Two cheeks of the same backside: Galloway’s UK victory foretells ALP spanking

Mar 9, 2024
Newly elected MP for Rochdale, George Galloway, speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London after he was sworn in following his victory in the Rochdale by-election last week. Picture date: Monday March 4, 2024. Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The Albanese ALP (Australian Labor Party) has become a true people’s government in the sense that its timidity restricts it from doing just about anything that might cause a political ripple.

When George Galloway of the new Workers’ Party recently won a by-election for a seat in the UK Parliament he said “We crushed Labour” because of its stance on Gaza. “Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak” he said “are two cheeks of the same backside and they both got well and truly spanked.”

The press report on the by-election said “The sentiment in the Galloway camp is that victory by a third party start-up in an important by-election may be a harbinger of voters rejecting entrenched duopolies in Britain and elsewhere.”

Galloway said “Tonight was a re-drawing of the political map.”

Galloway and his comrades may well be as skilled in the arts of hyperbole as they are impaired by a confined world view.

If they were to glance across the seas from their homeland they would see that government in their near-neighbour, Norway, has not been burdened by “entrenched [political] duopolies”, and that nor are many of the world’s most successful countries.

Re-drawing the political map in the UK is one thing but in reality that just means the UK is catching up with sound practice in much of the rest of the democratic world.

And that includes Australia where, at least at the federal level government has been in the hands of the Liberal Party courtesy of the support it has attracted from a third party once more accurately described as the Country Party and which now misleadingly parades as the National Party.

It is pertinent that the junior partner in the federal coalition governments has been enormously influential evidence of which is not only manifest in many roads, bridges and dams but in laws and the administrative structures of government. Thus the Administrative Arrangements Order lists legislation dealing with dairy, eggs, fish, grapes, wine, horses, cattle, pigs, sugar, wool, cotton, grains and more. The nation’s population of porkers might rest slightly more easy in their styes as it appears the Pig Meat Promotion Committee has been put to rest although they shouldn’t be complacent as many still urge to bring home the bacon.

As Pearls and Irritations readers will know well, other third parties have also had influence in federal politics.

The Anti-Communist Labour Party, like the Country Party, also changed its name to something meaningless when it became the Democratic Labour Party. It was based on an imagined apprehension that a Communist dominated ALP would, if it got its hands on government, promptly usher in a dictatorship of the proletariat, encourage the dominoes in Asia to fall over and install Mao Tse-tung as Governor-General in place of HM the Queen. When it was realised that the world wasn’t quite like that, the federal leader of the DLP was appointed Australian ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See and the DLP, imitating the theory of the Marxist state, faded away.

The Australian Democrat Party began life in 1977 with Senator Don Chipp at its helm. By 2008 it had no members in the federal parliament. Its pledge was “to keep the bastards honest”. It may have done so as the governments of its time appear to have been morally superior to those of the Modern Era, say from the first Rudd government on. But the Democrats wanted for a cohesive policy base and they finally tripped up in part due to the compromises worked with the Howard government on its GST.

Other minor parties are hanging on. The Greens are sustained by strong community feeling about climate change and the environment. One Nation feeds on grievances and the curious magnetism of Pauline Hanson. Ms Lambie and her sharp elbows and Network are working away for Tasmania. She may well have a seat for as long as Brian Harradine, a South Australia (by birth) who, when he turned Tasmanian, squeezed $350m out of the Telstra sale for his adopted State and became the “father of the Senate”. Jacqui could become that chamber’s mother.

So what’s the sum of the contribution of these minor parties.

Most obviously they have caused a steady decline in the vote for the ALP and the Liberal Party over the last 75 years, a trend likely to continue.

The federal Coalition has abandoned for the moment the pursuit of rational policy as its leader, Mr Dutton wrestles with bad dreams about nuclear energy and “flotillas” of non-existent ships bearing hordes of refugees. His deputy Ms Ley’s most notable contribution has been to advise voters through well-frothed lips that “If you don’t want to see Australian women being assaulted by foreign criminals, vote against Labour.” This is Trump mid-strength. Dutton is as far away from Menzies as it is possible to imagine and no one in the National (Country) Party has an ounce of the seriousness of Fadden, McEwen, Anthony (Snr), Sinclair or Nixon.

Meanwhile the Albanese ALP has become a true people’s government in the sense that its timidity restricts it from doing just about anything that might cause a political ripple. It rolled over on the madness of the subs and the stage 3 tax cuts, only reversing the cuts when it judged that public opinion had lurched against them. Albanese’s one bold step has been his backing of The Voice of which he proved a hapless and inept advocate who could never get beyond rubbery platitudes. The bracing experience has likely left him realising, if he didn’t already know, that advocacy of contentious policy is for him a non-forte and that he’s no Menzies, Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke, Keating or Howard. He’s a follower of public sentiment not a leader of it.

To slip into the crude, tasteless argot of Mr George Galloway, Messrs Albanese and Dutton are in some ways “two cheeks of the same backside” which may well get a “spanking” at the next election at the hands of the so-called “teals” and their associates. They, of course, picked up a swag of seats at the last election fed by disaffection with the bad behaviour and policy malaise of the Morrison government. The behaviour of the Albanese government has been sound but the policy malaise remains.

The “teals” have not been blockers. They have shown determined interest in policy on all sorts of fronts. Without them the Anti-Corruption Commission would likely have been a much weaker beast and they have contributed significantly in many areas – taxation, climate, industrial relations, the vagaries of consulting firms, public service integrity and so on. They have shown an inclination towards coordinated action and their power has been significantly exercised in the House of Representatives where, in a sense, it matters more.

There’s probably a fair chance that in the next election the ALP will end up as a minority government propped up by an augmented “teal” bench in the House. If so, Australia might be able to be more like Norway and, with a bit of luck, as successful. The “teals” could drag an ALP government into more ambitious policy and dealing with any contention could be shared leaving the Coalition to fret about nuclear power and flotillas of refugee ships if it wished.

The author of the American comic strip “Pogo”, Walt Kelly famously depicted a scene of devastation in which Porky Pine says to his pal Pogo “It is hard walkin’ on this stuff”. Pogo says “Yep son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”

That is to say, citizens are responsible for the state of Australian politics and they can fix it up. We get the governments we deserve. To borrow an Americanism from 1787, it’s essentially down to “We the people” with the first stop being the ballot box.

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