Chris Bowen: Labor must fake it ’til it makes it

Via The Guardian [my emphasis]:

Labor needs to fire up on behalf of working people to punch through the “pandemic of populism” locking progressive parties out of government, and it needs to pitch an “Australian new deal” grounded in the Hawke/Keating principles of economic reform with a social dividend, according to Chris Bowen.

…As Labor absorbs the official post-mortem, Bowen will declare on Thursday evening that Labor must not “shrink into a ball” as a consequence of the election defeat.

According to a copy of his speech, circulated ahead of Thursday night’s lecture, Bowen will argue the principal reason for the defeat was a failure to connect with Labor’s traditional constituency, or link the party’s progressive program with Labor’s long-term mission to improve the lot of working people.

Bowen will point out that low-income voters supported Donald Trump and the Brexit vote, and the Tories in the UK in 2017 lifted their share of the working class vote from 32% to 44% “because people of lower socioeconomic status have lost faith with progressive politics to deliver for them, to deal with their real and burning grievances about growing inequality, risky job security and underemployment”.

With populism on the march, rather than presenting as bloodless technocrats, Bowen will say Labor needs to be indignant on behalf of working people, “to be angry on behalf of the people we represent” and to validate their anger about the disadvantages they face – be it unemployment, or poverty, or lower life expectancy, or chronic illness.

He will argue if Labor can’t convince voters it can boost economic growth, the next election is already lost, and he points out that the controversial revenue measures he proposed as shadow treasurer were, in part, “to pay for new spending”. While he was proud of big spending measures, like the $2.3bn pensioner dental plan, Bowen suggests more fiscal discipline will be needed in the coming term of parliament.

Bowen says Labor needs to forge a new compact with voters centred around economic reform with a social dividend, as Keating and Hawke did in the 1980s and 1990s. At the centre will be tackling contemporary challenges like climate change or the impact of technology, while using the power of government “to invest in every Australian to help them navigate this changing world”.

Bowen will suggest with climate change, rather than using terminology like a “just transition” for coal workers, Labor explore the Green New Deal, pursued by some Democrats in the United States, which is a stimulus package that aims to address both climate change and economic inequality – an idea that has been floated post-election by fellow rightwinger Tony Burke.

Rather than redistribution, which was implicit in a number of policies Bowen presided over as shadow treasurer, he suggests Labor consider pre-distribution, which is an approach of direct intervention in the labour market to reduce income inequality, rather than redistribution, where wealth is transferred from people who have it to people who don’t.

Like fellow rightwinger Claire O’Neil, Bowen will argue that Labor cannot avoid identity politics, because Scott Morrison has “made an art form of framing proposals and attacks through a cultural prism”.

…Bowen will say Labor in recent times has framed its policy offering through an economic prism, but the Coalition is playing on different turf. He argues the Liberals under Morrison “excel” in appealing to the values of identity, and the pitch is resonant.

Labor needs to “explain clearly and passionately that cutting off trade or less immigration” isn’t an answer to the anxiety felt by blue-collar workers in Australia and outline an alternative policy proposition.

Sigh. In other words, fake it ’til we make it.

The working class angle is the right one but it is only half of it. The other half is protecting workers from globalisation with a pinch of economic nationalism.

That’s where Bowen comes up short. You can’t argue for higher wages, affordable housing and rising broad living standards while you hold the mass immigration tiger by the tail. It’s bleedin’ obvious to anyone with eyes that wages are being smashed by waves of coolies, the immigration centres of Sydney and Melbourne have seen property decouple from the nation and public services are being crushloaded all over.

This is what workers are angry about. If you’re going to channel that anger then pretending you can manage the fallout of too many people better that ScoMo is a bad joke.  To be legitimate, you have to get down off your high horse and embrace enough of the economic nationalism that workers crave.

It’s not like Labor can’t do it, or even shouldn’t do it. Halving the immigration intake leaves us with a robust intake still. But in the secular stagnation period, which is really just shorthand for a persistent output gap, a 100k intake plus slashed temporary visas is a far less damaging labour regime for workers. It will limit property prices. And it will make an infrastrcuture build out much more manageable.

It can also be argued that it will lift growth by protecting the income of working and middle classes.

Most importantly, it will be exceedingly popular in QLD. Nor will it cost Labor a single vote in cities given Greens preferences will flow back anyway. As well, it will the ALP some chance of escapsing the CCP trap in which it finds itself.

Alas, Mr Bowen, you have to cut Paul Keating loose or you will NEVER win.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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