that cost the election, it was everything.

To torture the metaphor, the answer is not to deny the impact of climate change on the election result, it is to make the Labor party climate resistant by recognising that leadership on this issue is a perquisite for any meaningful claim to power.

The debates going on inside Labor right now are important: to lead or respond, to play big target or small, to treat the political contest as a game or a mission. How these issues resolve will determine the sort of choice Australians face in three years time.

Peter Lewis is an executive director of Essential. He is the author of Webtopia the Worldwide Wreck of Tech and How to Make the Net Work

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It wasn't any one thing that cost Labor the election it was everything - The Guardian

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October 18th, 2019 at 2:45 pm