Evan Thornley is a member of the Upper House of the Victorian State Labor govt. He spoke recently at the NZ Labour Party conference about Labour values. He helped set up the internet based campaigning organisation GetUp! which now has over 200,000 members. He’s big on ideas. He started the Australian Fabians and was the catalyst for the launch at the conference of the Fabian Society of New Zealand.
I haven’t managed to track down an electronic copy of his speech yet, but in the meantime here are a few edited excerpts of what Evan had to say about reclaiming the high ground on morality and economics for the left.
“The Scottish Enlightenment turned a small, backward country on the edge of Europe into the intellectiual powerhouse of Western Civilisation.
And what did they do? They invested in broad-based education. They were one of the first places in the world to see investment in the people themselves as the central enabling device for national progress.
But the great progressive history of the Scottish Enlightenment – Adam Smith, Ricardo, Mill, Hume and Stevenson – has been twisted into a rigid and extremist ideology by those that followed.
A deviant form of liberalism took a sharp right hand bend around the time of Hayek and Ayn Rand and kept on driving into the land of Thatcher, Howard and Bush. They are not the inheritors of Adam Smith. He understood the role of markets and the nature of humanity. Not only did he write the “Wealth of Nations” but he also wrote “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”.
Not only did he write about self-regard, but in the same breath spoke of the importance of regard for others. Smith would roll in his grave if he could see where his ideas and his notion of Liberalism has been taken today by the far right.
Similarly, the punitive moralists of right wing politics would have us believe there is a contest between individual responsiblity and community responsiblity.
I sometimes call our opponents the sharp elbows brigade. They believe that for you to have something must mean I cannot. The genius of investing in people – that by investing in people now, we can both have more later – has passed them by. And so they believe that by inflicting damage on you, I will somehow be advantaged and, perhaps even more absurdly, that you will not repsond in kind and inflict damage on me.
So to those on the Right who claim morality as their own, I say who was it who fought to end slavery? Who was it that put an end to kids working in coal mines? Who fought Hitler but opposed a war in Veitnam? (and in NZ, Iraq?) Who was it that fought every step for democracy and the increase of the franchise?
Labour, of course.
If it were left to conservatives, we’d still only have male property owners with a right to vote.
We own the moral high ground. We own the economic high ground. And it is from these commanding heights that Labour enters the battlefield of ideas from a position of strength.”