Monday, March 28, 2011

What to make of it - and what now

The NSW election has delivered - mostly - the results expected. However, as Imre Saluszinsky succinctly reported in the Oz, the result was still more a vote for the Centre than extremes.

Pauline Hanson failed miserably to attract support - though her 1.85% was still double that of the remnant Australian Democrats. More interestingly the Greens again failed to win an inner-city lower house seat. Their nearly 11% Upper House vote includes large slabs from those seats on the North Shore where the Greens out-polled (by as much as double) the ALP.

But the real story was the destruction of the ALP - and a 2PP vote of about the 35% forecast in the polls.

Bob Carr provides an interesting account describing the route as a "work of genius" - but not by O'Farrell but by the ALP itself. Carr's take is that the ALP failed the "McKell model", saying

It was a symbolic repudiation of the McKell model, the style of NSW Labor since William McKell (premier 1941-47). McKell's moderate ethos was based on middle course policies which gave the party support in the bush as well as the city.It was possible because the machine supported the parliamentary leadership, the premier of the day. This pattern prevailed under Joe Cahill, Neville Wran and me.

Rodney Cavalier in Power Crisis (reviewed by me here) places the blame here the other way round. Under the McKell model the Parliamentary Party took the party with it, not, as Carr suggests, was the party machine always merely the lap-dog of the parliamentary party.

It is naive of anyone to ever believe that in a stoush between the parliamentary party and the party organisation that the parliamentary party will win. It is untrue of a party with the pledge like the ALP but ultimately is unsustainable even in a party like the Liberals (or more pertinently the UAP).

It isn't even hard to find divergent views on KK. ALP General Secretary Sam Dastyari wrote;

The one figure whose stature rose in everybody's eyes during the campaign was Kristina Keneally. A talented and polished performer when she rose to be premier, she excelled as a campaigner. Her energy and her will to fight to the end impressed voters across the spectrum. People kept telling us, again and again, that they admired how she stood up for what she believed in. That attitude and commitment needs to be the spirit of Labor in opposition.

While former Howard CoS Arthur Sinodinis wrote;

Kristina Keneally has proved to be a major disappointment. It is doubtful she has any real future in politics, state or federal. She may be a feisty and attractive campaigner but there is no evidence her political skills during the campaign added to Labor's vote. But her actions before the campaign proper began showed the absence of mature political judgment.

First and foremost was her failure to support Nathan Rees who at least was attempting, if only at the 11th hour, to reform the worst excesses of state Labor. Keneally gained the premiership over Rees's dead body. She was the revenge of Sussex Street power brokers on a reforming premier...

Her botching of the electricity sale to satisfy the ambitions of her Treasurer - and the treatment of parliament in that process - convinced the public that re-electing this government would change nothing. Indeed, there was a danger that rewarding bad behaviour would only encourage it.

The latter is a telling statement. There seemed to be no real benefit in pursuing the electricity privatisation so close to the poll - other than to let BOF off - he'll just say "oh terrible deal but too hard to undo". It would have been good to see the man who voted down the original proposals have to deal with the issue in the next four years.

Equally it would have been interesting to see the ALP vote with Nathan Rees having the full run. Mind you, even more interesting would have been John Watkins replacing Bob Carr instead of Morris Iemma.

The question is - what now. Predictably John Faulkner has called for factions and individuals to put the party first. In that he wants support for party reforms recommended by the 2010 Review.

The review report contains nice sentiments like;

The Review Committee believes developing a modern and meaningful role for members within a democratic party is the fundamental challenge facing the modern Labor Party.

For Labor to effectively develop and articulate a modern reform agenda, it must stay closely connected to the broader progressive community, and our connection to Australia’s youth must be revived. This is best done by ensuring that we are open and authentic about our values and committed to involving members and reaching out to supporters. Labor must reach out to the progressive movements which already exist in Australia and which previously have provided the Party with innovation in policy and ideas. ...

The Review Committee believes that the Party should also explicitly adopt an organising approach to growing the Party membership. ... The Party should also formalise training activities through the creation of a national organising and training institute or academy. This body would be responsible for organising classes and courses for members and supporters on building the
Labor presence in local communities, as well as becoming a new home for the Party’s campaign training initiatives.

While seeking a "modern and meaningful role for members", the report backs the current 50/50 representation between branches and affiliate organisations (unions). While it makes some recommendations about reducing the rorting of the 50% from members (by including in it parliamentary representatives, young labor etc), and electing Presidents from the membership, it doesn't address the fact that members know they are irrelevant at conference. And the key party position - just as it was for Joe Stalin - is General Secretary, not President.

The view of the review that Labor "must stay closely connected to the broader progressive community" can be contrasted with the view of those from the academic (and indeed Socialist Alternative) left. Rick Kuhn has recently opined that "the relationship between the ALP and the working class is certainly much less intimate now than it was a century or even fifty years ago." He builds on work he has done with Tom Bramble in their book Labor's Conflict which was also summarised in an article in the Oz last year.

In both these pieces there is reference to " low-working-class combativity" leading Kuhn to conclude;

On the other hand, a revival in workers’ combativity may lead many of them to conclude that their own actions could challenge the logic of production for profits and the structures of Australian politics, both embraced by Labor, that create their immediate problems.

This analysis provides one of the alternative narratives about the ALP - that it is either doing too much or too little to (a) embrace all progressive movements or (b) focus on its blue collar base.

Either is simplistic. The "progressive" cause is too broad to provide a cohesive base - just ask the Australian Democrats. The 'blue collar base" is too narrow, representing something less than 20% of the workforce.

The alternative is to redefine a philosophy of the left to give new meaning to "the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange" to not focus on ownership but instead on purpose. The enemy is not profit, but the idea that the "purpose of the firm is to create shareholder value". The latter is not only bad political philosophy, it is economically and historically incorrect.

Finally let us return to the Dastyari analysis. He writes that;

We need to address the factional system at a state parliamentary level. In the past this served Labor and the state well as it brought internal discipline and clarity to the party's thoughts and actions.

He needs to look closer to home. The factional system pervades Sussex St, and every other organ of the party. If he really wants to make inroads he needs to first prohibit the “show and tell” voting arrangements used to ensure factional discipline.

Secondly he needs to show real commitment to rebuilding the party by returning it to a truly democratic party in which decisions ultimately come from members who chose to join the party. That means cranking down union representation at conference to where it was when the party was founded, zero.

Unfortunately the parliamentary party is expected to select the former head of Unions NSW as its new leader. As Morris Iemma is says "Robbo becoming leader is not a good start".

What do Unsworth, Costa, Della Bosca and Roozendaal have in common? They were either former General Secretaries of the party or heads of the NSW Union movement. Oh, and they were monumental failures in parliamentary politics.

(Mind you Costa is quoted as saying "In my opinion Robbo has neither the intellect nor the political courage required to be an alternative premier." Problem is that was true of Costa as Treasurer too. Too little has been written about the role of Costa as Treasurer in canning the original North-West rail proposal and backing instead the ludicrous "metro line" that cost about $500M.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

No comments: