12 June 2011

The ALP after the NSW election - facing the Canadian conundrum?

The Greens subsequently won the seat of Balmain following the publication of the previous article.

However, ultimately the coalition now holds 42 seats on margins above 20%, with the ALP requiring a swing of 16.5% to win next time.

The Libs now hold some extraordinary seats by extraordinary margins. They include Londonderry (13.1%), Penrith (16.3%), Riverstone (20.3%) and, even more remarkably, seats like Campbelltown (3.4%) and Smithfield (4.8%).

They highlight the dilemma the ALP has in trying to square representing both working people and the inner urban ‘progressive’ professionals.

John Faulkner recently had (another) go at prescribing a solution when he delivered the Wran lecture.

As Simon Benson observed in the Daily Telegraph:

Faulkner's thesis centres on a belief that the reason Labor's membership has disappeared was not only as a result of the cancerous machine-dominated process of preselections but because they failed to engage on left issues, causing a leakage of future Labor activists to fringe organisations like Get Up…….

If Labor had not been afraid to embrace Left-wing issues before the election, people would not have voted Green.

That is one view. Benson himself thought the real problem for the ALP was:

….the political dead weight of the trade union movement.

When they represented the bulk of the workforce they had legitimacy in the ALP. At their current 15 per cent - the majority of which are in public sector unions - they have a diminished legitimacy.

Another view.

As Peter Hartcher said in an opinion piece following Faulkner’s speech:

Labor is now in an existential crisis. For the first time, it has a serious political challenger capable of taking seats from its left, as well as the traditional enemy on the right, the Coalition.

If an elector wants to vote for a conservative party, she can vote for a real conservative party, the Liberals. If an elector wants to vote for a progressive party, he can vote for a real progressive party, the Greens.

Why vote for the one in the middle? Only 31 per cent of voters would bother, according to the latest Herald Nielsen poll, and that's about 9 percentage points fewer than Labor needs if it hopes to stand for election as a party capable of governing in its own right.

The worst case scenario is that Labor will face the ‘Canadian conundrum’.

For many years the Canadian Liberals acted as the dominant ‘brokerage’ party, with long periods of government. By monopolising the centre (and centre left) it usually pushed the conservative parties (as constituted from time to time) to the extremes.

However, following a loss of government the Liberals became increasingly trapped between a successful Conservative Party and the New Democrats, a progressive party perhaps best described as what a combination of the ALP left and the Greens would look like.

The Liberals suffered the worst outcome imaginable:

Then came the unexpected surge of the NDP, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s eleventh-hour appeal to Liberal voters with economically conservative leanings, often called blue Liberals. “Let me speak very clearly to traditional Liberal voters: I know many of you do not want NDP policies. That you do not want NDP tax hikes,” Mr. Harper said on Sunday.

The message: Only we can protect your prosperity.

The result is that the Conservatives were able to achieve in 2011 what eluded them in 2008, a coalition of economically conservative-minded voters who cast their ballots based on pocketbook issues rather than concerns over cultural issues, including the Tories’ supposed leanings toward social conservatism.

Those blue Liberals were the missing element in the Conservative coalition. In the 1990s, they were the foundation of the successive Liberal sweeps of Ontario. So long as they remained with the Liberals, Mr. Harper would be shut out of the urban heart of most big Canadian cities.

But the rise of the NDP, which siphoned off progressive-minded Liberals, clearly spooked a sizable number of blue Liberals, causing them to bolt to Mr. Harper in the last weekend of campaigning...

This could be the federal fate of the ALP if Tony Abbott commences to concentrate on values than being the party of ‘no’ and if the Labor fails to reform itself.

The question is – can Labor?

The (second most) recent appointment to the NSW Legislative Council was Walt Secord.

As the Sun Herald reports:

After he left Carr's office, Hawker gave Secord work at his Labor-aligned lobbyist firm Hawker Britton before parachuting him into Rudd's office in Canberra 12 months before the Kevin07 campaign. Straight after the historic win for Labor, Secord was moved (some say shafted) to the office of Justine Elliot, the then minister for ageing, before returning to Sydney in 2009 to work briefly for treasurer Eric Roozendaal and then Keneally.

Keneally describes Secord as ''among Australia's best'' political and media operators but also ''policy smart''....


Liberals are happy to see Secord in the upper house where he will be joined by the former primary industries minister Steve Whan, who lost his seat of Monaro but will be parachuted into the Legislative Council to raise the ALP's leadership stocks.

“Having Walt Secord and Steve Whan taking up seats is just more proof that Labor talks about renewal but still hasn't acted upon the talk,'' says the Liberal source.

In NSW at least, until Labor change the view that the best government is drawn from from a parliament of the nomenklatura they face a long time in the wilderness

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