No mandates


John Howard, the Liberals and the big business media are of course claiming that the Coalition's big election victory is a "mandate" for the policies they plan to implement. That's a lie. There is no mandate. There's no mandate for Howard's policies because they weren't put to a vote. First, Coalition policies were hidden until the last possible minute, precisely to prevent them being examined in any detail. Then, when they were finally presented, nearly all were virtually indistinguishable from Labor's — either in reality or in the packaging. The voters gave no mandate on policies because voters were not given a real choice. The Liberals tried to create a mandate for privatising Telstra by announcing plans to sell 1/3 of it in the first term of a Coalition government. That produced a mandate against privatisation: a ground swell of opinion, revealed repeatedly in polls, that Telstra should remain entirely in public ownership. John Howard was forced, in effect, to campaign against the sale of Telstra, by claiming that the ALP intended to privatise all of Telstra, not just 1/3. (He could be widely believed merely by pointing to the fact that such plans were denied by Paul Keating, who had also denied plans to privatise Australian Airlines, Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank.) For the past 13 years, the Labor government has been moving right, usurping traditional Liberal territory and causing the Coalition to go even further to the right in an effort to distinguish itself as an alternative. As a result, the ALP could still appear as a lesser evil to working people. John Howard's answer to this strategy was to stop moving — in the public's perception. The Liberals set about remaking their image as a "caring" centre party, denying or dressing up their reactionary intentions. With policy differences between Labor and Liberal minimised or concealed, the ALP no longer seemed much less of an evil. Tens of thousands of working people decided to take a chance on the Coalition, to punish Labor for its arrogance and betrayal of their interests and concerns. Thus it is the Labor Party that has prepared the way for the Coalition government. It is Labor (in the states as well as in federal government) that has steadily shifted Australian electoral politics to the right. This reality must be kept in mind as the fight against the Coalition's attacks develops. No more than the Liberals does Labor have any kind of mandate to represent or lead those who fight back. In opposition, the ALP can be expected to try to rebuild some left credentials by campaigning in some degree against the government's most unpopular measures and promising to do better if returned to government. Members of the Labor Party should of course be part of a broad and hopefully united fight back. But the party and its leaders cannot be trusted. They have proved, over and over again, that they are not on our side.