As last weekend’s Upper Hunter byelection made clear, Labor has a problem with blue-collar voters, not just state labor with this problem, but the whole Labor brand. They were always going to be ramifications from a byelection, a coal-mining state where labor could scarcely manage 20 percent of the vote, even with a good candidate. And today, after a week of public bloodletting, the New South Wales Labor leader belatedly announced that she was stepping down for the good of the party.
This is the only way that I know I can not hide. I have spent the last six days reflecting on how to achieve unity, and I have decided that this office, the party, the best opportunity to heal and to move forward, but they’re also has to be a future where there is no destabilizing of the party’s leader from within.
Jodi McKay finally falling on her sword and by resigning rather than being voted out, avoiding very drawn-out new rules for leadership contests in labor is no bad thing for the state Labor Party. Despite plenty of opportunities, McKay just has failed to lay a glove on Premier Gladys Berejiklian. And a basic problem was that she also failed to establish herself as a strong and distinctive political personality. Now, to succeed in public life, you’ve got to have a brand.
And to the extent that McKay had won, it was brand bland. She should hold press conferences and make statements. She’d sort of go through the motions, but there was no impact because there was never anything in what she said other than what was utterly predictable. A political brand doesn’t have to be flashy or good, Gladys. She’s a master class in understatement. But a political brand must help build your character or personality with the electorate. And it’s got to cut through on both measures.
Character and cut through. McKay was a dead loss, so she was against the Berejiklian government. So what? Oppositions always are. But what was she for? The likely new leader, Chris Means, will be up against it because the Brazilian government is widely credited as the best in the country, it’s kept covert, under control without panicky lockdowns. Like I say, in Victoria, it’s around public schools and public hospitals tolerably well, and it’s cracked on with an infrastructure build that city badly needed after six years of Labor neglect.
Just like all incumbents right now, provided they keep reciting the mantra of keeping people safe and following expert advice, because people are frightened of change in a crisis, it’s wearing the political equivalent of a bulletproof vest right across the country and not just in New South Wales. Labor’s problem is far deeper than who leads them. It’s what moves them. These days, what and who does labor stand for? Is it climate change, politics and identity politics or better services and more jobs?
As the Upper Hunter showed, you can’t square the circle by talking about green jobs because the people who depend on coal mines for their livelihoods, they’re no mugs. They know that there are no long-term jobs, none in solar panels and windmills that we import from China. So means just might make a difference because as well as a qualification from Princeton University, it’s also spending time as a firefighter amidst all the former union hacks and political staffers, is one of the very few senior labor figures these days appear to have had a real job to make it.
Though he’ll have to persuade all those truck drivers and shop assistants, sales reps and trades that he gets the businesses they work in, that he respects their aspirations to work hard, get ahead, but he won’t put politically correct virtue signaling ahead of their jobs and families. In other words, you have to sound a lot less like Anthony Albanese and a lot more like Joel Fitzgibbon. As a liberal, I don’t really want him to succeed because Labor’s policies are the problem.
Not so much its leader, but I don’t want means entirely to fail either, because the better the opposition, the better the government has to be in order to stay in office. And that’s one thing we should all want. The best possible government for Australia and good government, of course, need a strong opposition right now, at least where the Libs are in office. The alternative is the green left. And liberal governments can be as progressive as they like because the alternative would always be worse.
A Labor Party that returns to its working-class roots pays less attention to the great hard left dominating the inner-city branches and brings the electorate on the left some way back to the center. That’s good for everyone because that’s where elections are won and lost and we get a better policy outcome for Australia. In the long run, a Labor Party fighting from the center would push the liberals a little bit back further to the right. That’d be good for the liberals as much as it would be good for labor.