Astute comments from a friend of mine, British Labour MP John Spellar, about the threat to social democratic and labour parties in the western world, something I have spoken about below, see “European Diary: Vienna.” John Spellar is a bluff, straight talking former union official who has been in parliament for 20 years.
He knows more about Australia, by the way, than any other member of the British parliament and has been here countless times.
Here’s what he wrote on the Labour Uncut website:
A mistake common to both the radical Conservatives and the intellectual left is to believe that the voters want to be in a constant turmoil of aspiration and change. In fact, they want a quiet and comfortable life with steady improvement.
That middle portion of the electorate is very much a type B rather than type A personality. That was the secret of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair: they offered non-threatening change. These voters want to go to work, be fairly rewarded and treated with respect. They want the opportunity to move up a bit at work, but not to feel pressured to do so. They are diligent and reliable workers and have a concern, bordering on contempt, for those who they believe are fiddling benefits or are work shy.
However, work is not the only, or main, focus of their life. The most important things are home, family and hobbies. They are law abiding and expect others to play by the rules. They want to live in a peaceful, orderly neighbourhood. If they do not, then they are hostile, both to the perpetrators and the authorities who permit it to happen. They expect the state to protect them from threats at home and abroad.
Following this, they want structure and stability in their lives and their surroundings. That is the huge gulf between them and the intelligentsia who value novelty and fashion above all else and who have a significant and disproportionate influence over public policy. Ordinary people expect the state to defend them against louts in their street and terrorists in their cities, which is why they support ASBOs and control orders. At work, they expect proper procedures for deciding their pay, benefits and any disciplinary matters. They expect their children and other children to behave in school and to come out literate, numerate and employable. They expect their health service to be clean, caring and efficient.
Spellar goes on to report that in Sweden, the Social Democratic Party only receives 20 per cent of the votes of those in work. In Stockholm the figure was down to 14 per cent. He refers to the debate in the Australian Labor Party about whether the party tilts towards the socially liberal policies of the Greens or the socially conservative policies of the suburbs. He refers to the drop in support to the US Democrats among white workers.
For us to survive and thrive as a Labour party, we need to reconnect with working people and their views and hopes and fears. And the sooner the better.
By the way, the reason I adhered to explicit law and order policies as Premier was to hold the support of working class people who expect Labor governments to keep their streets safe and lock up the criminals who degrade life, especially in public housing estates, making existence hell for law-abiding citizens. If Labor parties spend more time apologising for the wrong-doers than they do backing law enforcement and community safety they run the danger of being crushed in a right-wing populist backlash.