It's a peculiar image to launch a website with. Picture a ramshackle milk bar somewhere in suburban Victoria, accompanying an opinion piece headlined “From laissez faire to much, much fairer”.
Such is the way that thefairgo.com – the Liberal Party’s foray into online campaigning – chose to go.
The image and title encapsulate the contradictions that Australian right wing politics increasingly confront. The milk bar brings a sense of nostalgia, conjuring up memories of playing space invaders after getting your chocolate milkshake from one of the mouldy smelling fridges.
Yet milk bars are fast disappearing. There are now little more than 1,000 left across Victoria. Cluttered appearance and peculiar odours notwithstanding, their decline has been mainly due to the advent of longer supermarket opening hours which overwhelmingly advantaged the two main grocery chains: Coles and Woolworths.
It was precisely the owners of milk bars and other small businesses who were the bedrock of Liberal Party branches. Decades of pro-market policies led to a squeeze on these small businesses. Laissez faire really meant giving corporate capital open slather.
Peter Strong, the author of the milk bar article, claims: “It’s time the Australians who make up the small business sector got a genuinely fair go”.
The main story in Australia since the early 1980s has been a gradual shift of the proportions of national income going to wages and profits – the wages share down, the profits share up.
But there’s another story in the figures: the income share of “unincorporated enterprises” (non-corporate firms) fell dramatically, from more than 30 to just over 20 percent of GDP, between 1960 and 1980. This corresponded with a decline in the number of small farmers and other small businesses. It has stayed at that level until today.
The financially squeezed owners of small businesses seldom blame the real cause of their hardship: big capital and its political representatives. Instead it is “the unions”, “greedy workers”, “too many immigrants” and so on.
The politics of “the fair go” caters to these illusions, because in reality the site is about a fair go for the rich – like the silver spoon offspring of the late reactionary columnist Paddy McGuinness. In one piece at the site, Parnell McGuinness describes popular left wing politicians Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn as “shuffling, slipper-wearing, above the workaday fray grand-daddies”.
Yet as more than one observer noted, the launch of the fair go website in May was followed mostly by older men who make Corbyn and Sanders look like the leaders of a youth contingent. McGuinness rants:
“It is vital that our immigration and residency criteria protect Australia from going down the path of a Europe which has been weakened by division and is now being wracked [sic] by Islamic terrorism. One of the foundation stones of effective integration is a shared language.”
In other words, support the Coalition’s regressive changes to immigration policy. It is just as overt as One Nation’s foul Islamophobia.
Some have speculated that thefairgo.com is an attempt to counter the influence of Getup! – the mostly pro-Labor online campaign site. Getup!’s real aim was always to channel campaigns into getting ALP governments elected.
Labor leaders knew that few activists were attracted to joining the ALP because the party had long been committed to policies as pro-big business as the Coalition’s. Hence, a “civil society” cloak was invented to subtly bring people back in behind the ALP.
Thefairgo.com is more about appealing to the disenchanted on the right who have migrated to One Nation and other far right outfits. As David Marr has shown, social media was important for bringing disenchanted older voters behind Pauline Hanson.
It will be amusing to watch how thefairgo.com competes for this audience. It can scapegoat migrants and bash unions, but sooner or later it will have to defend the Liberal Party’s inevitable attacks on small businesses and older voters.