Labor needs a culture of ideas

Keynes in his General Theory famously wrote: ‘Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.’

For Labor, his words are a reminder we need to reform our ideas, not merely our rules.

Challenge aims to foster this debate and to create a culture within Labor that puts real discussion about policy front and centre.

The need to challenge the increasingly radical agenda of the Coalition makes this all the more urgent. Their agenda is pre-planned and well-organised, inspired by zealots from the Institute for Public Affairs and donors with deep pockets expecting high rewards.

A culture of ideas can only be achieved by engaging in discussion both within and outside the Party. External expertise has always been vital to the Labor agenda. The original Medibank, introduced by the Whitlam Government, was conceived and designed by health economist John Deeble and his colleague Richard Scotton.

In that spirit, Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute tackles the big challenge of how to fund our social program while still balancing the budget. His analysis lays bare one of the key debates inside Labor in the lead up to National Conference, how can we honestly accept the current level of taxation as a proportion of GDP given Labor’s aspirations for the size and role of Government?

Our search for the best ideas must also have an international lens. Our counterparts across the globe face similar challenges. We look to them for ideas and inspiration. Mark Ferguson outlines some of the radical reforms that the British Labour Party has undertaken as it approaches the 2015 General Election.

As a party of government, Labor can never forget the critical need for ideas that capture the imagination. We need to give people hope about the Labor project and a vision of what Labor will bring to government. The lessons of 1972, 1983 and 2007 are that a positive agenda, full of ideas, is necessary for Labor to win.

In the quest for a Labor culture of ideas, Challenge applauds the great work happening elsewhere, including by the Fabians and the Chifley Research Centre. The NSW Left’s own Annual Bruce Childs Lecture provides a new forum for sustained analysis. The Left will continue to champion a Party culture where debate about ideas and policy is as crucial as discussions about party rules.

 

Originally posted at Challenge Magazine

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