In the first Quarterly Essay of 2006, Clive Hamilton throws out a challenge to Australia’s party of social democracy – to both its true believers and right-wing machine men. Will it be business-as-usual and creeping atrophy, or will the Labor Party find a new way of talking to individualistic, affluent Australia?
According to Hamilton, Labor and the Left must acknowledge that the social democracy of old – with its strong unions, public ownership of assets and distinct social classes – is dead. Prosperity, more than poverty, is the dominant characteristic of Australia today. Given this, should governments confine themselves to stoking the fires of the economy and protecting the interests of wealth creators? Or is there room for a political program that embodies new ideals but can also withstand economic scare tactics? This is an original and provocative account of our present political juncture by a man of the Left who accuses the Left of irrelevance. Any new progressive politics, Hamilton argues, will need to tap into the anxieties and aspirations of the nation, find new ways to talk about morality, and thereby address deeper human needs.
“The Australian Labor Party has served its historical purpose and will wither and die as the progressive force of Australian politics.” —Clive Hamilton, What's Left?