I Agree With John Howard

1 PM October 13, 2004

I almost fell off my chair. I agree with something John Howard said:

… There was divided opinion in Australia on whether or not we should have gone into Iraq.

Wow. John Howard admits that the decision to go to Iraq wasn’t unanimous amongst the voters. That’s almost showing humility. It’s almost an apology for dismissing the quarter million anti-war protesters out of hand. Not that it matters; nobody will be judging Howard over his decision to send the troops to Iraq until decade 200x is part of a modern history curriculum.

I digress. Our PM continued the interview:

But the overwhelming majority of Australians believe very strongly that having gone there, we should stay and finish the job. They rejected the notion of the premature withdrawal of our forces until their job has been completed.

And again I agree.

On second thoughts, perhaps “help fix the mess we made” would be more accurate than “finish the job,” because the job was to take away Iraq’s WMDs. However, I’m glad to see our troops in there doing good, whatever the rationalisation.

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The Left Wing Narrative

11 AM October 13, 2004

Australian left wing bloggers are putting together the story of how John Howard managed to win a fourth term, an increased margin and a senate majority. It will take months to complete, but the general shape is “John Howard is still in power because the left are not addressing the issues that the majority of Australians care about. This must change. Here is how.”

According to the new narrative, the issues that the majority of Australians care about are:

  • How can I get the big house and all the stuff that I aspire to?
  • Will I still be able to afford the mortgage repayments if interest rates go up 2%?
  • How do I get more money?
  • What’s better – Backyard Blitz or Ground Force?

No doubt the list will grow broader, deeper and more accurate over the coming months. I expect Hugh McKay’s books to be selling particularly well in the lead-up to Christmas. All this will take place to the sound of a thousand right wing bloggers saying, “Duh!”

The issues that have been pre-occupying the left are all intellectual, wet and community-minded:

  • How low will the standards of our democracy sink before somebody restores them?
  • How much of our natural environment can we preserve?
  • How can we get the working poor into more stable employment?
  • Can we restore Australia’s reputation as a good world citizen?

These are good things to be concerned about. It’s good to educate oneself about them and to discuss them with your peers. However, when we try to talk to the “typical Australian” in these terms, all we provoke are blank stares and the suspicion of being lectured. So we had better try something else.

I think the Left will catch up – we’re motivated and we’re good at introspection, so it’s just a matter of time. We won’t be playing on the right’s home ground either. There are plenty of voters’ problems that the Liberal party doesn’t have answers for, like the affordability of housing, who is going to care for their grandmother, and whether their children will have a decent country to live in.

Some links I’ve found useful:

  • Hugh McKay called the election correctly in September, and consequently his opinion deserves a listening.
  • Harry Heidelberg has a cathartic rant, upset, but accepting that voters aren’t interested in lefty issues like truth and justice. He makes the point that we need to speak to each person in their own terms.
  • Alan Ramsey, chattering away and crying into his chardonnay. We must stop doing this in public; it might pick up the odd convert, but overall does more harm than good. (On the other hand, maintaining the rage is useful. Perhaps we should retain Alan Ramsey for this purpose, so long as the rest of us learn how to communicate.)
  • Chris Sheil’s Back Pages weblog is one place where the new narrative is being forged. This new narrative is only a few days old, but it’s already starting to change people’s language and their viewpoints.

I find the left wing bloggers’ narrative fascinating, but it’s nowhere near as important or as detailed as the narrative the Labor party needs to build for itself in the coming months. Interesting times ahead.

Update: Two Labor party members have written pieces for Crikey, showing the beginnings of new Labor party story. The authors weave together memes from newspaper columnists, a dose insider knowledge and a strong conviction that it is possible for Labor to win an election.

  • Reflecting on Labor’s loss – “After going backwards in Labor’s strongest booths, the only conclusion is that the party has lost touch with working people.”
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