The three party system after the election

I’ve been writing for a while about the global emergence of a three party system, consisting of (a) the Trumpist right, (b) a green-socialist-social democratic left and (c) the remains of the former consensus between hard and soft versions of neoliberalism. How does this analysis look after the Federal election and Labor’s defeat?

The first point to observe is the crucial role of essentially random shocks. As with Trump and Brexit, we’d be having a very different discussion if Labor had managed a couple of percentage points more. But that didn’t happen, and Labor’s shock at the result has turned into a complete collapse.

Second, it briefly appeared that Morrison might make a break with Trumpism and try to regain the centre ground. The most notable move in this direction was the elevation of Ken Wyatt to Cabinet as Minister for Indigenous Australians, and Wyatt’s attempt to raise the idea of constitutional recognition. But in the face of the predictable Trumpist reaction, Morrison has left Wyatt in the lurch, putting him in the sadly familiar position of token representative.

Meanwhile, Labor has retreated dramatically from the leftwing positions it took to the election. The direction of the shift is no surprise. Despite his nominal membership of the Labor Left, Albanese has been pushing a rightwing line for some time, notably when Labor looked like losing the Longman by-election. Still, the extent of the capitulation is striking, including voting for massively regressive tax cuts.

The result is a big opportunity for the Greens, now the only party supporting a recognisably left, or even social-democratic position. If policy positions were all that mattered, they ought to take a substantial share of Labor’s support. It may be, however, that the well-publicized internal problems of the Greens, combined with historical antipathy from elements the Labor left will prevent this from happening.

As far as I’m concerned though, I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would support Albanese’s version of Labor over the Greens. Those who still take labels like “Labor Left” seriously need to rethink their position.

18 thoughts on “The three party system after the election

  1. I should have enough experience in politics not to be shocked by Albanese – but yeah, I was. In regard to the Greens though, a very frustrating thing is that Richard Di Natale has been re-elected as leader, even though it’s in Richard’s home state of Victoria that the Greens problems are most severe.

    Greens’ PR that I have been seeing lately is ‘everything’s wonderful, we got all our senators re-elected’ (a very low bar for success, surely). There was absolutely no acknowledgement of the fact that the Greens’ vote in Victoria declined, mainly due to a 16% swing against them in Cooper (formerly Batman) on primary votes, plus a 4% swing against them in neighbouring Wills.

    It would be a start if Richard and his supporters could acknowledge the serious problems that led to Alex Bhathal, a popular left wing woman of colour, and former candidate for Batman/Cooper, being effectively driven out of the party. The fact that they won’t tells us something. Don’t be left, don’t be a feminist, don’t be an outspoken supporter of grassroots democracy rather than hierarchical managerialism. Toe the line, stand aside when an entitled man wants you to, or he and his supporters will get their revenge on you, while the party hierarchy (including Richard as federal party leader) condones it – that’s the message from what happened to Alex. Appalling stuff.

    I have to admit, I can’t understand Richard’s position on this – but then I can’t understand the positions of some people I know much better than Richard either. It does seem that they see Alex as uppity, or something – that they think she somehow ‘deserved’ what happened to her. I realise this might be a bit obscure to those who aren’t familiar with inner north Melbourne politics, but it would take many words to explain it all. Basically, the Victorian Greens leadership are seen to have betrayed a popular woman, for no apparent reason.

  2. “ I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would support Albanese’s version of Labor over the Greens. “

    But you’ll be preferencing Labor over the Liberals and so effectively voting Labor anyway. Labor won’t care about left-wing voters who leave them to go vote for the Greens, except in a handful of inner-city seats.

    Labor does care a lot though about the so-called aspirational, and cultural conservative, working class voters who leave and vote Palmer or Hanson, because those votes go the Liberals and Nationals as preferences.

    Labor’s left wing program at the last election was an anomaly. They thought they could get away with it because of the Liberals’ internal fighting and of course because the opinion polls told them they could get away with it. So we had Chris Bowen saying if you don’t like our policies don’t vote for us. What kind of insane hubris was that?

    And an under-appreciated factor was the 2017 gay marriage vote. Labor (and others on the left) thought the strong support for marriage equality meant that the country was culturally progressive, or at least not conservative. But they were wrong. The vote for marriage equality was another anomaly that fooled a lot of people. It turns out regional Queensland, the western suburbs of Sydney and non-Hobart Tasmania are who we pre 2017 thought they were.

  3. Tolstoy wrote a marvelous and amusing philosophical essay as the second epilogue for War and Peace. In it he notes how the foam at the bow of a ship precedes the ship wherever it goes. He then amusingly proposes that some thinkers, according to the way they reason in other matters, would then say that the foam is directing the ship. They see the foam as the cause of the ship’s movement and its changes in direction.

    Our political parties are merely the foam at the bow of the modern political economy. Some of the foam thrown up on one side of the bow has a blue tinge. This might be from the rainbow effect but more likely these days it’s from pollution. Some of the foam thrown up on the other side of the bow has green tinge, this is definitely from algae. Right at the point of the bow, the “blues” try to pretend to be “green” but this illusion derives from blue-green algae, the most toxic variant of all. Some of the left-wing hopeful claim they can see a little of the red spray of reform but that is just blood from the whaling and fishing factory ships up ahead.

  4. @2 I’m happy to say, at least at the State level, the Green candidate I voted for got up. And if the handful of inner suburban Federal seats turns out to include Grayndler, so much the better.

  5. I thought it was in NSW and not Victoria where the Greens were in turmoil? I don’t think the Greens in-fighting is anything insurmountable anyway.

    It’s said that it’s hard not to vote Labor, but they try their best to find reasons. For me, Albo’s decision to waive through highly regressive tax-cuts was the final straw. Labor has basically accepted the mainstream media’s lie that they suffered a landslide defeat. Rather than continuing to make the arguments in favour of their policies, they’ve totally abandoned them and opted for “there is no alternative” neo-liberalism. I think history would’ve been on their side. At some stage these tax-cuts are going to have to be paid for and they’re premised on some seriously heroic forecasting by the treasury. The domestic economy is in serious trouble and the global economy may well go sour over the next 3 years. It is clear that these tax cuts are going to be paid for through cuts to health and education (don’t forget that ScoMo wants to increase defence spending to 3 percent of GDP, which is an absolute gift to Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon and other merchants of death). This is clear to anybody who has observed the modus operandi of last-gasp neo-liberals. Trump has done the same thing in the USA and Boris is promising to do the same thing in the UK. Bill never questioned ScoMo about this during the campaign. I never once heard him ask ScoMo how he proposes to pay for his highly regressive tax-cuts or what happens when Treasury’s forecasting is revealed to be delusional (or did they get their mates at dodgy Big 4 cartel to do it?).

    The other lie we were told, and which Labor accepted, was that the economy was in good shape. I also don’t recall Bill mentioning that the economy was buggered. The other day we had Phillip Lowe with Josh Frydenburg standing behind him with a pistol saying the economy was in great shape, sort of like Dubcek in 1968. I think Blind Freddy can tell you the economy is in freefall. Go into Myer or David Jones and it’s discounting galore (even before the mid year sales). I don’t believe in fancy econometric forecasting. If you want to get a sense of what the economy is doing, go to your local shopping centre, speak to your neighbour, etc.

    Anyway, Albo prompted me to actually have a look at the Greens’ policies and there’s a lot that I agree with, particularly their Jobs Guarantee. Why isn’t the ALP supporting a Jobs Guarantee? I suppose what annoys me about Labor is that, instead of seeking some accord with the Greens, they’ve accepted the lie that the Greens are dangerous radicals. The only dangerous radicals are ONP, the LNP and of course the Nationals. I mean these are the people who believe in discredited nonsense like climate change denial, red tape reduction, the Laffer Curve and trickle down (I don’t even know if they bother with a theoretical justification anymore and just go with a brazen give away to their mates).

    I suppose my main objection to the Greens is Gough Whitlam’s quip re the Labor left that only the impotent and pure and Bismarck’s comparison of making laws to making sausages and we saw that with the Greens’ zealous blockage of the ETS and Malaysia Solution. Still, I think the Greens have learnt from that and, before the election, di Nataly said he would pass Labor’s environmental legislation. And, yes, while there is some truth to what Whitlam and Bismarck said, there is also a point where Deal-making and pragmatism go to the point where you forget what you actually stand for and all of a sudden you become Albo. As LBJ used to say “what’s the point of the presidency?”

  6. I think Blind Freddy can tell you the economy is in freefall. Go into Myer or David Jones and it’s discounting galore (even before the mid year sales). I don’t believe in fancy econometric forecasting. If you want to get a sense of what the economy is doing, go to your local shopping centre, speak to your neighbour, etc.

    I do go to my local shopping centre and I do speak to my neighbours, but it doesn’t give me any sense of what the economy is doing. I don’t have enormous faith in econometricians, but I have no reason to put any greater faith in you. In my experience, experts do make mistakes, but anonymous random non-experts on the Web make even more of them.

  7. Economic forecasting is hindered by the lack of real data on real wealth levels in Australia. Economic forecasters must look repeatedly at data about income levels. So the current stagnation in wages sends them one message about future consumer spending. But the wealth effect is just as powerful as the income effect. Often this requires forecasters to choose between Milton Friedman’s Permanent Income Hypothesis and the econometric research of Karl Case, Robert Shiller and John Quigley. The Case-Shiller home price index suggests that consumer spending may be linked to house prices (but not share prices). The jury is still out on which of these two approaches is more useful for economic predictions at a macroeconomic level.

  8. I agree with the analysis on Albanese, and I am also not surprised at the drastic shift to rightwing due to both the election result and Albanese himself. Though I must say, the media has been successful in creating a fake image that Albanese is popular working class lefty. Many on the left that I know of has been surprised by the drastic shift to rightwing after Albanese became the leader.

  9. “Please avoid using “Blind Freddy” ”

    Speaking of inappropriate metaphors, today’s AFR editorial contains this ripsnorter:

    Rather than raping and pillaging, private equity players argue that they are focused on growing companies for the long term..

  10. Watching the increasing divisions inside the Democratic Party in the US, I wonder whether this three-party framework also cuts across generational lines. The sadder remnants of the neoliberal left, represented by Pelosi, are mostly baby boomers. The energy of the socialist/green insurgency is coming from the millennial generation and younger.

    While I know you dislike crude generational analysis, Professor Quiggin, (and I agree that these notions are completely arbitrary), there does seem to be something to it in this case. Essentially, our children’s generation who have grown up with the GFC and the escalating threat of climate change are not persuaded by the discredited neoliberal consensus.

    My generation (the boomers) are split between the Trumpists/Hansonites/Brexiteers and the Blairist/Clintonite/Keatinesque new labour remnants. It seems to me Albanese is trying to force himself into that now broken mould but in a spectacularly ineffective fashion. Politically speaking, he is dead on arrival in the leadership position. An instant lost cause.

    Labor needs a new generation in charge with new ideas. Essentially, it needs people who will put the fear back into the right and the neoliberal left. Accomodating these people won’t work.

  11. Mr Denmore

    You’re a bit harsh on Albanese. He’ll probably fail, because most opposition leaders fail. But It’s too soon to be conclusive.

    “Labor needs a new generation in charge with new ideas.”

    Got any suggestions? Jim Chalmers is supposed to be the leader of the next generation (he’s 41) and AFAICT he’s the very model of orthodoxy, circa 1988. It’s his misfortune to have been born 30 years too late because he would been a perfect Hawke government minister.

  12. “While I know you dislike crude generational analysis, Professor Quiggin, (and I agree that these notions are completely arbitrary), there does seem to be something to it in this case. ”

    I think the Professor’s dislike has somewhat mellowed a bit as per:
    https://johnquiggin.com/2018/11/07/time-to-join-the-generation-game-definitely/

    You could probably put other subjects like MMT into that “mellowing” too, albeit with strict caveats (reading between the lines a bit here) 🙂

  13. Smith 9,

    Perhaps it was harsh on Albo but you have to admit he hasn’t given much indication that he has any intention but to capitulate on everything. I was never convinced by him, to be honest. And I think the fact that News Corp tends to favour him gives the game way.

  14. Cohort effects in politics (that is, genuine generational differences) are certainly more evident now than at any time in my memory. Still, the majority of generational talk is still either “kids these days …”, or “stuck-in-the-mud oldies”, just as it was when the Who was telling us “the kids are all right”

  15. GENER(aliz)ATIONS
    By Alfie Kohn

    “Sweeping generalizations about a huge group of people who share only the same race or ethnicity are widely viewed as offensive stereotypes. But sweeping generalizations about a huge group of people who share only their age (give or take a couple of decades)? Sure! Why not?

    Baby Boomers were originally lumped together based on the fact that there were a lot of them (the birthrate having spiked after the War) and that they were lucky enough to come of age during a relatively affluent period. The idea that all of them — or, for that matter, all Gen X’ers or all Millennials — are also distinguished by a common political or psychological profile, a set of values or tastes, is an entirely different proposition. It’s an idea that rational people should view with a generous measure of skepticism if only because each of these labels refers to something on the order of 80 million people.

    Marketing consultants are particularly shameless in tossing out declarations about characteristics that supposedly define each generation: They’re paid — sometimesastronomical rates — to convince companies that they can carve the population into groups, the better to target each with a unique pitch for buying stuff they don’t really need.”…
    https://www.alfiekohn.org/blogs/generations/

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