In today’s article (7 September 2019) Murphy laments a lack of coherence and plan across political parties with Labor and Kristina Keneally today’s target. While critique of both is overdue, that’s not my issue here. Instead it’s Murphy’s underlying assumptions which are far from progressive and are deeply conservative.
Political parties are not brands or bands like Pepsi and the Beatles. Political parties are just that, political. Political parties need to reinvent themselves, particularly after election losses. Good political parties reinvent themselves politically, through debate and argument, and bring the public into these conversations. Federal Labor party does not need to be told that it’s a loser, it knows it lost the election. Every time Labor MPs show up to parliament they are reminded as they face winners as losers. All parties in opposition know that if it wants to become a winner it needs to change. But authentic political change is not like brand change where messages are first market-tested behind closed doors. Political change is more like changing musical direction in a band, brutal and likely to involve multiple schisms.
Murphy lambasts a lack of grand masterplan and of certainty; ideas from the 1950s. She also pillories Albanese and Morrison for taking a pragmatic view by feeling their way forward in uncharted waters. While political patterns are eternal, their day-to-day manifestation is always uncertain. It is this that we expect journalists and commentators to contextualise. We expect journalists to contextualise how what is happening today fits in within these broader patterns. Is it pointing towards universal prosperity or towards crises and war?
They problem is evident in Murphy’s book On Disruption that observes that “There is no way to know if the disruption will settle into a new normal, or whether chaos is the new normal”. The kind of change that Murphy is so anxious about is grist to the mill for Marxists who understand historical materialism and capitalists who understand creative-destruction. These are eternal processes that were once progressively addressed by universities and their publishers, and not reacted against by journalists.
Social progress is achieved through principle and is never certain. Equality for women is principally good but we wouldn’t know what it looks like when it happens. Although the Labor party gives it a pretty good sense, you get a party with lots of women in positions of power. Women are just like any other politicians, yet diversity brings great potential to make life better for all. Do we know what will happen if mercy (horrifyingly applicable) is shown towards the Biloela Tamil family? There is no certainty at all, the boats might indeed start again. This needs to be thought through, and on principle and not on political expediency. Similar goes for other progressive ideas, like Makarrata Commission and a republic. These forces cannot be master planned and their consequences are unknown, but we do know it will make for a better world.
Political progress is banal and often goes unnoticed. This occurred to me when watching the election coverage and seeing Penny Wong. When asked to contextualise Labor’s defeat she put herself and the party in the legacy of John Curtin and Ben Chifley. At that point it occurred to me that the Labor party had incorporated the discontents of the 1968 generation, when Marxism and worker solidarity was ditched because it could not address the emancipation of women, race, sexuality and the environment. Yet Wong demonstrated in that moment that the Labor party had reached a new zenith, an achievement long in the making through Emily’s list and staring down the likes of Joe de Bruyn.
Penny Wong is herself conservative with her passion accompanied by pragmatic restraint. She represents a new dawn in the politics of inclusiveness along dimensions that have divided Marxists a long time. Keneally is also conservative through her advocacy of abortion being safe, legal and rare. We should be hanging on to and developing on what has been achieved: women having control over their bodies, people included regardless of race and gender, and a start towards saving the planet (remember Wong and Macfarlane and the ETS). This is the kind of conservatism I want.