MIME-Version: 1.0 Content-Location: file:///C:/EA47B08E/WithalittlehelpfromhisfriendsTheAustralian.htm Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Type: text/html; charset="us-ascii" With a little help from his friends | The Australian

Decem= ber 08, 2007 01:08am AEDT

With a little help from his friends

Dennis Glover | Decem= ber 08, 2007

KEV= IN Rudd memorably compared Labor's task of winning government with scaling Mt Evere= st.

It's an= apt analogy because social democratic parties typically find the journey from Opposition to government long and arduous.

The ALP's 11-year travers= e was completed a fortnight ago. The ascent to government has changed the party forever. The most obvious change is in personnel. As with all long marches,= the people who take the final step are seldom those who took the first. Age, weariness and over-familiarity take their inevitable toll, but without them= no destination would be reached. Just as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay wou= ld never have made it to the top without learning the lessons of previous expeditions, so Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan would be nowhere without= the sacrifices of the leaders, MPs, advisers and party officials who fell along= the way.

Kim Beazley led Labor for= seven of those 11 years and during his first stint, at least, was popular and effective. Beazley was certainly unlucky although, like all of us, he creat= ed a lot of his own bad luck. Perhaps, though, his biggest misfortune was to com= e up against the Howard-Crosby-Textor machine as it was perfecting a new and more ruthless type of politics, unafraid to exploit race and national security. While relentless culture wars and accelerating prosperity revolutionised the electorate, Beazley Labor seemed happier to evolve, as slowly as possible, = and, predictably, was found wanting at the moment of crisis. <= /p>

Simon Crean's leadership = has been much less lauded, but he nevertheless provided valuable service to the part= y: sweeping some of the old guard from the front bench; promoting new talent s= uch as Gillard; and forcing democratic reform on a party machine blind to what everyone else in the country could clearly see, that it had to adapt or die. Perhaps most of all, Crean reminded his party of the importance of courage. Standing on a warship's gun deck and calmly telling the departing troops th= at while he supported them he opposed their deployment ranks as one of the most principled actions of any Australian political leader in recent decades, an= d it cemented Labor's opposition to the Iraq folly, one of its biggest vote-winning policies.

In the short term, his br= utal sacrifice solved little.

Even Mark Latham's specta= cular failure provided a needed dose of shock treatment, forcing the party to wak= e up to the necessity of reaching out to the aspirational voters of the new frin= ge suburbs.

Latham's time in charge is remembered for his supposed thuggish demeanour and ostensible class envy. T= his is surely ironic because he, more than anyone else, taught Labor to drop the old language of left and right, and replace it with the goal of civilising global capitalism. That Latham has since changed is beside the point. =

But long-term Opposition = has a way of changing political parties in more ways than just its personnel. Cha= nge comes hard and usually follows a familiar narrative: a defence of the progr= ams it created in government; the disowning of its least popular reforms; a des= cent into introspection and ideological turmoil; and a general unwillingness to accept the realities of a changing world until a new leader forces it to do= so. Students of Britain<= /st1:place>'s Labour and Tory parties and the US Democrats during the past 25 years will recognise the pattern.

In 1996 the shattered ALP= found itself weighed down by its 13 years of success. It found it difficult to ac= cept the Howard government's legitimacy, believing the people would soon come to their senses. Reliant on Canbe= rra's policy bureaucracy for almost a generation, it had unwisely let its own intellectual and policy-making organs wither, and found itself unable to break free of the technocratic and cautious mindset of government= .

Joining the leader's staf= f at this time, as an outsider who had been overseas for much of the Hawke and Keating administrations, I always had the vague feeling I was working for t= he government, not the Opposition, part of a mini-shadow bureaucracy, not a to= ugh election-fighting machine.

The result was a general = lack of purpose that was unable to excite the electorate or the true believers. Thi= s of course was all exposed horribly by the shock arrival of the Tampa and the September 11 attacks, when Labor was caught between the Scylla of courting xenophobia and the Charybdi= s of pleasing the Left and embracing electoral annihilation. From that moment, mistrusted by both camps, Labor was destined to lose two elections. When the Crean reforms were smothered at birth and the mismatch between Latham's amb= itions and abilities was exposed, the compromise return to Beazley led many to despair.

By the end of 2006 the pa= rty needed someone to give it a sense of purpose. It found it in Rudd.

Rudd's biggest contributi= on is twofold: a willingness to accept aspirational Australia as it is; and an ut= ter determination to eliminate the barriers to gaining the electorate's trust. = If the electorate prefers private schools, Rudd has no philosophical objection= . If the people have embraced cultural conservatism, then narrative history is g= ood. If economic management is seen as a weakness, then Labor's people are the n= ew economic conservatives who believe reckless spending has to stop. And if unionists want to behave like it's still 1974, t= hey are simply expelled. By exerting his authority over the unions and claiming= the right to choose his front bench, Rudd has created de facto a new Labor Party just as thoroughly as Tony Blair did de jure a decade ago.

Labor's progressive suppo= rt base may wince at this, but there's something to be admired in the clarity of the message and the unwillingness to put up with pointless indulgence. There's = no holding back, no half-measures. As with Bill Clinton, Rudd is prepared to s= ay what a decade previously wasn't just unsayable but unthinkable and what now seems unremarkable.

But along with conservati= sm and single-mindedness, there's a perception that Rudd stands for the 21st centu= ry in a way that John Howard can't and Peter Costello hasn't been allowed to. = He accepts unreservedly that global warming has been caused by human actions. = He can converse casually with Chinese rulers. His life is an essay in the liberating power of education. He is relaxed around strong women such as Gillard and is married to a multimillionaire businesswoman.

The ALP's lack of radical= ism may be a disappointment for some, but it's difficult to see what alternative La= bor has in contemporary = Australia. In such an unpropitious environment for radical politics, competent, modernising, conservative social democracy is probably as good as it gets. =

What those 11 long years = of Opposition have created is an Australian social democracy for modern times:= a party neither Left nor Right but proudly progressive.

Today, Labor's ambitions = are bounded by its knowledge of what it can't do. This is understandable. In climbing such a treacherous peak as government, it's smart to put safety fi= rst. But this doesn't mean more progressive change isn't possible. That's the th= ing about getting to the top of a high mountain: once you're there the fear lies behind you. And from the vantage point a conquered summit provides, the fut= ure stretches out as far as you can see and the possibilities seem limitless. Labor, having won, should make sure this isn't the high point but the start of a new conqu= ering journey to the places it can see from the top of the mountain. <= /span>

Dennis Glover is a La= bor speechwriter and a fellow of the progressive think tank Per Capita. He is a former aide to Labor leaders.