Corbyn-lite Shorten has mastered a popular dance

Corbyn-lite Shorten has mastered a popular dance, by David Uren.

Bill Shorten has more in common with Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders in the US than he does with the last Labor leader to snatch power from the Coalition, Kevin Rudd. Shorten is part of the new wave of left populist leaders that repudiates the “third way” mantra that drove Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and Rudd.

Corbyn has been dismissed by many, including some in leadership positions in the Australian Labor Party, as a 1970s Marxist throwback destined to lead the British Labour Party to a catastrophic defeat.

When Theresa May called a snap election six weeks ago, the Labour Party languished in the polls, supported by just 25 per cent of the electorate against 46 per cent for the Conservatives. This would have been enough to deliver the Conservatives a thumping majority of 395 seats to Labour’s 164.

But polls taken last weekend show the Conservative lead has narrowed to just 6 per cent. …

Populist policies from the left:

His election manifesto includes several themes shared with Shorten, including lifting the top rate of personal income tax, restricting company tax cuts to small business and a crackdown on the use of foreign workers. “Let’s build a Britain that works for the many, not the few,” Corbyn says. With similar sentiments, Shorten used his budget reply speech to declare that a Labor budget would “stand up for middle-class and working-class families, instead of taking their money and giving it to millionaires and multinationals”.

The essence of populism, whether from the left or the right, is an appeal to represent the mass of the people over a vilified group of outsiders. For Donald Trump it was Mexicans, Muslims and the Washington establishment. For Corbyn, Sanders and Shorten, it is the “big end of town” and the “millionaires”. …

Small business is seen as good and big business bad. Corbyn plans to increase taxes on large companies while introducing a special low rate for small business. Shorten casts the government’s tax cuts for all companies as ­rewarding tax-avoiding multi­nationals.

The third way is yesterday’s trash:

It is a profoundly different political strategy to that of the previous generation of social democrat party leaders.

The term “the third way” was popularised by a think tank associated with Bill Clinton, the Democratic Leadership Council, in the late 1990s and taken up by Blair. [It] … was not a “middle way” but an effort to find an alternative to the failed “neoliberalism” of the right and the top-down state ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy and Keynesian demand management of traditional social democrat parties.

The “third way” was intended to overcome the traditional antagonisms between left and right by imposing a moral framework based on a communitarian ideal. Differing opinions became a matter of right or wrong. Rudd famously described climate change as “the greatest moral challenge of our time”.

He also took a strongly moral stance in his essays denouncing “neoliberalism” and its role in the financial crisis.

Rather than state ownership, Blair pressed the case for “market design”, where government’s role was to shape the rules so that commerce was fairly transacted. …

Shorten is a rich Labor insider:

Unlike Sanders or Corbyn, Shorten is no outsider, boasting an impeccable Labor pedigree. He also lacks the authenticity that is part of their appeal. Nor does he come from the left, as do Corbyn and Sanders.

The British Labour Party’s manifesto goes far beyond Australian Labor’s policy positions; for example, calling for the renationalisation of the railways, water and the post.