There are two types of progressives. Until these progressives unite and find a common voice, a common message, a common set of policies to unite behind, instead of bickering amongst ourselves, there will be more Trump-like wins coming to an electorate near you. Before you stop reading and start commenting that I’m generalising, and that you don’t fit one of the two sides discretely, save yourself the hassle because I’ve heard it all before. I’m not talking about you in particular. I’m talking about all of us. That’s what generalising is, and sometimes, in politics, you have to generalise in order to see clearly.
The two types who are currently worlds apart can concisely be described as those benefiting from globalisation and those who aren’t. Let’s call them the global progressives versus anti-global progressives. In some places, like the US, the divide can be simplified into country versus city folk. Labour UK MP, Bridget Phillipson, in this excellent piece outlining Labour’s divided electoral base, refers to the two groups as Hull versus Hampstead. For an Australian perspective, Kosmos Samaras, who I urge you to follow, calls this divide the old economy suburbs versus the new economy cities. Greg Jericho writes regularly on the topic, with lots of worrying stats to show how wide the divide really is. What all this analysis has in common is a diagnoses that there are winners from globalisation and losers, and resulting wealth and income inequality, and that progressive political parties have to find a way to persuade both groups that progressive policies are good for all of them in order to implement policies which are good for all of them. Sounds simple when you put it like that, doesn’t it!
Luckily, I have a solution. I’ve been talking about an inclusive growth narrative for a long time, with examples, and eventually started hearing Shorten using it (great minds think alike). Just last week, Shorten gave a great speech about the Harvester case which was dripping with the inclusive growth narrative. In a nutshell, this narrative argues that any government policy of social and economic investment, whether it be infrastructure spending, improving education, funding healthcare, securing a social safety-net, creating opportunities for employment (you know, like Labor’s entire policy platform), is a good idea because it distributes the spoils of globalisation more fairly, reduces inequality and is therefore good for everyone, including the winners and losers from globalisation. Any policy that helps someone, anyone, secure a job is good for the economy. Any policy that provides opportunity for someone to earn a living and spend in the economy, is good for the economy. Every single person who contributes to their society and economy, whether in a paid job, or an unpaid one, is good for all of us. Wealth does not trickle down, it spreads outwards from the middle. Wealth inequality is bad for all of us, it makes us poorer and resentful and leaves people behind in poverty. No economy can survive this unsustainable situation forever. The economy needs everyone spending, everyone thriving, in order for everyone to thrive. Anything a government does to improve wealth equality IS A GOOD THING. In a nutshell.
So what’s stopping us getting this message out there, loud and clear, and all jumping in behind it, getting our hands on the rope, and pulling away from the neoliberal, trickle-down, free-marketeer elite-establishment who currently run the country for their big-business mates?
Bickering between the two types of progressives is the reason we aren’t a united electoral unbeatable force. Don’t believe me?
I don’t write or tweet to make friends, luckily, so I don’t care how many readers I piss off by saying that those whose main involvement in political discussions is yelling about Labor’s refugee policies, who are pro-globalisation and interested only in identity politics and will loudly say they will never vote for Labor again, and will never listen to Labor again because of the evil Labor asylum seeker policies, are a big part of the problem. Again, I’ll get yelled at and don’t care, when I say, as I’ve said before, that if asylum seeker policy is at the top of your to-do list when it comes to political activism, up there with environmental policy, same sex marriage and banning grey-hound racing, you are very likely sitting smack-bang in the middle of a privileged world where you enjoy the fruits of globalisation, enjoying higher wages, more opportunity, interesting work, international travel, technological advancement and the moral-superiority feeling of signing an anti-Labor-asylum-seeker-policy petition while you sip lattes at your local hipster cafe. More than likely, you’re also not a union member.
I’m not saying, for a moment, that you aren’t 100% entitled to feel very passionate about the policies that interest you most, and of course you are entitled to voice your opinion on these policies as much as you like. Good on you for caring so much. But, that doesn’t mean you’re helping. And it doesn’t mean your inability to even listen to other perspectives, to understand that progressive politics in Australia is about more than just the policies you’re passionate about, and that when there are discussions going on about these other policies, such as when Labor is talking about education funding, healthcare, industrial relations and welfare, that your dedication to interrupting and diverting these discussions with rants about asylum seeker policy (don’t pretend you don’t do this – I’ve seen you commenting on Shorten’s Facebook page – it’s called trolling), isn’t part of the problem.
Maybe it would be useful for the pro-globalisation privileged progressives to think of political motivation like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When you’re down the bottom of the hierarchy, struggling to get a full-time job, struggling to pay the bills, seeing your child got to an under-funded public high school in the suburbs and hoping for a better life for them, you don’t have much motivation to think about the conditions for asylum seekers on Nauru. You are, on the other hand, more interested in the latest union-negotiated minimum wage rise, or the infrastructure funding which might turn your casual labourer job into a full-time position. But when you’re at the top of the pyramid, worried about esteem and morality and self-actualisation, all dressed up in identity politics, it’s hard to understand that your well-meaning progressive rants and your hatred of the Labor Party and anyone who defends them is not helping progressives to actually get elected, make a difference and implement policies that will benefit you, and those much lower on the hierarchy who, day by day, are tempted to vote for parties who aren’t only interested in the issues they have no interest in, or time to even worry about. It comes down to compromise really, and from where I’m sitting, many pro-global progressives need a huge does of compromise.
But compromise, of course, goes both ways. There is a way that anti-global would-be progressives also aren’t helping. And that’s through scapegoating. It is human nature, when things are going badly, to find someone to blame. Losing out from globalisation is a hugely disappointing life experience for people who I empathize deeply with. When you work hard, you can’t seem to get ahead, your industry job has disappeared to a computer or China, you haven’t had a wage rise in 20 years, your job is insecure and you feel powerless to do anything about it, you want to provide for your family but constantly feel anxious about your ability to do so – it’s exhaustingly frustrating. The resentment is justified. But what is not justified is the scapegoating and discriminatory blame of the outcomes of wealth inequality on minority groups, immigrants, people with different religious beliefs, and anyone who represents the ‘other’. In fact, immigration, including asylum seekers, is excellent for the economy and creates jobs. When I say everyone benefits from the creation of one job, I mean every single person. If there are employers out there, and when I say if, I mean, when there are employers out there taking advantage of new arrivals in the labour market, knowing they can get away with paying the vulnerable and desperate less than a citizen who knows their industrial rights, then that’s the employer being the bad guy. So blame them. Do not, and I mean, definitely do not think Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi and Donald Trump’s racist xenophobic whites-only policies are going to save you. You’re being preyed on by opportunist cons. And by the way, is globalisation really the problem, or is it just neoliberal globalisation? There is a difference.
Ok, so now that everyone has had a serve from me, it’s time we all got along. We all need to work together to make our country a better place for all of us. So next time your knee-jerk reaction to a political discussion comes flying out of your mouth, hold your tongue for a moment, and remember that you might hate what I’m saying, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a point. Together, we can do this.