Labor and class, again

Paul Norton has alerted me to a new book by Michael Thompson, published by rightwng outlet Labor’s Forgotten People: The Triumph of Identity Politics  It appears to be a rehash of Thompson’s Labor Without Class which I reviewed back in 2000 (reprinted over the fold).

One point mentioned in the review was a positive blurb from Martin Ferguson, who was clearly well on the path to his current position as a rightwing mining company hack, but still managed to pass himself off as a Labor stalwart for another decade or more.

The blurb of Forgotten People states that “this title is sure to cause a stir within the Labor Party membership”, and I’ll confine my remarks to the title. The idea that the left had an excessive focus on identity politics was popular, and not entirely baseless, back around 2000. But it’s been obvious for years that it’s the right that is dominated by identity politics.

More precisely, it’s what might be called “default identity politics”, the idea that “real Australians/Americans/Englishment” are white (more specifically Anglo-Celt) heterosexual Christians, working in private sector jobs, and living in rural and regional areas. The policies of the right don’t actually help people like this (their benefits are directed to high-income earners and wealthy retirees), but attracts their vote by reassuring of them of their superiority over urban “elites”

Labor without Class was wrong in all important respects, but at least it was up with the times. Thompson’s latest is an absurdity in the era of Trump, Johnson and Morrison.

Read More »

Gujarat breaking with coal

The announcement that the Indian state of Gujarat will allow no new thermal coal plants seems like a really big deal.

First up, it’s striking that a state with electricity demand growing at 8-10 per cent a year has concluded that it can meet this demand entirely with renewables. That’s totally contrary to the line pushed by the government and coal lobby here in Australia, suggesting that rapid growth in electricity demand can only be met by coal.

Second, Gujarat is the home ground of both Indian PM Modi and his most notable crony, Gautam Adani. And, it appears, the decision has been motivated in large measure by the disaster that is Adani Power’s Mundra plant. As AECOM, Worley Parsons and many others in Australia can confirm, anyone who deals with Adani has a high risk of getting burned.

This is just one announcement, and perhaps it will be reversed. But, on the face of things, it seems like a huge step towards the end of coal-fired electricity, and a huge blow to the ambitions of the Adani Group in Australia.

Passports (crosspost from Crooked Timber)

I was looking over this post from 2016, on the consequences of a relatively successful Brexit

I’m finding it hard to see that anything will happen to justify the massive effort involved. The Poles and other EU citizens whose presence was the biggest single justification for Brexit won’t go away. On the contrary, it seems pretty clear that all EU citizens will get permanent residence, even those who arrived after the Brexit vote. Even with a hard Brexit, the benefits of consistency with EU regulations will be overwhelming. The terms of any trade deal with non-EU countries won’t be any better than the existing EU deals and probably worse. Even symbolically, what’s going to happen? Typically, national independence is marked by a ceremony where the flag of the imperial power is lowered, and the new national flag is raised. But, from what I can tell, the EU flag is hardly ever flown in the UK as it is. The same for national currency, passport, official languages and all the other symbolic representations of nationhood. So, after a successful Brexit, Britain will be a little poorer and more isolated than before, but otherwise largely unchanged. Will that count as success in the eyes of those who voted to Leave. I don’t know.

Most of that still looks about right. But as commenters at the time pointed out, I was wrong about passports. One of the big things Leavers disliked about the EU was the replacement of the blue British passport with EU burgundy. It turns out that the colour change wasn’t compulsory, and the reintroduced blue passports will be printed in France, but at least that is a symbolic win for the Brexiteers.

On the other hand, how does this fit with the oft-repeated claim that Leave voters were “left behind” “stayers”? To be nostalgic for blue passports, you would presumably need to have undertaken a fair bit of international travel before 1988, when they were replaced. That experience, combined with the assumption that Britain is far superior to the EU, sounds like the profile of a stereotypical well-off, middle-aged or older, Tory voter. And, as far as I can tell, it was this category that provided the core support for Leave. That’s consistent with Trumpist voting most places in the English speaking world.

Why Labor lost

It’s always nice to see evidence that supports your prior beliefs, which is why it’s important to avoid confirmation bias (seeking out confirming evidence, while ignoring or discounting the other kind). Since this ANU study of voters’ choices in the leadup to the May election is, AFAICT the only one to be published so far, I can cite it without fear of this bias.

I’m not usually keen on the excuse that “we lost because we didn’t get our message across”, but in relation to the last election, I said this before the election. Commenting at the halfway point, I said

The first half of the 2019 election campaign was the worst I’ve ever seen, especially relative to the possibility for real debate. Both sides ran continuous attack ads focusing on the opposing leader, playing into the gladiatorial model favoured by the Press Gallery. Labor, in particular, seemed to have forgotten it had any policy offer.

As the past tense indicates, when I wrote this I thought things had changed. For a day or two, Labor ran ads talking up its positive policies and focusing on the whole frontbench rather than Shorten alone. But that stopped almost as soon as it started and it was back to the fact that Morrison only cared about “the big end of town”. Apart from the clunky and dated rhetoric, we already knew that. By contrast, even as a close follower of politics I didn’t know Labor had an excellent dental policy until Tanya Plibersek mentioned it after the election.

The ANU study backs this up, first by saying that lots of people changed their minds at the last minute, which isn’t consistent with deepseated hostility to Labor policy, and second by saying that the big negative was reactions to Shorten, presumably driven in part by the Liberals’ negative campaigning.

The crucial point here is that, by playing the gladiatiorial leadership game, Labor was setting itself up to lose. Campaigning on policy would have reinforced the point, obvious since the election, that the coalition didn’t have any.