Sunday, February 04, 2018

Rising threat of the activist Left

As memories of Communism fade, socialism is once again seen as attractive

As Australia returns to work and the parliamentary year begins, there are signs our economy is benefiting from the Trump tax and business agenda. The Coalition’s political fortunes are also improving or, to be more precise, there are indications that Labor, after a complacent 18 months, is beginning to lose ­momentum.

While the next few months will determine whether this is the case, at a bigger level, our politics is likely to continue to be characterised by uncertainty, instability and consequent policy inconsistency. This is because the factors driving political ferment here and internationally in recent years have deepened and solidified rather than receded.

Demographic, ideological and personal economic considerations are pulling Western societies ­internally in different directions, with an impact on political parties and national leadership. The ­capacity to establish majority support, let alone a national consensus, on complex issues is becoming more difficult. Divisions within ­societies on priorities and the best approach to resolving them are ­becoming sharper.

Comparing broad trends in personal economic circumstances between countries is also becoming less useful to understanding political developments.

Rather, the bigger economies seem to be dividing into two or more strands, each of which has more in common with those in a similar situation in other countries than with each other.

In most major economies, there is now a large group, in some cases a majority, of people who, despite the generic strength of their economy, find they are treading water or slipping behind. There are multiple examples around the world of this group rebelling at the ballot box. Finding practical and effective policies that can quickly assist in improving this situation is now a big challenge for political parties, particularly those of the centre-right. It is central to reducing the political ferment that has driven politics in recent years.

In Australia, as this newspaper’s economics editor David Uren recently wrote: “For 15 years following the election of the Howard government in 1996, living standards rose by a steady 2.5 per cent a year ... by 2011, the average household had a living standard more than 40 per cent higher than in the mid-1990s.”

However, he went on to report that, more recently, “Australians have endured their longest period of falling living standards in more than a quarter of a century as growth in costs outstripped earnings for the fifth consecutive quarter. After adjusting for living costs, interest and taxes, average earnings in the three months to ­September (2017) were 0.7 per cent lower than in the same period of 2011.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and the Coalition’s senior leadership, concerned about these trends, are foreshadowing action in coming months, including in the budget, to improve the spread of growth. The effectiveness of this response will be critical to the ­Coalition’s political fortunes.

Labor seems divided and ­unsure on how to respond. There is a minority of pragmatists in the party who understand Australia’s personal and corporate tax rates cannot continue to be uncompetitive internationally. But Labor is being pulled to the left and the ­indications are a future Labor ­government will be significantly more left-wing than the Hawke-Keating and the Rudd-Gillard ­governments.

This echoes the reasons driving similar moves to the fringe in mainstream left parties across the democratic world: the traditional moderating right-wing strand within left parties is disappearing.

These parties are now dominated by the progressive, activist left. This is the culmination of more than 50 years of growth in extra-party political activity on the left in all Western countries.

Since the Vietnam War (at least) a structure and framework has grown outside the major centre-left party in most democracies. This moved from anti-Vietnam War activism to a general anti-Americanism and nuclear disarmament, environmentalism and much more. Fifty years on, this is a massive, co-ordinated and well-resourced network of activists, think tanks, and specialist and innovative campaigners who are now moving directly into large political parties. This group is the base behind the successes of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders. They have recruited this activist campaign architecture into their parties, with consequent results for policy, candidate selection and so forth. It is the reason for their ­internal successes.

This shift is now taking place in the ALP. Sally McManus, I suspect, now better represents the true heart of the Labor Party than Bill Shorten. Although employed by the traditional union base of the party, McManus is an archetypical progressive left activist with a full, clear and very aggressive agenda to move Labor to the left.

While Labor must contest this space with the Greens (and the revival of the Labor left represents a long-term threat to the Greens) the practical consequences for policy are that issues and debates that were long thought dormant or discredited are re-emerging. This is preventing the Opposition Leader from developing clear policy alternatives that resonate with mainstream Australia. In fact, it threatens to shackle him with the most left-wing manifesto since Gough Whitlam. His ­capacity to contain this push is a prerequisite to him winning the next election.

The contest over Labor’s policy direction is the reason Shorten’s speech to the National Press Club this week was long on diagnosis and short on a prescription.

He correctly said: “We need to demonstrate that politics has the capacity to make the economy work for working people” and that too many parents feel like “they’re handing on to their kids a lesser deal than the one they inherited from their parents”.

But the speech did not contain a single policy that would in any way help address the trends he mentions. Instead, it foreshadowed a further, more radical move to the left, particularly in industrial relations, which will restrict growth, embolden the most radical unions and further erode our international competitiveness.

Should Shorten fail to contain this push, the losers from an extended experiment in old left ideology will inevitably be the workers and less well off he claims to represent.

The growth of the activist left is driving another, deeper phenomenon in Western societies. In fact, it is challenging the very concept, at the political level, of societies.

Where once a large section of the community agreed on the basic structures and values of their country, divisions on fundamental issues are increasing and resulting in sharper political divisions. We are increasingly witnessing this in Australia.

Strategically, this trend is influencing how political leaders campaign to win. Do they attempt to put together a broad coalition across as wide a section of the community as possible, or do they, in effect, ride the bucking bronco of their base, deliberately drawing deep distinctions with their opponents? While Donald Trump and Corbyn are the two most prominent examples of the latter trend, they are certainly not alone.

The most interesting piece of research I came across last year was a finding by the Pew Research Centre looking at the trend in the views of major party supporters in the US.

Pew found: “Americans are less likely than in the past to hold a mix of conservative and liberal views … reflecting growing partisan gaps, Republicans and Democrats are now further apart ideologically than at any point in more than two decades. The median Republican is now more conservative than 97 per cent of Democrats and the median Democrat is more liberal than 95 per cent of Republicans. By comparison, in 1994 just 64 per cent of Republicans were to the right of the median Democrat while 70 per cent of Democrats were to the left of the median ­Republicans.”

Americans are withdrawing into like-minded tribes at the cost of a clear national consensus on many previously undisputed issues. It is no surprise congress is divided and frequently log-jammed on matters that in the past were negotiated to resolution. There is little published research on this in Australia but I have no doubt the broad trend is similar.

There are many reasons, including the rise of social media, for this development. But the growth of an ideological and well-organised activist force on the left is the major reason socialism (as an example) is now seen as a viable and fully realistic political option among younger Americans. The longer-term implications for policy are potentially dramatic.

Exacerbating these developments is the natural cycle of life.

The generation formed by the outlook and values of the 20th century is passing. The factors that formed them, including religious belief and the postwar period of broad economic growth, is less influential. Recent polling in Britain on attitudes towards certain social forces reflects this. Fewer than 40 per cent of people in Britain under 55 now believe capitalism is a force for good and 70 per cent of people under 45 see “the green movement” as a force for good.

These trends have implications far beyond political parties. They affect every organisation or individual seeking to influence policy and society. They reinforce the importance of influencing opinion over the long term, not just reacting to individual events.

They have particular consequences for the way in which business seeks to engage in public debate. Businesses wanting to mould policy in this complex and conflicted environment need to be as sophisticated in their approach as their opponents and willing to move into areas outside their typical sphere of expertise.

As ideology re-emerges as a driver of policy, particularly on the left but also increasingly in parts of the right, business must be prepared to contest arguments and doctrines that threaten their long-term viability.

This cannot be done in a single campaign or with just a short-term argument. It requires intellectual as well as broader community engagement. It needs arguments that are clearly in the national, rather than narrow, immediate sectional interests.

On some matters, compromise will not be achievable and proposals will need to be resisted. This will require business to build coalitions of support, usually involving sections of the community they do not typically engage with.

The capacity of the left to establish its narrative as facts on matters such as the spread of wealth and the share of taxation must also be addressed and, to the extent there is any basis to their claims, policies should be introduced to help address the ­issues they raise. This will ensure the credibility of anti-business claims is confronted and destroyed.

It is necessary for the re-emergence of broad support for a business agenda.

The activist left is not quite yet the new establishment. But it is strategic, well-resourced and ruthless. It is building for the long-term with clear goals and objectives. All those with an interest in a prosperous economy as a basis for a broad middle class to underpin a stable society need to be not just concerned but active and engaged.


Private schools becoming slightly more exclusive

Part of this would have to be an effect of Australia's high level of immigration, with most immigrants being poor.  Such immigrants would rarely be willing or able to spend money on private education

Public schools are being squeezed by surging enrolments at the same time as the number of government schools around Australia declines.

An annual stocktake of the nation's schools, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Friday, shows parents continuing a shift away from private education that first started three years ago.

Government schools' share of student enrolments rose to 65.6 per cent in 2017, up from 65.4 per cent in 2016 and 65.1 per cent in 2014. ABS figures previously released to Fairfax Media show much of that increase has been driven by wealthy parents choosing public schools.

But at the same time, the number of public schools in Australia has fallen. There were 58 fewer government schools in 2017 than in 2012 - in that period, NSW lost 18 public schools, Victoria 10 and Queensland five. In the same period, the number of students enrolled at NSW public schools rose by 70,000, and in Victoria by 85,000.

State governments have been accommodating the rising numbers of public school students in demountable classrooms, with the use of demountables forecast to double in NSW and Education Minister Rob Stokes declaring the makeshift classrooms are "here to stay".

ABS spokesman Stephen Collett noted the preference shift toward public schools was "small", but "after 22 years of the ship going one way, to see it at least steady is an interesting phenomenon".

He said the public school squeeze was "largely about where school age children are living", such as new suburbs on city fringes, and "in a few years when the kids get older, that pressure will ease".

Neither have surging enrolments resulted in a blowout in student-to-teacher ratios, with the ABS data showing the rates basically unchanged in government schools over the past five years.

And there were signs of the squeeze easing in 2017, with the number of public schools nationwide ticking up. That was largely down to Western Australia, which added five schools, and Victoria which added three.

Overall, there were 30 more schools nationwide in 2017, mostly in the non-government system.  Every state and territory except the ACT also added more teaching staff in 2017.


Staff at a Melbourne council were BANNED from saying 'Australia Day' and told to call it the 'January 26 public holiday' - but the 1000 employees still enjoyed the day off instead of a planned boycott

Staff at Melbourne's Yarra City Council were given extraordinary orders not to utter the words 'Australia Day' when discussing the public holiday.

The 1000 employees - which included childcare workers, librarians and even gardeners - were forbidden to refer to it as 'Australia Day' and instead instructed to call it 'January 26 public holiday' when with customers and clients.

A bulletin posted by council chief executive Vijaya Vaidyanath gave explicit instructions to staff about how they should describe the controversial public holiday, the Herald Sun reports.

'Council made a resolution to change the way we mark our national day on January 26,' the bulletin read. 'This includes no longer referring to this date as Australia Day.'

'All staff are asked to use the words 'January 26 public holiday' rather than 'Australia Day public holiday' when notifying clients or customers of the opening hours of their service or centre on this day.'

The decision was slammed by Liberal MP Tim Smith who called council members hypocritical for choosing to enjoy the day off despite advocating so hard against Australia Day.

'This is utter hypocrisy from Yarra council, who spent so much time objecting to Australia Day only to take the day off,' Mr Smith said.

'Their thought police shouldn't be going around telling people what to think about our national day.'

The Yarra City Council offices were indeed closed on Australia Day, a revelation made public after 3AW Drive host Tom Elliott paid a visit to the building.

Mr Elliott knocked on the office door repeatedly, calling out and even attempting to ring an old door bell.

He tried to call the council but got an automated message explaining the council was closed.

Matthew Guy, the Leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria, announced he would move to sack all councils which threatened the national holiday if the Coalition is elected in November.

'It's time to stop bagging it. Australia Day is our national holiday and it's an opportunity for us all to come together,' Mr Guy said.

'That's why, if I'm elected, the state government will be able to sack councils that try to divide Australians by banning Australia Day.'

In August, the council voted unanimously to stop celebrating Australia Day on January 26 - with the controversial stand aimed at reducing 'distress' it causes to Indigenous people.

In its place Yarra City's nine councillors - of which four are Greens members - instead chose to hold a number of Indigenous-themed events, with the decision made in the wake of a recent survey of just 300 people which 'showed strong support' locally


Greenies trying to gag honest scientidst

Marine scientist commented on their "unvalidated" public pronouncements about catastrophic damage to the Great Barrier Reef.  The reef is now back to normal so he was proved right.

Marine scientist Peter Ridd has refused to accept a formal censure and gag order from James Cook University and expanded his Federal Court action to defend academic freedoms and free speech.

A revised statement of claim alleges JCU trawled through private email conversations in a bid to bolster its misconduct case against him.

JCU had found Professor Ridd guilty of “serious misconduct”, ­including denigrating a co-worker, denigrating the university, breaching confidentiality, publishing information outside of the university and disregarding his obligations as an employee. [i.e. telling the truth]

Professor Ridd has asked the Federal Court to overturn the university ruling and confirm his right not to be silenced.

In the revised statement of claim, Professor Ridd has dropped an earlier claim of conflict of interest against JCU vice-chancellor Sandra Harding, but has alleged other senior staff had been biased and had not acted fairly or in good faith.

Professor Ridd’s Federal Court action is seen as a test of academic freedom and free speech, and has been supported by the Institute of Public Affairs.

Professor Ridd said he would seek public donations to continue the fight against JCU. He first took court action in November in a bid to stop a JCU disciplinary process against him for comments he made to Sky News presenter Alan Jones.

The university said by expressing concerns about the quality of some reef science, Professor Ridd had not acted in a “collegiate” manner.

Professor Ridd told Sky News: “The basic problem is that we can no longer trust the scientific ­organisations like the Australian Institute of Marine Science, even things like the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.”

He said a lot of the science was not properly checked, tested or replicated and “this is a great shame because we really need to be able to trust our scientific institutions and the fact is I do not think we can any more”.

A JCU spokesman said the university’s lawyers had invited Professor Ridd to discontinue his proceedings. “(He) has amended his proceedings. His decision to do so is a matter for him,” he said.

“The university intends to vigorously defend those proceedings (but) as these matters are before the courts, JCU will not comment further.”

Lawyers for JCU wrote to Professor Ridd on November 28 confirming the university had determined he had engaged in “serious misconduct” and issued him with a “final censure”.

“The disciplinary process and all information gathered and recorded in relation to the disciplinary process (including the allegations, letters, your client’s responses and the outcome of the disciplinary process) is confidential pursuant to clause 54.1.5 of the university enterprise agreement,” the JCU lawyers said.

Professor Ridd has subsequently published his concerns about the quality of reef science in a peer-reviewed journal. He said he was determined to speak freely about his treatment “even though it will go against explicit directions by JCU not to”.

“This is as much a case about free speech as it is about quality of science,” he said.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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