When Labour Doesn’t Work


Australian Claire Lehmann has an essay over at Quillette with her take on her country’s recent elections and how they fit into some broader trends. Labour did reasonably well in some cities, but lost in rural areas.

The swing against Labor was particularly pronounced in the northeastern state of Queensland—which is more rural and socially conservative than the rest of Australia. Many of Queensland’s working-class voters opposed Labor’s greener-than-thou climate-change policies, not a surprise given that the state generates half of all the metallurgical coal burned in the world’s blast furnaces. Queensland’s rejection of Labor carried a particularly painful symbolic sting for Shorten, given that this is the part of Australia where his party was founded by 19th century sheep shearers meeting under a ghost gum tree. In 1899, the world’s first Labor government was sworn into the Queensland parliament. Shorten’s “wipe-out” in Queensland demonstrates what has become of the party’s brand among working-class people 120 years later.

She goes on to take note of the fact that the parties of the Left have two natural constituencies who are not necessarily natural allies.

Picture a dinner party where half the guests are university graduates with prestigious white-collar jobs, with the other half consisting of people who are trade workers, barmaids, cleaners and labourers. While one side of the table trades racy jokes and uninhibited banter, the other half tut-tuts this “problematic” discourse.

These two groups both represent traditional constituencies of mainstream centre-left parties—including the Labour Party in the UK, the Democrats in the United States, and the NDP in Canada. Yet they have increasingly divergent attitudes and interests—even if champagne socialists paper over these differences with airy slogans about allyship and solidarity.

Progressive politicians like to assume that, on election day at least, blue-collar workers and urban progressives will bridge their differences, and make common cause to support leftist economic policies. This assumption might once have been warranted. But it certainly isn’t now—in large part because the intellectuals, activists and media pundits who present the most visible face of modern leftism are the same people openly attacking the values and cultural tastes of working and middle-class voters. And thanks to social media (and the caustic news-media culture that social media has encouraged and normalized), these attacks are no longer confined to dinner-party titterings and university lecture halls.

So now, the Left is having to deal with a revolt of the Deplorables. Coal miners in Queensland and West Virginia and oil and gas workers in Alberta and on rigs in the North Sea who don’t want any part of a Green Nude Eel are but one example of the split occurring on the Left. However, much of the leadership on the Left seems clueless about why some of their traditional voters might want to keep their jobs or be able to raise their families within cherished traditions. As Jonathan Haidt observed in The Righteous Mind, we humans view moral questions multidimensionally with “liberals” and “conservatives” placing different stress on different attributes. Often, folks on the Left aren’t placing any value on moral questions that are important to other people.

No centre-left party in the Anglosphere has adapted to the ongoing class realignment. Indeed, they lack even the vocabulary to explain what such adaptation would entail—which is why the left’s recent election losses, from Alberta to Adelaide, are blithely chalked up to voter xenophobia or ignorance (a response that, of course, only serves to make their brand problem worse). Until the left finds a way out of this endless loop of toxic pre-election posturing and post-election blame-shifting, such supposedly “shocking” results as was witnessed on Saturday are going to remain a regular occurrence.

Read the whole thing.

2 thoughts on “When Labour Doesn’t Work

  1. I have colleagues who to this day still don’t seem to understand that name calling and insults and condescension are not the path to ‘converting’ or cowing the Deplorables. And I’m really sure none of them has ever been punched in the mouth. If they’d ever had that experience perhaps they could see more clearly today. It’s as if losing the 2016 election has entirely turned off some part of their brain.

    And in some cases I am talking of people I have truly liked. Even a few who grew up around Deplorables seem incapable of processing the idea that those folk are sick and tired of being treated as if they’re not even serfs. And those colleagues seem to truly believe they have been treating their ‘inferiors’ with a great deal of kindness and compassion, given the apparent utter lack of intelligence and/or moral virtue possessed by those Deplorables.

    It reminds me of nothing so much as Colonialists who so treated the heathen Natives in conquered lands. I am expecting something pretty bad coming and hoping it’s not the worst. But I have fears.

  2. Aussie speaking here:

    There were at least two confounding factors about the Adani/Galilee basin coal that made people outside of Queensland (but within Australia) nervous, but were apparently less of a concern locally:

    1. Adani (Energy?)

    A company with a less-than-stellar record on some issues, especially in its home area of India, perhaps including environmental concerns, and financial dealings. Sorry, I cannot quote definitive sources, but it’s something that’s been around in the last three years or so.

    In short, there are a non-trivial number of reasons to not trust as a good team player when it comes to outside interests, including the environment; and

    2. Abbott Point Shipping Terminal, and the Great Barrier Reef

    The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Natural Wonders of the World (Marine National Park?). At one point, Adani were proposing to do massive dredging in the Abbott Point shipping port to increase the capacity to handle coal-carrying ships; there was significant concern that long-term heavy metal pollution currently settled at the bottom of Abbott Point would flow out into the nearby Reef, potentially causing significant damage. Also, the greater shipping density near such a distinctive, potentially fragile ecosystem, made (and makes) people nervous.

    I understand that Adani have throttled back on some of their railway plans, and this may, in turn, mean that they have less opportunity for impact, but, as has been seen elsewhere, “The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions”, and there is certainly room for nervousness nation-wide; this seems to have been overriden with the desire for jobs on a state-wide scale.

    — fred.bloggs

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