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Friday, 13 November 2020 11:19

Love's Labour's Lost

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Does the left now despise the working class?  A British Labour dissident thinks so, and has written a book about it.  And he wants to change his Party.  In Australia, an ALP politician may this week have called time on the Labor woke-ocracy as well.

Does the left now despise the working class?  A British Labour dissident thinks so, and has written a book about it.  And he wants to change his Party.  In Australia, an ALP politician may this week have called time on the Labor woke-ocracy as well.


The Bard titled one of his early comedies thus.

Someone in Wiki World interpreted the Shakespearian play in this way:

'Love's Labour Lost' means that someone put a lot of work and energy into a love that didn't work out. A timeless tale!

Well, the Australian Labor (no “u” these days) Party has left many of its erstwhile supporters feeling that, for a generation at least, their love “didn’t work out”.  It has been a case of love for Labor lost.  Many old Labor voters feel disenfranchised, abandoned, forgotten, ignored.  The Labor Party has become a totally new beast since the 1970s, and is now utterly unrecognisable to its old school, working class supporters.

A generation of “traditional” Labor voters has at least considered becoming Howard Battlers or Silent Australians who vote Liberal.  Many, disillusioned with modern Labor’s directions and the perceived abandonment of the old ways, made the journey across the party political aisle.  In the USA they were called “Reagan Democrats”.  I mentioned, in my recent essay in honour of my late father – a rusted on old ALP man – that he would now simply not recognise the party he had supported over a lifetime.  He would not be alone.

Kim Beazley Sr, a Whitlam minister in the 1970s, once suggested with prescience not sufficiently acknowledged then or since, that Labor, once “representing the cream of the working class”, had come to represent “the dregs of the bourgeoisie”.  Such an interpretation suggests a problem of people.  The people running the show changed, and now the wrong people were in charge.  But perhaps the problem has been more one of ideas and shifting ideology.  The new people running the Labor Party had different ideas from their predecessors.  The old ALP is now seen by most of its current parliamentary and non-parliamentary members, seemingly, as a mere legacy party.  And an embarrassing one at that.  The old ideas, and the old causes, have been jettisoned by the new generation of Labor pollies and activists.

Some have described the (finally) come-to-the-surface Labor fissure as one of inner city elites versus suburban and regional Labor voters.  Yes, true, it is, but this doesn’t explain what has happened and why.   The geographical divide is an effect, not a cause.  People now locate where they are ideologically comfortable and choose to live with their own.  Or at least many do.  The geographical dimension of the Labor divide is simply the outcome of forces hatched long ago.

Where does all this leave the old Labor voter?  And who exactly is the old Labor voter? 

The old Party represented the workers.  Unlike marxists (why does Microsoft always try to auto-capitalise marxism?), old Labor sought to advance the interests of workers without seeking to overthrow the system.  The links with traditional Catholic social teaching, from Leo XIII to St John Paul II, were not coincidental.  The old Labor Catholic right was a force to be reckoned with in the Party.  Old Labor was socially conservative, patriotic, and typically pro-life.  Without knowing it, perhaps, they channelled George Orwell.

Old Labor abhorred the Liberal Party, of course.  They were the party of toffs, of crony capitalism, and of crony capitalists.  These Labor diehards might well have agreed with Adam Smith, who similarly had little time for crony capitalists.

Smith noted in The Wealth of Nations:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices…. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies, much less to render them necessary.

No one likes vested interests who collude, especially with government, to advance their own interests at the expense of the polity and the community.  Keeping capitalists honest became core business for Old Labor.  It drove trade unionism, in its original and best sense.

The last week or so has seen some interesting new developments, both in the Mother Country and in Australia, that are relevant to the plight of old Labor. 

In Australia, one of the older style Labor politicians has resigned from the ALP frontbench, citing the fact that the modern Labor Party no longer sufficiently represents the values and priorities of old Labor voters.  This is Joel Fitzgibbon.  Conveniently, his geographical electoral interests (representing a coal based electorate) happily coincide with his emerging position that is at odds with climate change alarmism and the whole renewable energy cult.  But give credit where it is due.  One doesn’t want to make too much of this, but he seems to be the only ALP politician who has recognised the biggest elephant in the Labor room, and who has been willing to call it out in public.  Ostensibly, the issue is climate change, a matter of religious zeal for the new left.  But the Labor fissures go wider, and deeper.

Labor has always had it factions, and these have been cemented, and formalised, for decades.  The old Catholic right represented the Labor resistance to the DLP.  The old left hated the Catholic right, but even the old Labor left had some common sense.  Not so the new left, so succinctly described by Beazley Sr.  Labor people like the late Peter Walsh were always lefties in the old sense.  Just principled, focused on working class interests and possessing massive common sense and empathy with the concerns of ordinary Labor voters.  Walsh recognised the significance of the ideological shift taking place, post the fall of the Berlin Wall, from old Labor to “watermelon ideology” (green on the outside, red on the inside) for what it was.  The embrace of communism in another guise, with all the comforting blandishments of the inner city woke brigade, and with more recently added soupcons of gay/feminist/postmodernist ideology. 

The massive influx of new left feminist women into the Labor Party (from the 1970s) spelled the death knell of traditional, socially conservative Labor values.  This was done under the seemingly safe-progressive desire to get more equality into the Party, through iniatives like Emily’s List.  Its outcome was the destruction of the Party that people like my mother, a stay-at-home mother of traditional Catholic values, once knew.

Bob Catley, a former Labor MP, intellectual and prolific writer of common sense, has highlighted the takeover of the Party by graduates as a marker of the tectonic shift that has occurred.  This is very true.  The influx of graduates, like Beazley’s dregs of the middle class, brought entitlement, smugness and sociology.  They became the vehicles of ideological change.

Of course, many in the Labor Party exhibit a strange cognitive dissonance (holding two beliefs in tension, simultaneously), and maintain, uneasily, commitments both to traditional working class values and to New Labor ideologies.  And they continue to turn out on election day.  (God knows what they really think, and believe.  Ex Liberals who realise that the Liberal Party they once knew and served is no longer the same beast have left the building.  Why do the Labor disillusioned stay?)

Another event of some consequence for Labour politics has occurred in the UK, where a proponent of “Blue Labour” has come out, foreshadowing a new book titled Despised: Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class.  His name is Paul Embery, a long time unionist and rusted on labour man.

A great interview explains the issue.

Interestingly, the very sympathetic interview was done with the pro-Brexit, UKIP connected, Tory-disillusioned, independently minded Peter Whittle of the New Culture Forum, suggesting the possibility of potential new ideological linkages with paleo-conservatives.

Embery is (of course) much hated by many in the post- Blairite UK Labour Party. 

He nails the problems of Labo(u)r with rigour and precision.  His big point is that those who now run the Labour Party simply do not push the issues that traditional and now deserting (to UKIP, the Brexit Party and even, in the north, the Tories) Labour voters wish to be pushed.  “Little Britain”, despised by the new intellectuals of Labour, wants traditional family values, recognition of hard work, striving for betterment, low immigration, and the protection of local jobs.  Their betters favour action on climate change, mass immigration, neo-liberal economics and globalism.  They are woke. They voted Remain, whereas old Labour voters voted Leave, in massive numbers.

Embery misses something important, though.  It not just that the new left of the Party has “different priorities”.  It is much more significant than that.  They have a whole new agenda that is antithetical to the very core, even the existence, of those that Embery speaks for.

As with the twenty-first century US Democrats, New Labour, post Tony Blair, is left wing in all the wrong ways as far as old Labour voters are concerned.  The new class atop the Labour Party despises the workers.  They wanted to leave the EU.  There are, therefore xenophobes or worse.  They are ignorant racists.  They are, legacy.  Surplus to Labor requirements.

In some respects, Embery’s thinking reflects that of the ALP maverick Michael Thompson.  His first book, cleverly titled Labor without Class, was published in 1999.  The problem is, indeed, that old.  Old notions of class struggle have been replaced by new, alien priorities.  Thompson’s sub-title was “the gentrification of Labor” placing him in the Beazley school of thought.

Thompson said at the time:

“I wrote this book because I am angered at the hijacking of the Australian Labor Party and because I could not let the fiftieth anniversary of Ben Chifley’s ‘light on the hill’ speech pass without voicing my feelings.”

The use of the term “hijack” is heartfelt and powerful for those of us who once identified so instinctively and, indeed, viscerally, with the working class.

Now, it seems, stirrings in both the UK and in Australia may well be the beginnings of a debate that can only enrich the left-of-centre politics of both countries.  An old friend, Labor stalwart and a founding eminence at Campion College, Joe de Bruyn, always used to say that ALL parties in Australia need good, right thinking people to join them and to influence their ideological direction.  De Bruyn fought a losing battle within the ALP for decades, watching as the party of his youth shifted inexorably towards that which Kim Beazley feared most.  De Bruyn’s stoicism and continued loyalty to the ALP has been something to behold.  But then again, his party loyalty reflects the approach of those faithful, “broad church” Liberals, John Howard and Tony Abbott, who continue to keep the faith when many who once supported their Party have called it quits, shaking their heads in disbelief as they shuffle off.  For the same reasons of abandoned core principles.

The journey of Mark Latham is instructive. 

How could a former Labor leader end up with One Nation, all that New Labor abhors?  Latham’s stance on issues like Israel Folau, Margaret Court, the transgender ideology of education bureaucracies, parents’ rights and the need for premiers to obey the letter and the spirit of their own ministerial codes of conduct, suggests that he has had a worthwhile epiphany, one that other Labor politicians might well ponder, even emulate.

I don’t know how Joe de Bruyn stays with Labor.  I often wondered this.

Then again, I don’t know how decent people stay in the Liberal Party, the old and new home of crony capitalism which has simply stopped fighting the new left and retreated to the venal pursuit of ministerial leather for its own political and post-political career rewards.

Love’s Labour’s Lost.

The Bard had other things than left party politics on his mind when he penned his timeless comedy.  The loss of love for Labo(u)r, though, is something that we all should ponder now, as we experience a broken party system, massive disenfranchisement of social conservatives in both major parties, poor leadership, the abandonment of moral stands on key issues, and the total absence of any real opposition within parliament to the ideological direction of travel. 

All power to Paul Embery in the UK and Joel Fitzgibbon in Australia, then.  De Bruyn is right.  We need the best people in all of our political parties.

Let them shake the tree, and force us to contemplate where we have got to.  State Labor politicians in particular – I am thinking in particular of New South Wales – might start the process of re-connection with those within their base that maintain old Labor values by addressing system level corruption and cronyism, the Photios Industrial Complex and an entrenched political class in the pay of developers.  Target rich in the Premier State.  And not ideological. 

But how does a party so infected by new-leftism, feminism and radicalism do this?  Not to mention the vile Sussex Street culture that has infested Labor for decades.  Listen to Thompson, Fitzgibbon and Embery, for a start.  And reconnect with decent working class people who are now so disenfranchised, right across the Anglosphere.

Read 1527 times Last modified on Friday, 13 November 2020 11:40
Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.