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Party needs to find its purpose

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Tanner savages Labor

Former cabinet minister slams Labor as a party machine without a wider purpose. Also the untold asylum story: Those who are not going to Nauru.

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LINDSAY Tanner has given Labor a glimpse of a looming electoral darkness and the picture is terrifying. Quite simply, he fears that if it loses power everywhere, it might not be able to re-emerge into the light.

He argues that Labor has lost its mission, becoming so focused on winning that it has forgotten what it stands for. Now success is disappearing fast, as is the political capital the ALP will need to regenerate.

The former minister speaks with authority, although his voice is harsh, and is a gift to the Liberals. 

Tanner says he is talking about the party generally, but his analysis of the government's program as reactive and improvised slashes at the core of the PM's claim to be standing for Labor principles.

Climate change and asylum seekers reflect a big structural shift of our time: globalisation and environmental sustainability.

Climate change and asylum seekers reflect a big structural shift of our time: globalisation and environmental sustainability. Photo: Paul Jones

The former minister speaks with authority, although his voice is harsh, and is a gift to the Liberals. His points will resonate with the likes of Barry Jones and John Faulkner.

He links the ALP decline with a wider international trend, while also identifying local factors: growing affluence; the Greens' rise; a takeover by the professional political class.

Speaking to The Age yesterday, he said Labor was stuck in the 1970s when politics was over the battle for material resources within a nation state. ''It's no accident that the two issues that Labor's had most trouble with - climate change and asylum seekers - reflect the two big structural shifts of our time: globalisation and environmental sustainability.''

He draws a comparison from the media: ''Just as no one has developed a successful business model for the newspaper industry in a digital world, it remains unclear how traditional social democratic parties can prosper in a globalised world.''

Labor used to be driven too much by belief and not enough by the merits of issues and the electorate's attitudes. Now, he says, the electoral implications dominate all its thinking.

Embattled former colleagues will wish that Tanner had stayed in the shadows. But the questions he poses - what is Labor's purpose; what does it seek to achieve - will have to be confronted soon. Tanner doesn't supply answers. The issue will be whether a new political generation can find them.

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