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.”
By alang | # | Comments (2)
(Posted to )


At 16:47, 12 Oct 2004 Ian Bicking wrote:

Though, like many Leftists, I'm not religious, it seems like religion is one way to get people to think about non-material items. I wish more Christians would act more Christian... but there are voices in that community, and maybe they could use some help. I was impressed with the many churches that came out against the war in Iraq, for instance.

Also, parental concerns are another place where you can easily appeal to non-material interests. So, maybe it would be better to talk about safety issues due to traffic, as opposed to the larger issues of resource consumption. Safety provides an anecdote, and anecdotes can inspire empathy. Even abstract anecdotes... I don't know if it's the same in Australia, but in the US politicians are always using some random persons name and story, and it's tedious and cliche. But a well told story doesn't need to be concrete, so long as it connects to something the listener has experience with -- the listener makes the story concrete by remembering their own experiences.

Lastly, I'd say lifestyle is something that should be pushed more. A large portion of our commercials are based on lifestyle, and it works -- even with the irony when they present a simple life, then tell you what you can buy to achieve it. Perhaps the Left can appeal to the same thing, except offering *real* choices, rather than the failed lifestyle-changing technique of piling more products into your life.

Anyway, some thoughts.

At 03:00, 13 Oct 2004 Jed Wesley-Smith wrote:

Alan Ramsey isn't so much a left-winger in the sense of being a writer who champions 'left wing' causes. He is a political commentator who hates incompetence, hypocrisy and dishonesty in politics, and constantly tries to improve the integrity of the polictical process. He absolutely savaged Paul Keating and Bob Hawke on occasion, and has happily given Latham a lashing at times.

Ramsey does reserve particular dislike for John Howard and his particularly mendacious political methods, something he shares with quite a few chardonnay sippers.


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