Jon Kudelka:

In a recent review of two biographies of Vladimir Putin, the reviewer Ian Cummins referred to Arthur Koestler’s description (in Darkness at Noon) of those who replaced the Old Bolsheviks in the corridors of power in the Kremlin - “those who were too young to have experienced the revolutionary struggle or pay at least lip service to some of their values” - as “men without umbilical cords”.

In all the analyses of what is happening to the Australian Labor Party, very few go beyond the surface.  Even after the Queensland rout, most comment is about swings and roundabouts, the usual stuff about Labor being in power everywhere just four years ago, so why is this voter dump very much different from where the anti-Labor parties were back then? 

In the Australian, Philip Adams talks about the ALP as the Australian Lemmings Party, and ascribes Labor’s woes to the gender card, lamenting that scores of seats in Queensland would have been saved if the right bloke had been in charge, rather than Anna Bligh.  It’s the same variation on the old theme that it’s all alright really, and that blokes in Queensland are sexist boofheads and rednecks who just hate voting for women.  But it sure wasn’t just redneck sheilas who voted for Pauline Hanson, was it?  Not that I’d want to completely discard the Adams thesis (which he thinks will deliver an even worse result for Gillard in the federal election).

It’s just that I don’t think it can be entirely discounted that something much more serious is going on. 

Talking of lemmings, some true believers would like to draw parallels with the dumping of the Scullin government in 1931, with a swing against it of 20%.  It’s a pretty hollow parallel, given that Labor splintered three ways as the great depression set in.  The other one that has been given an airing is mid-1950s Victoria, where the swing in a State election was 14% plus against Labor, but that was at the height of the bitter factional split which created the DLP.

None of this sort of analysis is analysis at all.  The only comment that I’ve come across that seems to make any sense at all is that of former Labor premier of WA 1990-1993, and Labor MHR 1994-2007, Carmen Lawrence. 

Writing in the Age on 30/3/12 she said this:

“In all of the “horse race” commentary, it’s likely only a few people will pay close attention to the real problem thrown up again by the Queensland campaign and results - the rot infesting both major parties and eroding the political culture; the steady decline in membership and diminished participation by Australians in shaping political values, designing policy and selecting candidates.

The major parties are failing our democracy and have been for some time; they are not parties any more, but, win-or-lose, hollow corporations run by a handful of paid officials, remote from their declining membership and the rest of Australia. And ripe for the picking by special interests - not to mention Clive Palmer. Our already rudimentary political parties are dying as power is concentrated in fewer hands - hands increasingly reluctant to share.

As one correspondent put it to me, Australia’s political parties are “ramshackle top-down corporations which market products cooked up in back rooms”. The old ideologies have been replaced by a managerial culture and poll-driven spin; by disquieting alliances with large corporations and big players. The major parties’ agendas are so similar that they offer little choice for voters. In place of robust disagreements and debates about our future, the public dialogue has shrunk to repetitious sound bites which “stay on message.

The parties have been too clever for their own good, embracing simplistic, lowest common denominator policies designed with one eye on the polls and the other on the immediate public reaction, especially from the media. It’s not surprising that Australians no longer appear to care who wins elections - as long as everyone gets a turn.”

That says it in a nutshell, and it’s all been said before, but most often by ordinary people – whose visibility is zero and whose voices are minus zero – but it’s more difficult to dismiss a Carmen Lawrence, isn’t it?  Well?

The short answer is sweet and simple.  It’s no.  In fact, Lawrence has buried herself in unconsecrated ground, to be spat on. The light on the hill has gone out.  When it went out is a matter of opinion but it wasn’t yesterday.  It’s just that those who have realised the light has gone out have escalated exponentially in recent years and are growing, eating into the ranks of the true believers in plague proportions.  It’s not just Queensland.  It’s the whole country.

Those who run the Labor party everywhere in Australia, and hold office as members of the ALP, have long since cut the umbilical cord with the values and beliefs which inspired and directed the political action of earlier generations of Labor party politicians.

This explains, more than any other factor, the increasing lack of support for the ALP, and the massive swings against it in the current political environment.  It will only get worse, because the ALP insistently demonstrates that it is now a party of careerists.  Those who seek to turn back the clock are doomed to failure.  The public will seek alternatives which are representative of their interests, not of the interests of political careerists. 

The ALP is on the road to its own self-destruction – and this brief analysis is but the tip of the bitterly cold iceberg.