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The neglect of Menzies’ Forgotten People

As the cameras scanned the room filled with the Labor faithful eager to welcome Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday night November 24 2018, I noticed the citizenry’s remarkable diversity.

Beaming African faces, men wearing the head covering of the Indian Sub-Continent, women with scarves I presume signify adherence to Islam, and smiling Asian male and female faces. Each person roared as the young, slightly stooped and bespectacled Andrews, whom I presume claims Scottish heritage, approached the microphone. With wife and family by his side, Andrews savoured an electoral victory which marks a profound shift in the Australian political landscape. Those in the audience and the volunteers who worked for Andrews’ stunning victory, like the Premier, cherish their family and strive to make a better life for themselves and their community.

Daniel Andrews spoke directly to these men and women whom the Liberal Party has neglected for the past six years. These citizens are the 21st century equivalent of Sir Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People.

The Liberal Party freely cites Menzies, and latterly John Howard, as the talismen of liberal values. Saturday night revealed just how far the party of Menzies has drifted from his ideals of individual aspiration.

Menzies delivered his oft cited speech in May 1942, and used its title as an electoral slogan. The Forgotten People eulogises the thrift of the middle class

It is a matter of fact Victoria has witnessed horrific violence meted out by people with names that do not ring with a Scottish burr; Hassan Khalif Shire Ali killed Sisto Malaspina, and the car mad James Gargasoulas, butchered citizens walking along Bourke Street.

On 20 November three young men were arrested over an alleged plot to carry out mass murder in the name of Islamic State. Earlier in the year we read stories about gangs of African youths running riot and scaring the wits out of Melbournians, on the town for a night of fine dining.

Once again it is a matter of fact the conservative press and the Liberal Party directly and indirectly deployed these incidents to ensure the defeat of the Andrews Government.

And yet the opposite occurred.

Why?

Victoria and Melbourne are familiar with violence. Cast your mind back to 1998. This year marked the start of Melbourne’s so called Gangland Killings. By 2010, 36 prominent criminals had been slaughtered. Their murders were cynically celebrated in a television series, Underbelly. One of their kind, Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read, was lauded by the Victorian art world. Now turn back the pages of history to 3 February 1967, and the death by hanging of Ronald Ryan. Next, check out June 28 1880 and the Siege of Glenrowan led by Ned Kelly. Go further back to the Battle of the Eureka Stockade on 3 December 1854 led by Peter Lalor. And of course let us not forget the countless murders of Aboriginal men and women and Chinese citizens working the gold fields. Victoria, like the rest of the nation, is the sum of its history; violent, aggressive, proud and progressive.

But for the past six years the Liberal Party cynically ignored Menzies’ Forgotten People to such an extent, even the most seasoned observers cannot now accurately identify the party’s base.

This morning as I digest the news on the first day of the last sitting week of the Federal Parliament, those forgotten people seem determined to forget the Liberal Party and everything it does not stand for.

Daniel Andrews is now the most powerful premier on the nation’s political stage, but there is one element of his ascendancy that we can be certain of; Dan Andrews will not forget the people who entrusted him with four years of stewardship of their state.

It is apodictic private money pours into Victoria to build electric cars and the next generation of clean, green renewable energy sources. Universities will thrive and hospitals strive to cure the sick, and the young taught about a future with endless possibilities.

I can almost hear Dan Andrews stand up in the Victorian Parliament and say the following, “I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race”. I can guarantee Andrews will not use these words, but he might be tempted to quote them to the legatees of Robert Menzies who, to their electoral peril, have grievously neglected the Forgotten People.

If you can be bothered, the text of Menzies’ Forgotten People speech is published here.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale at Brays Bookshop in Balmain an at Forty South Publishing.

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5 comments

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  1. John Boyd

    I think there is a fundamental difference between the nature of the appeals made by Menzies and Howard, which were essentially based on class, and those made by the ALP which were essentially class-neutral, and appealed to what one might call ‘community values’ directly challenging the overt racism, fear mongering and straight out lies peddled by the LNP; as well as the general arguments about infrastructure etc.

    I have always been suspicious about the common interpretations of Menzie’s appeal to the ‘forgotten people’. It seems to be generally taken to mean aspiring middle class families in their little white fenced cottages, who had somehow been left behind by the depredations of the Labor government, busy rebuilding the nation after WWII. Going back to the basics, Menzies was an out and out Tory, who believed that government was the prerogative of the upper class, of which he was clearly one, as he saw it. The problem was that there were not enough of them to win an election, so he had to extend the franchise down far enough to capture enough votes. The ‘forgotten people’ were those families who had worked hard, saved enough for a deposit, bought a house, and now magically were ‘upper middle class’, and so vote Liberal, as befits their status. There is no doubt it worked. I lived in one. Remember the phrase ‘two bob capitalist’?

    Howard’s ‘battlers’ was an analogous ploy, only the battlers tended to be newly self employed trades persons, with brand new ABNs, who saw themselves as an army of entrepreneurial pioneers under the protection of a neoliberal government which will look after the interest of business. I have heard it: ‘I used to vote Labor, but now I am in business, I have to vote Liberal’. The LNP government support is at least partly illusory, as it tends to look after ‘big business’ while throwing a few crumbs to the battlers in the form of small business tax cuts, which does not mean much as the vast bulk of small business do not pay company tax anyway.

  2. Henry Johnston

    Thanks for your response, John Boyd and I wholeheartedly agree with your observations.At one stage when Menzies left politics, he uttered one of the best-ever exit lines; ‘lay me down and bleed a while’. An apt metaphor for the Morrison Government.

  3. New England Cocky

    @John Boyd: Menzies resigned his Australian Army commission on the first day of WWI and had the bare-nose temerity to consign my generation to the hell of Vietnam. At best he was a polticial opportunist who before WWII sold de-commissioned Naval ships to Japan for breaking up and re purposing as ammunition fired against our Australian troops. Hence the name “Pig Iron Bob”.

    Little Johnnie “Flakjacket” Howard was no better, cuddling up the Shrubya Bush immediately after 0911 and committing too many excellent young military personnel to an after service life of PTSD, while committing Australia to providing a major spending boost to prop up the USA (United Sates of Apartheid) multinational corporations producing war materials.

    We are still paying BILLIONS for this strategic stupidity, 15 YEARS after the US military proved that dedicated locals can defeat the greatest military power in the world. Those monies should have been spent providing public infrastructure for the benefit of Australian voters, like public schools, hospitals, medical research, and any relevant R&D programmes in agriculture, industry or manufacturing.

  4. Keith

    We have had the citizenship elections, Wentworth by-election and now the Victorian State election; yet, the LNP still don’t get it.
    The mongrel extreme right is not wanted.

  5. Nw England Cocky

    @Karen Kyle: Perhaps you should ask your local MP why Australian military personnel are still deployed in the Middle East pursuing American imperialist goals of controlling oil supplies from Iraq for the benefit of US multinational oil corporations.

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