I was thinking the other day about my generation, or the people I come into contact with from my generation, and how little they care about politics. This isn’t surprising. Not everyone can be interested in every minute detail of the political process like I am. But what concerns me is not just how little they care, but how little they actually understand what elections like this one are all about.
I was born in 1981 and it’s fair to say, living in Australia between then and now has been pretty bloody easy. Sure, house prices have been high, but this is probably the most stressful thing for most people of my generation. And if this is as bad as it gets, it’s no wonder there is so much mass apathy towards politics. And even more worryingly to me, is the mass apathy towards the Labor Party and what it stands for. I’m starting to think Labor is being squished between two very different types of voters in my generation – those who’ve had it too good for too long and therefore expect progressive policy as if it’s a birth right, but don’t want to work hard to get it. And those who think they are better off if their bosses are better off – all hail the boss. Let me explain.
I’ll start with the progressive voters who don’t support Labor. You can guess where they flock. And yes, as I’ve had to debate seemingly hundreds of times on Twitter, I do understand preferential voting. But there is a very large difference between quietly giving Labor your number two (or second to last) preference in a polling booth, and campaigning for Labor in your community. I count campaigning as everything from joining the party, to the odd ‘like’ on your Facebook page, to a conversation with a work colleague about which political party you support and why. I’ve written before how easy my life would be if I were a Green. Time and time again I meet perfectly reasonable and passionately progressive people, who take great joy out of bagging Labor and praising everything the Greens say. (I said ‘say’, not ‘do’ for a reason). But here’s what I don’t understand about these people. How can they say they are all for progressive policies, when they spend their entire lives attacking the only major party which is going to deliver anything close to the progressive policies they seek?
I understand that many Greens voters are concerned about the plight of asylum seekers, and are outraged by Labor’s policy. But how secure in their lives must these people feel, how perfectly catered for in all other areas of progressive policy must they be, to only care about one policy? Do these people think their rights at work are safe forever and therefore not worth shoring up and defending? Has the union movement been the victim of its own success, breeding a misguided belief amongst my generation that rights can’t be taken away? Do these people not care if the gap between rich and poor gets wider, and social mobility is crushed for future generations? Do they think health and education, and the government ownership of public assets important to the community are less important than asylum seeker policy? Do they think policies like the NDIS and the NBN being available to all, and action to reduce the effects of climate change will just happen without them lending a hand? Do their ‘principles’ on one issue really make them totally blind to how detrimental their public bagging of the Labor Party is to their goal of having a progressive government? And if they really do care so much about asylum seeker policy, what do they think of the Liberals’ alternative?
Sometimes on Twitter, I get the most inane tweets from Greens supporters, which just make me want to cry. For example, one person tweeted to me that he couldn’t vote for a progressive party that doesn’t have a mining tax which is progressive enough. Seriously. In other words, this person is saying they can’t support the progressive alternative because Labor haven’t gone as far as he would like, so he’ll bag Labor, in effect supporting the conservative alternative that will get rid of the progressive mining tax altogether. This is ludicrous. Juvenile and ludicrous.
I understand that many Greens voters take great pride in despising both the major parties, and the whole two-party system. It’s the ‘you can’t trust any of them’ mantra. But is my generation really so flippant about how easy life is, that they can’t see that politics is all about one alternative over the other? Progressive versus conservative? It’s not about finding a soul mate, or some spiritual quest. Yes, the progressive major party might not be perfect. Just like people aren’t perfect. Progress takes time and a lot of effort, it never happens overnight. It takes compromise and pragmatism. This means the Labor party might not match up to your policy preferences 100% of the time. They might not be as progressive as you want them to be all the time. Two-party politics is messy, it is unglamorous and it does make progressive reform difficult.
Is my generation really so impatient and scared of hard work, that the progressive voters amongst us would prefer to bag the progressive major party, rather than get in there and help them to beat the conservatives? The worst part of this is, bagging the progressive alternative helps the conservatives. Don’t you realise Tony Abbott is thrilled every time he hears Christine Milne complaining about Labor? Don’t you understand why you would never see the Nationals criticising the Liberals in an election campaign? If progressives can’t get behind Labor, why would a swing voter looking for something to believe in vote for them? Every time you bag Labor, especially during an election campaign, you’re limiting the likelihood of Australia having a progressive government. You’re putting at risk all the progressive policies Labor has implemented in the last 6 years, and all those they plan to strengthen and implement in the future. So what exactly are you trying to achieve? The only thing that can beat Abbott’s Liberals, who enjoy the backing of Murdoch, Rinehart and the rest of the big business community, is a united, strong, progressive alliance. I’ve been so disappointed during this election campaign that my generation aren’t interested in this fight.
Now let’s look at the conservative voters in my age group. To be blunt, I don’t know many and those who I do know most likely vote Liberal for one or both of two reasons – they think rich people vote Liberal and would like to consider themselves as belonging to this group, or they just vote how their parents do. Actually, some of them want a tax cut and to hell with the impact of reduced government services for their community. But presumably, there must be a sense amongst Liberal and National voters that when the 1% is looked after, the 99% get some trickle-down benefit, no matter how stupid this idea is. Sure, there might be some entrepreneurial, business owning Liberal voters in my generation who strongly believe that a free market solves all problems, and any government intervention in a privately owned market is just bureaucracy getting in the way of profit. And maybe some really do think a minimum wage is bad for the economy. But honestly, I don’t think most Liberal voters in my generation think hard enough about politics to come to any conclusion as deep as this.
Many are likely to think the economy is always better under the Liberals, and choose to ignore the economic success of the Labor party in bringing the country through the GFC without recession. In some ways, my generation is even more likely to rest on their laurels because of the reduced impact of the GFC, which ironically is even more likely to produce more Liberal voters – ‘see there wasn’t a crisis so why did Labor have to spend so much to save us from something that didn’t happen?’ To this, I say for fuck’s sake!
My biggest frustration with conservative voters from my generation is this – they’ve been trained well, by vested interests in the media and by conservative politicians, to blame the government for everything that goes wrong in the economy, and to praise capitalism for everything that goes right. In these people’s eyes, Wall Street greed wasn’t to blame for the share-market crash which caused the GFC, it was various governments and their failures to do something about it at fault. But then you use the word ‘regulation’ to try to explain that this is the only thing the government could have done about it, in advance, to stop the capitalists from eating themselves, and the response to even mentioning the word regulation is revulsion and sneers.
So when I have these Green progressives on my left, refusing to support Labor, and these un-thinking Liberals on my right, hating everything Labor stands for, it really does feel like I’m fighting a war on two fronts. Yes, I support Labor. No, it doesn’t mean I love Kevin Rudd – but I would be overjoyed if he wins this election. Yes, I support most Labor Party policies, but not all of them. Yes, I was devastated about what happened to Julia Gillard, and I’ll be upset about this for as long as I live. No, this doesn’t mean I’ll give up on the Labor Party. Politics isn’t about personalities; it’s about policies – the people who come up with them and the people who successfully implement them. Those doing the heavy lifting on our behalf deserve our support. Maybe Labor voters like me are the most stubborn voters from my generation of all the ones I’ve described. I just want to live in the country Labor can give me and I’ll fight against anyone and anything that tries to get in the way. This is how I stand up for what I believe in.