Left needs latte liberalism like a hole in the head

Gerard Henderson might not be as bright as your average gibbering idiot, but his pug-faced sanctimony is still damned annoying. So giving him an open paddock in which to kick around tired clichés from the culture wars does not exactly count as doing the world a favour.

Which is why Morris Schwartz’s Saturday Paper has a lot to answer for. And that’s before the first issue even comes out.

Its pitch to potential readers and advertisers claims:

The Saturday Paper will be read by young professionals. It will be bought by well-educated people living in the inner-suburbs. They are 35-49. They are image conscious and environmentally-conscious, brand-aware and socially-aware. They are creative, with a high disposable income.

“They see shows and travel frequently. They drive compact cars. He has a Moleskine and Netflix account. She subscribes to Vanity Fair and the New Yorker.”

Jesus wept. Is it possible to conceive of a demographic more unattractive than the self-righteous and self-absorbed middle class this advertising monstrosity describes?

Of course it wouldn’t matter a jot if this was all there was to it. If the Moleskine and Vanity Fair set want a newspaper that panders to their prejudices, why not say good luck to them? After all, no one begrudges the British aristocracy their weekly copy of Horse and Hound (well, almost nobody).

The problem, of course, is that over the last 20 years in Australia a concerted campaign by the right has largely succeeded in convincing people there is a connection between this latte liberalism and the left.

It was entirely predictable, then, that Gerard Henderson leapt at the opportunity with the enthusiasm of a terrier in heat. The new paper should be called “The Sandalista”, he suggested, before heading off on a mirth-filled denunciation of all his liberal and leftist enemies.

The “battlers vs. elites” myth – and myth is what it is – has created a narrative whereby concern for the human rights of refugees, or support of equality for women, migrants or LGBTI people, is portrayed as a luxury of the university-educated middle class. Worrying about such matters is allegedly counterposed to the bread and butter concerns of blue collar workers, whose interests are championed by Rupert Murdoch, Gina Rinehart and the Liberal Party MPs who represent working class heartlands like Toorak and the North Shore.

It’s a narrative driven by the billionaire lobby in the Murdoch press, and reinforced by cynical hacks in and around the Labor right. The latter cover their sneering social conservatism with phoney rhetoric about understanding the economic concerns of the working class, when in fact it is precisely the slash and burn neoliberal economic policies of the Labor right that are responsible for the party’s deepening alienation from blue collar workers.

It is not only the opponents of the left who are to blame, however. The long era of setbacks for the workers’ movement have led some on the left to abandon the class politics that are central to any meaningful definition of what it is to be left wing, and instead now see radical politics as little more than the championing of a series of compartmentalised social issues.

If the left is to be rebuilt, it needs to break decisively with any identification with the politics of middle class individualism, and contribute to the reconstruction of a labour movement that is the champion of working class struggle for jobs and decent wages and living conditions. The labour movement – whose core ethos is centred on collectivism and solidarity – is the real basis for a broader movement in which the struggle for the rights and dignity of workers goes hand in hand with a struggle against all the reactionary social policies that are used to divide the powerless against each other, and ensure that the Rineharts and the Murdochs continue to sit at the top of the tree.

If the first issue of the Saturday Paper says that, I’ll happily apologise for any offence. But I’m not holding my breath.