Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Toryism and Australia's Neoliberal past

British politics can be a useful guide for the direction that Australian political parties might head in. Thatcher's neoliberal programme--of privatisations, anti-unionism, small government, personal responsibility allied to a strident nationalism and moral and social conservatism--was a model that the Australian Liberal party took up and put into effect during John Howard's prime ministership: 1996 to 2007. Yet, to align the right-wing Australian party to the British Conservatives too neatly ignores a key point Guy Rundle makes in his essay "When the rubric hits the road":

Australia is not Britain, the neoliberal reconstruction of the economy was undertaken by a Labor government, which reemphasised a collective agreement with the nation, and offered some compensation for the effects of economic restructuring. And, by the standards of Thatcher, the Howard government changed almost nothing of the fabric of Australian life. (Overland 197: 9)

I think the subtext of Rundle's assertion here--that Howard had little left to work with in seeking to reconstruct society because Labor had already done most of that work--requires some unpacking. Such a disaggregation of the effects of Neoliberalism on the Australian economy and on Australian society is analytically useful because it helps in understanding why so-called Keynesian responses to the Global Financial Crisis do not end Neoliberalism but have, arguably, intensified aspects of it.

While useful as an exercise in comparisons and contrasts, mapping British political formations onto Australian ones--as though what is geographically distant is also temporally ahead--needs to take the specifically local and national characteristics of the two systems into account. So, in order to get to the main topic of this post--Red Toryism--I will quickly run through an historical sketch of Australian Neoliberal labourism. I do this as I think coming to terms with how Australian society (rather than economy) was Neoliberalised under Labor is a good starting point in seeking to understand what the implications of Red Toryism might be for Australian political culture, and, in particular, a good basis on which to see the forms of governmental practice and reasoning that Red Toryism enacts as being available to any formation within Australian political culture: the Greens, the Nationals, the Liberals and Labor. In other words, to begin to analyse Red Toryism from the understanding that Australian labourism was the carrier of neoliberalism helps to tune out the noise that disavows Labor's embedding of Red Toryist governmentalities. Such embedding might already be occurring, and whether it is framed and branded as Left or Right is, ultimately, noise.

To quickly rehearse Labor's Neoliberalisation of the Australian economy and society: it occured through the putative modernisation of Labourism and its core citizen-subjectivity: the industrial citizen. On the one hand, the transformation of the Australian political economy in the 1980s came about through the floating of the exchange rate, the relaxation of foreign banking restrictions, and the realignment of the Reserve Bank's objectives from reducing unemployment (c1983) to reducing the current account deficit (c 1986--when Keating made his Banana Republic warning) to its current and final focus on finance capital's key requirement: the minimising of inflation. Combined with reducing tariffs and privatising former government-owned enterprises, Labor's 'modernising' of the Australian political economy was accompanied by a reinstatement of the national health insurance scheme in the guise of Medicare, and a series of social-wage contracts--the Accords--which traded wage restraint for social goods, between the Government and the peak trade union body, the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions).

Labor's neoliberal reformation of Australian society, however, was embedded through practices of conducting one's own and other's conduct (the conduct of conduct is Foucault's definition of governmentality). These practices were, and are, saturated with forms of thought: reasoning, concepts, calculations etc. The industrial citizen--labourism's key citzen-subject--protected by arbitration, tariffs, belonging to a trade union, and benefiting from racially exclusive and sexist policies, became reformed as a flexible enterprise, that was open and mobile, efficient and productive, independent and entrepreneurial. Labour--as a category in understanding political economy--was reformed from a fundamental category which could be protected and de-commodified, to one that was subsumed within the category of capital: from labour to human capital. This form of reasoning opened up the category of labour to a foundational reconception whereby work becomes a form of economic conduct which the individual or society can choose to invest in, take risks over, across a portfolio of skills and practices in order to generate an income stream. This Foucauldian understanding of the transformation of labour under Chicago School neoliberalism is nicely summed up in the aphorism: in neoliberalism we become entrepreneurs of ourselves.

It was thus through the re-formation of Labor and labourism that Neoliberalism became embedded as the dominant form of governmentality in Australian political culture. Labor's social-market approach to Neoliberalism--closer to German ordoliberalism than the Chicago School variant--gave the Howard-led coalition a set of social governmentalities against which to define themselves and to remake. The 'Big Picture' directions that Keating sought to move Australian political culture in--a Republic, Reconciliation, and increasing Regional connections with Asia Pacific nations--were framed by Howard as too modernist a path for those Australian traditions and values that had kept Australian society unified and anchored. Thus Rundle argues that

Labor simply took over what should have been the Liberals’ historical role – neoliberal reconstruction – and badged it as a form of modernisation, making it part of a distinctive progressive package, and leaving the Libs with nowhere to go but populism with a use-by date (Rundle, Crikey Newsletter 26.11.09).

So, any mapping of British political culture onto the Australian scene while useful is never neat. Some argue--including Paul Keating, who would say this--that Blair's New Labour, and its third way projects, was a rehearsal of ALP policy in the long Labor decade: 1983-1996. The notion that the British present is our political future needs to be taken with a wary openness. That said, I think it's worth getting some sense of what is being called Red Toryism, as outlines of the projects that are being mooted under David Cameron's leadership of the Tories, start to take shape. As I argued above, there is no necessary pipeline which articulates British Labour's policies--governmentalities--to Australian Labor's, nor one between the Tories and the Australian Coalition.

Having cleared the decks a bit, I will get to an analysis of Red Toryism in a latter post. What, however, has sparked this post was doyen of the boomer cultural left in Australia--Phillip Adams--giving a warm audience to Phillip Blond and his ideas a dew days ago on ABC's Late Night Live. Blond's website is here and he is being talked of as David Cameron's court Philosopher. Adams' response to Blond alarmed me a little as Blond's advocacy of social enterprises sounds a lot like Hayek's notion of catallaxies. I wonder, in particular, what 'social' actually means in this form of neoliberalism?

The second prompt to this post--which was meant to be about Red Toryism--is from a truly excellent analysis of the phenomenon here, which comes via Voyou Desoeuvre. Alex Andrews presents a fantastic analysis of Red Toryism: "Tory Neoliberalism: Why a vote for the Conservative Party is a vote for continuity, not change".

As Alex writes,

it is quite clear what Cameron’s Tories are really offering. There is no change here it is neoliberalism almost all the way down, ‘conservative means’ to ‘progressive ends’ are the same as they have been for thirty years. Cameron is in seamless continuity with Thatcherism and, in fact, New Labour.

Compare this to Rundle's analysis of 'Ruddism' in Overland:

Ruddism is a mode of post-social democratic labour adapted to Australian conditions and history, one that displays no real interest in challenging an atomised neoliberal social order and must therefore explore increasingly specific measures in the management of a population. (10)

Rundle goes on to write that it is Rudd's micromanagerial reshaping of social life which constitutes the essence of Rudd's governmentality: an essence which leaves untouched the "inadequacy of the conventional political frame to humanity's challenges". Getting outside this conventional political frame requires an understanding of Australia's recent past that grasps the extent to which the embedding of Neoliberalism in Australian political culture was achieved through the transformation of Labourism. Such an approach to recent Australian political history also requires that the Ghosts of Whitlam are properly mourned and that Neoliberalism is increasingly understood as more than neoclassical economics.


Gary Sauer-Thompson has also pointed to Blond's Red Toryism, here. Blond's article from Prospect Feb, 2009 "Rise of the Red Tories" makes for interesting reading. Blond's vision is neoliberal in the sense that there are multiple neoliberalisms that are essentially critiques of the previous version of liberal capitalism, which seek to establish new modes of governmentality because the previous mode governed us too much (This is Foucault's basic insight into liberalism as a mode of government: we are governed too much). Blond's progressive conservatism reads as sharing much with Hayek's liberalism, where civic associations and markets are conflated and seen as the source of liberty and moral values. As Mitchell Dean argues--here--in his discussion of Hayek, this variant of neoliberalism is both radical and conservative. Blond does not admit that capitalism plays any part in the breakdown of social life, which he blames on 1960s left-libertarianism. This is worrying as Blond's governmentality opens the door to a reactionary authoritarian response to the social fragmentation that his concomitant advocacy of greater marketisation of social relations gives rise to.

Indeed, advocating decentralisation of state-enterprises--hospitals etc.--so that local trust funds, local capital can come into ownership and control of the management of these bodies, requires a removal of forms of welfare-state style government, but not forms of government as such. The state will govern differently: it will empower and enable. Such neoliberal rostrums sound excellent, but in reality there is no single act of empowerment to be followed by the enabled local community thereafter exercising its morally edifying, defragmenting, efficient and freedom-enhancing control over the local school, hospital etc. Rather, Blond's project would see an ongoing mode of governing through communities which would be constituted on a continuum with those who are capable of self-management and self-empowerment--at one end--and those that require greater policing, older modes of government--at the other. What, also, is to prevent these public-private bodies from becoming shareholder entities, where majority shareholders determine their directions and activities if not state-based regulation and enforcement?

Red Toryism's rediscovery of the social and society is a rationality that needs to be analysed. What are the objects, aims, methods and ends of this modes of governmentality--this Red Toryism- that seeks to radically alter modes of government in the names of "society", this "civitas", the "local". What, in other words, counts as society, civic and local?

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