Friday, May 14, 2010

On Leaving Labor

Done. And it hurts a bit.

Done without vitriol, just disappointment.

Done without joining the competition, without any clear home for my politics. A centre-left secular humanist, with liberal tendencies restrained by some cynicism towards the market, lacking attachment to unions, per se. There is no home for me in Australian politics.

Done, taking me back to the mid-1990s, when my friend at university was campaigning for a seat, and I joined his campaign, then his party and faction. They were the 'moderates', a uniquely NT mish-mash of right and centre, pragmatic at a time when that seemed more acceptable. Decades of corrupt, hard-right rule by the Country Liberal Party made any compromise acceptable back then. And in the NT you didn't have to be part of a key union, large 'labor family', or other inside player in order to get involved. Membership meant real involvement, meeting the players, having a substantive say.

Done for a vow, one that was never clear in the execution. It involved dumping on refugees, a 'never again' following the Tampa capitulation. Yet I'm a centrist, I understand that my views aren't those of the people in the marginals and I do accept compromise. I didn't expect utopia- indeed, I can see that at some point refugee numbers could need restraint, and that decisions must be made that leave some people, whose lives aren't that great, on the wrong side of an application. I grumbled through a few 'toughening' steps, and kept the faith. But when it became arbitrary and irrational I knew the line had been crossed.

Done during the Great Rudd ALP principles-dump. A decision was made to dump a succession of ideals, to clear the decks for a debate on the economy and perhaps health, backed no doubt by some IR scare campaigning. The decision involved taking people like me - let along substantial numbers of party members well to my left - for granted. That taking-for-granted is pretty much standard operating procedure in Labor, based on a perceived need to pander elsewhere for crucial marginal seats. But taking several huge hits in succession just made my post-Tampa vow all the easier to keep.

Done during my year of clearing the decks. I haven't ruled out trying to re-join in the future if things improve. But the way forward is now hazy, in a year where I'm trying to stocktake the things I put energy into, to prioritise, to work out how I can do something worthwhile with my life.

Done to relieve the cognitive dissonance. I'm pretty straight-talking, the eternal compromise is always very unsettling.

Done because the one issue on which the ALP is genuinely left of centre- the continued influence of the unions- is not really my issue. Partly due to that issue and the influence of a couple of huge unions in particular, the party is pretty much as conservative as the Liberals when it comes to social liberalism and the continued comingling of church and state in this country. Those, by contrast, are my issues.

Done because the ALP are dumb on foreign policy. No better way to put it, it's a lack of knowledge and competence. On balance I will agree with more of their positions, but viewed objectively the Liberals actually seem to have more people who know what they are talking about. Who read books and stuff, even if they aren't books I agree with. This is a big area for me, miniscule as it is for the electorate, and I find the directionless floundering under Rudd's stewardship (let's face it, Smith is a patsy in this portfolio) highly frustrating. Ultimately I'd like to see us revisit our brainless sycophancy and flag-waving militarism, to find a completely new settlement with our place in the world as a small-to-medium power with quite different policy needs from either the US or UK. I'm tired of our foreign policy being resolved on bases that a year 10 student could rip apart. Which leads to...

Done because I believe in good policy. Policy I don't agree with is one thing, but policy I don't agree with that was hatched without, or against the prevailing analysis, simply on poll-driven impulse, is just an ongoing offence to our nation and polity. I really do think I believe that it would be better for the party to formulate some strong positions it genuinely believes in, that are backed by evidence, and to fight for those at the hustings. To just dump all perceived risks and run on the smallest of differentiations is to rob the people of their choice.

Done because, unlike many hard-wired members of political parties of all persuasions, I really do believe that the nation, and the policies, are more important than the -any- party.



Another Outspoken Female said...

Remembering your early blogging manifestations - I have an inkling of how hard this has been for you. Congrats for taking the plunge and joining the disaffected.

It is an issue how we (those disillusioned with Labour but know the Liberals are equally as bad/worse) vote at the next election. As much as I see flaws in the Greens, they are our only hope for a hung parliament and humanising some of the frightful lib/lab policies.

What a grim world we live in!

cristy said...

I expect that there will be a stampede after you too. Hope it wasn't too much of a painful decision.

I gave up on labor so long ago that I may be a bit de-sensitised to the emotions of it all...

(Am now a Greens member, despite my initial reservations, but totally understand that they won't be everyone's cup of tea.)

Jeremy said...

Likewise. Fact is, the Greens are the only hope of opposing the policies which seem to disturb you most.

blue milk said...

I am not a member of any political party but many of my friends are and for several reasons we have close ties to the ALP.. and though many of your thoughts are all but identical to mine some are quite different and I found this post incredibly thought-provoking. Thank you.

The one I am most curious about is the second last one on foreign policy - if you ever find the inclination I would like to see more about what you would like to see happening in this area and how you think the Libs are doing better here?

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

There is no home for me in Australian politics.

That's the clearest, the briefest and the bleakest I've ever seen it put. Considering how many of us fit your description of yourself politically, it's astonishing that there is no home for us.

If it's any consolation, though I'm sure it's not, there are many, many Australian women who have always felt this political homelessness. Labor, again, has been particularly bad in this respect, possibly because one naturally has higher expectations for it. I have seriously considered more than once starting a small but energetic party that focuses on women's rights in the same way the Greens focus on all things Green. Blokes would be allowed to join, if they promised to behave.

Feral Sparrowhawk said...

Being comfortably (most of the time) ensconced in the Greens, I can't really share your pain on being politically homeless, but I can imagine how it feels, and do sympathize.

Australia needs more political parties - real ones not shells for the delivery of Senate preferences like most of those registered by the Commission. It's a failure of democracy when there are large sectors of people who feel unrepresented like this.

That said, I would be interested in hearing why you don't feel the Greens fit you. Other than the self description of centrist there doesn't seem to be anything in this post that would make you out of place amongst us, although maybe I just need to read more of your other posts. There might be some issues that are irreconcilable, but I think your comments might also raise things we should be addressing.

BTW, Kerryn, there was a party like that briefly - What Women Want. Alas it was deregistered recently for lack of 500 members.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Yes, I think that name needs work.

Guy said...

Well said, and good luck!

I can only really hope they do a few things to make you reconsider it down the track.

Barossa Observer said...

What you need is the Australian Democrats ... the way they were under Natasha Stott-Despoja.

Sensible centre-left politics, delivered responsibly by one of Australia's great policital leaders.

The Australian parliament is much the poorer for her departure.

Armagnac Daddy said...

Thanks for your thoughtful feedback people. I will consider posting more detailed analysis on a couple of the points above. Note that in respect of foreign policy, I'm not saying I prefer the Libs policies, just that generally I think little analysis or bigger picture thought seems to go into most of (modern) Labor's positions. Rudd's not that bright in this field, despite the hype- take a look at the pretty bad essay he submitted to the Foreign Affairs journal.

On the Greens, well, perhaps it will be a useful exercise for me to pull out their policy sheet and do a detailed stocktake. Generally I might say I have more centrist positions, often sympathising with the 'heart' behind Green positions but finding them impractical.

I'm a pragmatist to a fair degree, it's just got to the point where I can't find any heart left in Labor's residual positions. Not for now, anyway.

Ann ODyne said...

26 May
"ABC Online - ‎2 hours ago‎
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has quit the Liberal Party, reportedly because he believes it is becoming too conservative" ... but actually to balance the numbers
in solidarity with Comrad Armagnac'd.
One out, all out.
peace and love from me though