Zombie social democracy in shock landslide win

by · February 1, 2015

‘Shit, now what do I do?’

‘Shit, now what do I do?’

Assert, don’t defend. Fight, fight, fight.

—Andrew Bolt, “[Abbott] Government behind 46 to 54. But here’s how it can recover”, 15 December 2014

[Campbell Newman] just seemed arrogant and beyond the control of voters — a fatal flaw in Australian politics. Abbott hasn’t had Newman’s freedom to smash through as he tackles another Labor debt, thanks to a mutinous Senate. But he, too, has broken promises, picked too many fights…

—Andrew Bolt, “Queensland election a disaster for Abbott”, 1 February 2015

[S]upport for the Abbott government has plunged to 57-43 on a two party preferred basis, according to a new Galaxy poll.

—Samantha Maiden, The Sunday Telegraph, 1 February 2015

It’s a bizarro situation.

—Chris O’Brien, on the Queensland election for ABC News 24, 1 February 2015

Well, I didn’t expect a swing that big.

And neither did the Queensland ALP. In fact they were so busy repudiating the party brand — pulverized in 2012 — that their perplexed candidates kept talking about some new “Local-community-grassroots-committed-listening (always listening) Party” that had won the day, as if repeating the locker room pep talk for a forlorn campaign was what you needed to relay to the public.

In that most anti-political of states we have seen the most spectacular instance of the auto-unravelling of the Right yet. This should settle once and for all that it’s not just Labor that has lost a stable base in society, but that the Right is similarly unable to find a social basis for its agenda. And it’s not like either side even has much of a serious agenda: Newman backed away from his initial flurry of faux-austerity (he never did solve that pesky deficit problem) when it became apparent his government could collapse if he pursued it. Which left him with only a series of hamfisted culture war, and law and order, forays to look, er, “strong”.

Meanwhile a cipher of a state opposition, perhaps even more tabula rasa than Bill Shorten’s face of late, has likely stolen the show, promising to “keep faith” on doing pretty much nothing of substance at all. The fact it was Labor (and not smaller parties) that reaped the benefits of the self-combustion of the LNP is a sign that the voters are suspicious of players like the Greens or Palmer who posture as anti-establishment only to do deals with the majors the moment they get a chance. But it’s also a clear signal that incumbency is now the greatest poisoned chalice of them all.

This is no mere correction of “the political cycle”, temporarily disturbed by some transient internal problems Labor was having a couple of years back. Rather, it reflects an acceleration of the decline and decomposition of the political order that was hegemonic for most of last century. There may be electoral volatility but voters themselves are not being fickle. George Megalogenis nailed it better than most:


The political class has polarised on partisan lines while voters have increasingly lost interest in those alignments, precisely because on all issues that matter directly to voters’ lives there is barely a cigarette paper between the parties. So overblown “look at me!” brand differentiation has become the primary MO of politicos, pushing them further away from their former bases.

Now we come to Mr Abbott. He faces rampant speculation about his future — most angrily on the political Right — on the basis that he implemented the very partisan agenda he was elected by the party room to implement. Recall that in 2009 when Turnbull was trashing the Liberal “brand” by flirting with Rudd on an ETS, the Coalition was on the verge of splitting over the issue. Abbott was, after Hockey fumbled, the only candidate who could reunite a fractured party. When he talks now of being the good captain who helps a good team play well he is not mainly talking to the voters but to his own side, reminding them of what happens when you put a wet like Turnbull (or maybe Bishop) in charge: the whole team collapses.

Abbott is being punished for exactly what he was hired to do: make the Australian Liberal project a governmental reality. Surely “knights and dames” and then giving a clapped out, racist old Royal a knighthood are exactly what Liberal governments are about — once they no longer have a viable “neoliberal” agenda, and once their foreign policy sabre rattling and domestic anti-terrorism agendas no longer have traction. Like a good boy he has taken advice from the likes of Bolt and Murdoch and they reward him with ever-harsher rebukes.

This is why the Turnbull and Bishop options, whatever their possible electoral merits, are so difficult to embrace. The Liberals need, instead, that impossible creature: an ideological Liberal, tough on all their historic enemies (poor people, foreigners, Blacks, Lefties, etc.), yet also marketable to a public that has come to see the Liberal brand as (at best) anachronistic or (at worst) unhinged and in need of euthanasia.

For most of last year I thought Labor under Shorten would falter once actually facing an election, because voters’ memories of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd disaster were too fresh to be overcome. The Queensland result, however, suggests that the “blank screen” approach may be enough for them to come out in front.

Which, of course, will solve none of the problems wracking Australian politics more generally.

Thoroughly modern conservatism

Thoroughly modern conservatism

Discussion10 Comments

  1. […] Tad Tietze: Zombie social democracy in shock landslide win […]

  2. Andrew says:

    So Morrison as new leader?

    More seriously, accepting the premise of anti-politics, is it time to focus on how to rupture the oscillations between failed right wing neoliberalism and paper social democracy of the “left”?

    • Dr_Tad says:

      I think the decomposition is more important in what is happening now than the “oscillations”. Which means we need to clarify the antagonism between the social and the political, and how that is playing out concretely.

      Not sure there’s much more we can do in terms of “rupturing” when there is currently no self-active collective social force that might actually do that. And we sure can’t conjure that up.

      • Andrew says:


        There can be no forcing of self-activity but there must be possibilities emerging where prototypical recomposition is emerging and can be connected with. I’m seeing it in parts of Western Sydney. Might write on it soon.

  3. Kutamun says:

    The polarisation of politics into hard left and hard right generally means the centre is left vacant , “the centre cannot hold ” . The field thus vacated generally leaves fertile ground for the appearance of a charismatic individual who may unite the disaffected and crumbling middle class into a little bundle of sticks ( with protruding axe head ) often carried by Roman Lictors in ancient times . Such a one will generally deride and be derided by both right and left , but in time will come to embody an “authoritarianism of the centre ” . Hitlers fiercest opponents in 1930s germany were the communists and the old prussian conservative aristocracies …interesting , are we there yet ? I dont know …cant see him/ her

  4. Nathan says:

    Some of the commenters on here are positing we are seeing a polarization of politics in Australia? Really?

    That is not what I am seeing, not at all. Both sides may trumpet their supposed ideological purity, but close inspection shows its all just an illusion. Hence why the Abbott government can come under such fierce criticism from the usual RWNJ

    • Nathan says:

      Sorry computer malfunctioned.

      continuing: and why Labor in government was such disaster from the perspective of the hard left.

      The fact is neither party is really thinking about the centre, or the ideological extremes. They are both thinking about how to please an increasingly cosseted elite, with policies geared to either make their lives even easier (Liberals) or just keep them on an even keel (Labor)

      Our politicians are seemingly trapped in a nexus that sees them unable to create policies that would make them successful with the mushy middle of Australia. This is because nearly all of our federal politicians are now part of the cosseted elite. Also, because of their detachment from middle Australia, they place undue emphasis on the opinions of the mainstream media. This just makes their detachment worse, because journalists, by and large, are part of the same elite as politicians. They have the same class concerns. As an example, read any news piece which talks about the governments unpopularity, but in the next sentence talks of the need for “budget repair”. Most journalists refuse to even question the narrative, because the narrative is geared towards them, which is why they think the problems of this government can all be boiled down to ineffective ‘selling’.

      Another example is when you read a journalist or politician castigating democracy for being a ‘popularity contest’. Besides being massively ironic(after all, that is democracy’s basic function) it is incredibly self serving, because what they are saying is: “don’t listen to public opinion, listen to me! Ignore the polls!”

      For the elite of the country the economic dogma of this government’s policies are self-evident: they just have a minor disagreement on the details, and on who should be calling the shots.

      Unfortunately for them, much of the Australian public is beginning to disagree with elements of the economic dogma. But who cares what they think, eh?

      Our elites certainly don’t.

  5. Kutamun says:

    Nathan ,
    I think you are right , mate … The left is not hard enough left here yet for the Fascist centre to emerge , unlike france , greece etc . The greenies are hard left but dont have anough support for these fields to be tilled . ..wait for a good stockmark crash or three , falling house prices and rampant unemployment , throw in a big bank failure and …presto ! …..Our political structures are underpinned by the small population and enormous wealth that lies under our feet , though of late it has been obvious that there are forces seeking to increasingly disenfranchise the australian people from this wealth ; foreign ownership and export of gas leading to spiralling gas prices on the east coast , for example …

  6. Kutamun says:

    Well , looking at your last post where both majors are members of a cossetted central elite …both have elements of socialism and capitalism about them , maybe we are closer to the authoritarianism of the centre than we think …
    The Fasces was carried by the ancient Roman Lictors to signify summary judicial power …we certainly have that with ” terror laws “, combined with the surveillance state and the mass social control of social media , blind support of a ( crumbling ) imperial power …perhaps we have all the nascent elements , at least

  7. Michael Douglas says:

    Damn these social democrats that refuse to automatically die in accordance with fashionable theory. From day one in government they busy themselves paving the way for the rights return. Each betrayal a brick in the road. So we may need to build a revolutionary left after all. And worse, after several false starts in Australia, we may not live long enough to participate in it’s October but merely to pass the baton. How unglamorous! Still, as Robert Carlyle summed it up in Riff-Raff: depression is for the middle classes, the rest of us have an early start.