There are lessons for Australia from the Brexit vote but they have little to do with economic "stability" as Turnbull and the Coalition would have us swallow, writes John Passant.
PM MALCOLM TURNBULL is using the British exit vote to spruik stability and, of course, urging us as a consequence to vote for his Liberal rabble.
You know, that unified party of Turnbull and Abbott, seeing eyeball to eyeball on everything, not to mention the inclusive Cory Bernardi waiting in the wings and the other ragtag of wingnuts in the Liberal and National Parties.
The claim to stability is nonsense, of course. The Coalition are no better or worse economic managers of the anarchic capitalist system than the ALP. That anarchy is obvious in the market panic over "Brexit", for example — wiping $3.6 trillion in value overnight. Nothing changed other than investor perceptions, with wild guesses about the future of the global economy driving the actions of the junk jockeys.
When the GFC hit, the Rudd Labor Government launched a Keynesian style program and pumped money into the economy. Australia was one of the few developed countries that did not go into recession and the spending program was a contributor — along with the mining boom and the continued strong growth of the Chinese economy in those days.
The then Turnbull-led Opposition opposed these Rudd Government initiatives. Good managers providing stability, eh?
There are other lessons for Australian capitalism and the Australian working class coming out of the Brexit vote, and they are not the ones about stability and good economic managers that Turnbull and his lacklustre lackeys want us to swallow.
It looks as if many workers voted to leave the EU as a protest against neoliberalism and their exclusion form prosperity. Of course, some of this was couched in terms of xenophobia and racism, but British workers have been force-fed that diet for decades. So it should not surprise us when some of those workers misidentify the real enemy, or follow the parties that openly express that cruder expression of xenophobia and racism, such as Nigel Farage and UKIP.
The real enemy? The problems British workers face are much the same as those Australian workers face — unemployment, wage cuts, falling living standards, inadequate public transport, underfunded health and education systems, to name just a few. It is not migrants or refugees or their children who caused these problems.
It is the logical expression of a capitalist system in long term decline.
The fact that some British workers have voted to leave Europe will not stop the bosses’ and politicians’ attacks on their wages, jobs and social spending on them.
It is the same in Australia. Refugees and asylum seekers are the target for the bosses and both Labor and the Coalition, yet they do not have a deleterious impact on wages, jobs or spending on health and education. The employers and the politicians do but have distracted us with propaganda and lies about protecting our borders. It resonates with many workers, especially when Labor here is but an echo of the Coalition on asylum seekers.
In the UK, the rise of socialist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party has offered hope to the millions of disaffected workers looking for a political solution to their real problems and issues. It was, in my view, a mistake for Corbyn and Labour to campaign for "Remain", especially alongside Cameron. Here was an opportunity for someone with real respect among workers to make a left wing case for exit as part of a wider campaign against austerity, precarious jobs, unemployment and attacks on living standards.
That task will now be harder as the forces of reaction celebrate "their" victory and prove themselves, in power or close to it, to be just as savage in their attacks on workers as the Cameron faction of the Tories. The task for Corbyn and the rest of the left in the UK now, appears to me, to be to unite to fight racism and xenophobia and the ongoing attacks on wages, jobs and living standards.
In Australia, we have a very faint shadow of Corbyn, with Shorten Labor in the election campaign emphasising some class differences with the Coalition in the run up to the election. Medicare is one. Schools are another. University deregulation is a third. Minor tax changes are another point of difference.
Shorten Labor will not go "the whole Corbyn", or even Sanders. The degeneration of the ALP is so far gone that radical solutions like taxing the rich, nationalising Arrium in Whyalla and Queensland Nickel in Townsville, turning the soon to close car plants into factories producing buses, trains and solar and wind farms and making universities free, are not on their agenda. The ALP bows down before profit and cut their Budget sails and tax and other policies accordingly.
This tentative shift to talking about "us and them" sotto voce has put Labor very much in the hunt for government. Poll after poll is showing Labor and the Coalition fifty-fifty or thereabouts on a two party preferred basis.
Yet most pollsters and commentators, with one or two exceptions, tell us the Turnbull Government will win the election with a reduced but workable majority. These are the same sort of people as their brothers and sisters in the UK, divorced from the world that working class people live in — the sort of people who were telling us that Remain would win narrowly.
You can draw your own conclusions about whether the pollsters and commentators here in Australia are as divorced from the world you and I, and all the other millions of workers live in, as their equivalents in the UK are. Yet it may be that this misplaced total confidence among pollsters and commentators about the election result might be influencing uninterested workers. The gambling market is a good indicator of this. The ALP odds are $6 for a $1 bet. I reckon that is a massive overstatement in a two horse race, where the polls show it is neck and neck nationally. It does not appear rational, but then again, markets are never rational.
Instead of pussyfooting around, Shorten could win this election by "doing a Corbyn" and moving much further to the left with policies to tax the rich, saving jobs by nationalising those big companies shutting up shop or sacking staff, lifting all restrictions on the right to strike, outlining a vision for moving Australia to a totally renewable energy society by 2025, and restoring all of the $57 billion Abbott and Turnbull cut from the health budget.
Working class anger in the UK found expression in a "Leave" vote. Working class disengagement and anger in Australia is finding an expression in the large number of non-enrolled voters and the shift to other parties away from Labor and, to some extent, to the Greens, and the minor parties, and independents. Because there is no significant working class program from Labor, some of that leakage away is finding expression in racist and reactionary groups, and fake centrists like Xenophon.
Palmer United was a false prophet. The Australian Democrats were false prophets. Pauline Hanson is a false prophet. Labor could win these disaffected workers back with a left wing program instead of an essentially neoliberal one.
If Labor lose this election it won’t be because they were too left wing. It will be because they weren’t left wing enough.
John Passant is a former assistant commissioner of the Australian Tax Office. Read more by John on his website en Passant. You can also follow him on Twitter @JohnPassant.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
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