I am a very grass is greener kind of person. I realise this is silly at the best of times, and downright irrational at others, however I just can’t help it, especially when it comes to personal circumstances.
However lately I think I’ve been turning a corner. Work is good and uni is fantastic. My under 12 basketball is in a grand final tomorrow. Good times. But perhaps the most startling thing that I have realised recently is that the ALP is not as bad as it could be.
Doing some light reading into the split of the 1950s is like opening up political history of a different country. It is a foreign feeling to read about sectarian politics. Violence, retribution, back stabbing. These are the by words for the Victoria party from 1954 onwards. The idea that a broad based party with many more members than today could tear itself apart over a concept such as anti-communism just does not relate to me. I cannot understand and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to.
The stories which describe the bitterness that must have hung in the air are almost limitless. You think John Robertson is bad? The Queensland ALP tore down a sitting premier in a matter of days. Not impressed by Paul Howes and Bill Ludwig? Well you should read about Tom Dougherty and Joe Bukowski. It is a different era, characterised by thuggish behaviour. Intimidation ruled the roost.
The split of the ALP in the 1950s caused some of the greatest changes in Australian political history – even more so on the state level. Out of power in Queensland and Victoria for enormous stretches of time, the experience seemingly scarred a generation of individuals who now preach the values of unity and literally run from the first signs of serious disagreement. Witness the last national conference. While I may not endorse this approach, it is more than evident that it exists because of this history littered with division. The middle ground is harder than ever to discover.
Perhaps this is my true ALP education. Away from the meetings, endless emails, saddening campaigns and populist rhetoric lies an organisation that is far more frightened of it’s past than the future. Frightened of the heat and passion that can be whipped up. Bob Santamaria was not an ALP member when he contributed to this history. Just an outsider trying to build his power base to effect change which he believed was the right way forward for the nation. Was the party not strong enough to withstand his personality? Or was he simply the vehicle that allowed an issue like anti-communism to ripe apart a fragile party?
Some might argue otherwise, but the answers to these questions are important for the current political environment. The issues that we currently face are potentially severe. To use an imperfect metaphor, it appears the juicy, ripe low hanging fruit has all been picked. This ALP Government does not have an easy problem to tackle. It is confronting policy that boarders on significant ideological boundaries. Can typical social democratic programs survive an ever growing population? Do our existing social structures allow proper responses to issues stretching across national boarders? What will the backlash be against atypical political outcomes?
Do these issues give rise to potential splits in the party? Division is most likely when the biggest of issues of the day are at hand, not just on the domestic agenda but the international agenda – conscription, depression, anti-communism. Climate change fits the bill.
Yet while there are worrying signs about the current state of affairs, they pale in comparison to those in the 1950s. The ALP managed to drag itself through the economic rationalisation debate. It can do the same with the climate debate. There is not brutality, expulsion and violence embedded in the current ALP. There is not an active sectarianism that can tear the social fabric of an organisation to shreds. These things will not emerge either. There is the need for more debate. More public debate. There is the need for more micro level interaction about macro level issues. However… in this case, the grass is definitely not greener. Something to remember.