Monday, February 28, 2011

Conroy right on factions, but also wrong...

A report today that Stephen Conroy has noted that factions are "a fact of life, so to try and pretend that you can wave them away is to, again, spend your time indulging yourself in a debate that's utterly pointless."

He was responding to calls from Kevin Rudd that if Labor was to remain a viable party of the people, that it eliminate the power of factional leaders and factional bosses.

Conroy is right that factions will emerge in any group where majority rule works. Factions are just the manifestation of how people will agree to side with one another to achieve common objects. That, after all, is why factions now emerge in the Liberal Party. Indeed the stronger the party discipline on not crossing the floor of Parliament has become, the stronger the Liberal factions become.

Conroy is also right that rule changes about the term of the national president are just "indulgences."

But what both Rudd and Conroy should embrace is the possibility to get factions to again be concerned about philosophical and policy positions rather than the mere thuggery of the ability to exercise power. The latter is what the NSW Right has become, and it does so through the exercise of power through the union part of the structure not the branch part.

(Note, I know there are many right branches, but these are often people who are counting on patronage from the industrial right. Neither Left nor Right stands for any ideological position. The Left has been as much to blame for the gutting of debate from part activity as the right.)

As a case in point consider the question of appointing the Ministry. If the PM gets to appoint Ministers then you run the risk of Ministers not being prepared to speak up on matters of importance for fear of punishment. But the caucus appointment system degenerated to lists generated by factions and sub-factions to share around the spoils. Neither of those is guaranteed to generate the best Ministry.

But if you genuinely said to the caucus, I want you to list the thirty people you think would do the best job at running the country, and by extension winning an election, then I'm prepared to bet you'd get the very best Ministry. It all went south when Robert Ray and John Faulkner used the factional system to deliver to Bob Hawke the Ministry he wanted.

The evil is "show and tell". We have a secret ballot for general elections for a reason - it stops bribery and tammany practices. Yet the ALP is prepared to condone it at annual conferences and in the caucus. By all means let factions discuss and agree, but remove the thuggery.

As for Rudd, he has no one to blame but himself. Firstly he allowed himself to believe in the importance of the NSW Right. Having done so he became their hostage. Though the move against him came initially from other States it remained the NSW Right that pulled the trigger.

And what cost Rudd his job was doing Bitar and Arbib's bidding on climate change.

The reports (1, 2 and 3) on the secret parts of the ALP review make interesting reading. The NSW Right is proud of its achievement in winning Greenway and holding Lindsay but they benefited from the Liberal's failure to campaign well.

But the telling part is that all the stuff Rudd did to help retain the Western Sydney seats alienated the rest of the support base.

Ultimately I think that Rodney Cavalier has it right with his tireless campaign about the role of the unions in the party. Until the ALP is run by a membership of people who have decided they want to be part of the party it will continue to only act in the interests of the political class. Can anyone explain to me why Joe be Bryun of the shoppies and Paul Howes of the AWU should be as influential as they are?

Second note: My concern is not a Howard-like rejection of unions nor their right to engage in political campaigns. It is against the idea that unions any longer as a group accurately represent the aspirations and interests of the working class.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

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