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Open letter to Mark Latham: You cannot win without my vote!

By Nige (Nudge) Edwards - posted Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Dear Mark,

Let me begin by stating what should be the bleeding obvious: YOU CANNOT WIN WITHOUT MY VOTE.

Who am I to make such a presumptuous statement? Well I'm a motor mechanic, I'm married, I have two mortgages, and I've just voted in my seventh federal election. I wear a blue collar and get greasy and sweaty for a living, and occasionally despise my job. I'm a member of a union (for the moment) and a service club, as well as being a part-time uni student. I have been both tenant and landlord, sometimes simultaneously. I've either worked as an employee, independent contractor or run my own business in four different electorates in three states during the last decade. Oh, and I occasionally write a column in On Line Opinion on the politics of the workforce under the pseudonym Ern O'Malley. Demographically I should be an unquestioning Labor supporter. So why have I voted for the Coalition at the last 4 elections?


Mark, it is because the union hacks, policy wonks, shiny-bums, bleeding hearts and pointy-heads that run your party have simply failed to comprehend the changing nature of the Australian workforce that Labor purports to represent. You are still assuming a dichotomous Australia, divided between the haves and the have-nots, the privileged and the under-privileged, the white and the blue collar. Guess what, mate? The country no longer works that way. Neil Brown in The Australian (October 12, 2004) is at least one member of the “commentariat” who understands the fault lines have changed.

So you won 38 per cent of the vote this time, one of the lowest ever primary votes for Labor. No doubt that the majority of these people are rusted-on Labor voters, who wouldn't change their vote. They are the welfare recipients, the taxi-drivers, the award workers and the true believers.

But what of the skilled workforce? The modern tradesperson is smart, savvy, opinionated and influential. “Tradies” may wear blue collars and have dirt under their nails, but many of us have university-graduate incomes and middle-class lifestyles. We are climbing our own individual ladders of opportunity, through education, small business opportunities, and negative gearing. And there are a couple of million of us out there.

Mark, be crystal clear on this: LABOR CANNOT WIN WITHOUT OUR VOTES!

I know hundreds of skilled workers, and the overwhelming majority have voted for the Coalition since 1996, despite traditionally being Labor voters. We were "Howard's Battlers" who struggled under the 13 years of "Hard Labor" and finally tired of Keating's arrogance. Since then, we have worked hard to climb the economic ladder of opportunity offered by the reforms of both the previous Labor and current Liberal governments. We are now a distinct class of our own, and have much in common with both sides of the previous dichotomy. And we are the votes you must win back to win government.

The danger for Labor is that after four elections, the skilled workforce is now voting Liberal by default. What this means is that with no discernable policy difference between the parties, our vote will go to the Coalition. Labor must give us a reason to change our vote in order to win it, or be forever doomed to Opposition.


We were all hanging on waiting for that reason, Mark, and it never came. That is why the opinion polls showed such a large “undecided” vote so late in the campaign. We wanted to hear about your "ladder of opportunity" that featured prominently several months ago. We wanted to hear about tax reform. We have grown tired of Howard and wanted a reason to change, but you failed to provide it. There were three distinct moments when you drove a stake through the heart of your victory: school funding, Medicare Gold and the forests policy.

Regardless of the current inequities in the system, your school-funding announcement was dangerously exclusionist and smacked of religious favouritism. Our kids may not go to private schools, but it is our aspiration that they do.

We saw Medicare Gold as an uncontrollable expansion of the welfare culture that would ultimately come from our pockets and as being an exclusive policy creating further class division.

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This is an edited version of an Open letter to Mark Latham.

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About the Author

Nige Edwards also writes for On Line Opinion under the pseudonym Ern O'Malley.

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