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Shock of the new – Peter Brent explains how winners like to write their own histories

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It’s no secret that I enjoy Peter Brent’s frequent musings on modern Australian politics. He has an entertaining acerbic wit and dry sense of humour that he is renown for amongst fans of Aussie politics. He sometimes strays with his obsession about certain politicians that he seems to personally dislike but by and large his analysis of election results and polling is very good.

Here he muses about a recent speech my Michael Cooney, from Labor’s Chifley Research Centre

The full article can be found here on the Inside Story website (worth subscribing to) and is definitely worth a read, particularly if you’re interested in recent Labor history and the false image/myth created around John Howard’s electoral success (which Peter has repeatedly and correctly pointed out was due in part to favourable economic times and enormous middle-class welfare and high-spending high-taxing policies).

“A Labor think tank has given a timely warning about the seductive appeal of triumphs past, says Peter Brent … Last month in London, Michael Cooney, executive director of the Labor Party’s main think tank, the Chifley Research Centre, called for an end to what he termed “nostalgia for the new.” In a speech called “In the Shadow of Giants: the Paradox of Modernisation in the Second Generation,” he took particular aim at the obsession within his party with the Hawke and Keating governments of 1983–96, and the implication that this politically successful period can serve as a blueprint for Labor today. Cooney characterised nostalgia for that period – the belief that if only the spirit of those times could be recaptured, all would be well – as a one-dimensional view of the recent past. Beginning and ending with “microeconomic reform,” this account was constructed by the party’s enemies, he argued, with the chief aim of flaying modern Labor. Yet it’s also something many in the party have internalized.”

I really liked this point from Peter, which is an important lesson for political strategists and local campaign directors: “Trying to repeat the past is a recipe for dysfunction. Apart from anything else, any account of what happened is incomplete, selective or just plain wrong. History is often like that: the stories that develop through the years contain truths, yes, but also omissions, exaggerations and falsehoods. Random events sometimes alter the course of those tales, and as they are retold they are remoulded by ideological battles.”

Peter ends this episode with a positive note about Labor (as positive as his overt cynicism allows I suspect 🙂 … “the party will undoubtedly return to office one day. How it behaves when it once more controls the levers will indicate whether the current ailment is temporary or something more enduring.”

My opinion on this topic is obviously optimistic. Having just spent 5 years working in the ACT Labor office I have seen closely the positive outcomes from a hard-working team of representatives and supportive party members. Whenever Labor embraces its values and follows through with team-work it always improves outcomes in government and in the community. There are no silver bullets in politics and occasionally you are under heavy enemy fire, but the progressive side of politics must be united and focused on a better future to succeed. There are lots of good examples of the successes of good Labor policy and government in recent Australian history as well as in current governments in SA and the ACT. I’m sure federal Labor’s electoral success will return with a vengeance and I am confident that Bill Shorten will continue to score goals strengthening the Party for its next electoral test.

Anyway, enough about Labor, Peter’s latest post on the likelihood of the Queensland Premier losing his own seat at the next Queensland State election is a cracker! The answer to the question of “will he survive” is “probably no”!

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