I’ve just finished reading Mark Latham’s article in the November edition of The Monthly (pay-walled, worth buying) and it got me thinking.
In spite of an inability to let go of the personal disputes that stalked his political career, Latham is possible of some interested political analysis and insight. It’s just a shame that he allows petulant bitchiness to cast its shadow.
History will be remembered in what is recorded, so it would be disappointing if quotes such as that below were to pass unchallenged.“… for all the activity, for all the heightened rhetoric, for the seemingly endless creation of summits, committees and policy review processes, the lasting impression of the Rudd years is one of emptiness. It’s defining initiatives were symbolic: the apology to the Stolen Generation and the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. Most of its big promises, such as action on climate change and revolution in education policy, were unfulfilled.”
Clearly Mark does not like Kevin, and it’s easy to imagine the curled smile on Latham’s lips as these words flowed so easily from his finger tips.
However, the article seems too easily to ignore the challenges, of both intellect and resources, that the Financial Crisis bore on the Government. The Education Revolution became Building The Education Revolution. Many other reforms were put on the back-burner. Climate change… well, f%$k you Kevin for that one. You deserved what you got.
I am no Kevin Rudd apologist, but it would be unjust if the impact of the GFC, and the internationally lauded response from the Australian Government, was wiped from the legacy of his Prime Ministership.
After dishing the dirt for a couple of pages, Latham turns to his three prescriptions for the future of the Labor movement. What I found of particular was Latham’s call for an anti-establishment Labor Party.
I’m not sure that I arrived at the same definition of ‘anti-establishment’ as Mark Latham. Latham views the political embodiment of anti-establishment as ‘taking on the corporate sector, elite private schools and big media houses’. This seems very obvious and blunt to me, and given the similarities between Labor and Orwell’s pigs in top hats, hardly sounds like a place where the Labor Party would find its future.
I reflected back on an earlier passage on the ‘social-ism’ of British Third-way politics. Here, Latham draws an analogy with community development however draws a parallel with social capital. Instead, I saw the thread that binds community development and anti-establishment politics.
The article talks about finding commonalities between the anarchism on the Left and Libertarianism on the right, with Freedoms being the shared ground. I think this is a little over-baked and the point can easily be made that Left and Right ideologies appreciate the importance of Freedoms without implying that Freedoms rely on radical support bases.
But back to anti-establishment politics and community development, and to my own interpretation of Mark Latham’s identity solution for the Left.
Politics is, of course, about power. The institutions of government both create and enhance power. And community development is about giving sections of the community that are dis-empowered, because they are poor, oppressed or disadvantaged in some other way, the power to overcome the structures or people who oppress them. As an outcome, community development inherently involves political action of some kind (though some institutions that pay lip service to community development may not like this. It challenges their control of passively viewed ‘clients’).
An anti-establishment politics must be one that applies community development principles to the institutions of government. I don’t mean government officers rolling out community development programs (though that would be nice), but fundamental changes to governance along community development principles. In some cases this will mean community control of community services; or mandated inclusiveness of the community members in decision-making rather than box ticking exercises tarted up as consultation. It might mean ‘consumer representatives’ involved directly in governance of government corporations. It does mean that government services should be as regulated and transparent as we expect private agencies to be, if not more so.
It means support for non-government, not-for-profit organisations and co-operative structures. It means cultural subsidies for culture-creating artists rather than culture-recreating large arts organisations. It means support for Government 2.0 as a means to further democratising decision making.
Further, it also means pro-actively ensuring that these processes are not captured by those ensuring the status quo of relations within our society.
To be succinct, it means shaping a society in which citizens and communities have agency over their lives and the institutions that impact upon their lives. A political party that delivers this change must be one that is willing to empower communities that have the ability to turn on them.
I agree with Mark Latham on one other point. I don’t believe that Labor can be that party. I agree with Mark Latham that, for the Left, the future lies with the green movement.