Financial Review Quarterly Essay

With an election looming and criticism of the ALP now a national pastime, Mark Latham considers the future for Labor. The nation has changed, but can the party?

With wit and insight, Latham reveals an organisation top-heavy with factional bosses protecting their turf. At the same time Labor’s traditional working-class base has long been eroding. People who grew up in fibro shacks now live in double-storey affluence. Families once resigned to a lifetime of blue-collar work now expect their children to be well-educated professionals and entrepreneurs.

Latham explains how Labor has always succeeded as a grassroots party, and argues for reforms to clear out the apparatchiks and dead wood. Then there are the key policy challenges: what to do about the Keating economic legacy, education and poverty. Latham examines the rise of a destructive and reactionary far-right under the wing of Tony Abbott. He also makes the case that climate change is the ultimate challenge – and even opportunity – for a centre-left party.

Not Dead Yet is an essential contribution to political debate, which addresses the question: how can Labor reinvent itself and speak to a changed Australia?

In Australian Story, Mungo MacCallum investigates the political success of Kevin Rudd. What does he know about Australia that his opponents don’t? This is a characteristically barbed and perceptive look at the challenges facing the government and the country. MacCallum argues that the things we used to rely on are not there anymore. On the Right, the blind faith in markets has recently collapsed. The Left lost its guiding light with the demise of the socialist dream.

In entertaining fashion, MacCallum dissects the myths that made Australia: the idea of the Lucky Country, with endless pastures, a workingman’s paradise, a new Britannia, and more. In newly uncertain times, MacCallum argues, Rudd has sought to tap into these myths, in the process reclaiming them from John Howard.

Australian Story is both a canny assessment of the Rudd government’s election-winning approach and a broader meditation on the nation’s core traditions at a time of major change and challenge.

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