Kevin Rudd may be reluctant to call Labor left-wing, but he’s happy to cloak himself in conservatism. It started last year when he invoked – albeit inaccurately – British conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott in his criticism of market forces. After becoming leader, he endorsed – albeit inaccurately again – Australia’s most successful conservative leader, Robert Menzies, as preferable to Howard.
And more recently Rudd has been calling himself an ‘economic conservative’, which Josh Gordon wrote about in The Age on Saturday. As Gordon says, not so long ago this would have been a negative term, but such is the general agreement that has built up around the main component parts of ‘economic conservatism’ – Reserve Bank independence and a balanced if not surplus Budget – that ‘conservatism’ on these matters is uncontroversial.
Even Labor’ s once-true believers are getting in on the consensus. If Howard being cheered by CFMEU members was the most bizarre aspect of the 2004 campaign, for me the most bizarre aspect of the 2007 campaign was the enthusiastic applause from the party faithful at Labor’s launch when Rudd said:
‘Today I am saying loud and clear that this sort of reckless spending must stop. I am determined that any commitments I make are first and foremost economically responsible. That’s why the commitments I announce today will cost less than one quarter of those Mr Howard announced on Monday.’
The social policy shopaholics of the ALP think that spending less than the Coalition is a good thing? I doubt that this can last. People join the ALP because they believe that they know how to spend taxpayers’ money better than the taxpayers themselves. And with the Liberals likely to be out of power for three terms at least, what political obstacle is there to spending up big?
Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Kevin Rudd really is an ‘economic conservative’. It would be less surprising than Hawke and Keating as great economic reformers would have seemed the week before the March 1983 election. But there is eleven years of leftist frustration waiting to blow, and I’m not sure that Rudd can contain it.