Labor needs lessons from Occupy Wall Street activists.

Labor needs lessons from Occupy Wall Street activists.

What does it say about the Labor Party when a group of semi-homeless ferals can articulate a policy platform better than a 120-year-old political organisation?

A while ago I spent a few hours trying to wade through the 269 pages of Labor’s National Platform and woke up in a pool of drool to discover Tony Abbott was Prime Minister. How’d that happen?

As the Labor Party casts around for ways to reform itself, it could do worse than taking a few lessons in brevity and clarity from the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Give that lot a bath and shave off their dreadlocks and Occupy had quite a few catchy points to make about the modern world, including: 

We are not against the rich: We are against using wealth to gain an unfair advantage.

We are not against corporations: We are against corporations governing us.

We are not against banks: We are against fraudulent banking practices.

We are not against democracy: We are against the sale of influence by our elected representatives.

These may strike hard-headed political types as vague platitudes but the essence of their message struck a chord with even me - a member of the "media elite" - who many of the Occupy Movement would like to skin and roast over an open fire of Financial Review back issues.

Though many people found this rag-tag collection of left wing causes a ridiculous sideshow, it did the world one huge favour.

As Russell Brand pointed out in an interview that's been viewed almost 10 million times on YouTube: "The Occupy movement made a difference if only in that it introduced to the popular public lexicon the idea of the one per cent versus the 99 per cent."  

"People, for the first time in a generation, are aware of massive corporate and economic exploitation. These things are not nonsense and these subjects are not being addressed," said Brand.

This is a theme that has again erupted into ferocious debate in the US and UK with the publishing of a ground breaking new book by French economist Thomas Piketty, who uses 700 pages of data explaining how capitalism is failing us.

The Economist said recently Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century "aims to revolutionise the way people think about the economic history of the past two centuries. It may well manage the feat".

Piketty's central argument is the one per cent is no unhappy accident but the natural result of capitalism. The only means of reversing this inequality is through government intervention, which is a nice way of saying the rich need to pay a whole lot more tax.

Suggestions like this tend to get reframed by conservatives as "class war", yet the point most mum and dad tax payers fail to recognise is we're already in conflict with the rich and it's PAYG suckers dribbling gold coins into their super who are losing the war.

Labor says lovely things like "as times change, our values endure" - the very first words of its platform - yet its waning, real world commitment to issues like social justice, the environment and thumping the rich with the taxation stick tell even the biggest boofhead voter a very different story.

Couple it with the orgy of corruption we're seeing in NSW and the union movement, along with the spectacle of self-serving dinosaurs like Joe Bullock being parachuted into parliament and you have to ask yourself, what and who does the ALP stand for in 2014?

We've know the Liberals stand for big business and the Nationals for the bush but it seems much of the Labor Party stands only for the Labor Party. 

There are enormous structural changes facing the Australian economy and its citizens, yet the ALP's main shtick at the moment, to quote Radio National's First Dog on the Moon, is to hold the "government to account for doing an even better job of implementing the cruel and vicious policies that we came up with!"

One of the great recent weaknesses of the Labor Party has been it has tried to do the impossible - keep all the people happy all the time.

In doing so it has abandoned traditional policy positions, alienating its natural voter base, while embracing watered-down right wing positions that don't go hard enough for the thin-lipped Howard Battlers.

And while its primary vote drops, then plummets, then decreases again, the 99 per cent out here with mortgages and rent to pay wonder who is speaking for us? 

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