In New South Wales, Labor has largely abandoned any tie it has to left wing politics at all. The two different sides of politics didn’t disagree on much substantively
The ALP is very much a creature of its past. You need to understand its history to understand why it acts the way it does now.
There are two key reasons why NSW Labor is so cautious and conservative.
- A right-wing majority that has ruled the NSW ALP for the past 70 years; and
- The right-wing majority is wedded to the McKell model.
While I’m wary to quote Michael Costa, he sums up the McKell model pretty well (except he forgets the role of compromise between the machine and leadership):
The politics of the model are simple; it involves accepting the political conservatism of most of the electorate and acting sensitively to public concerns. Gradualism and moderation are seen as the key to political success.
Until recently the party machine and the moderate leadership of the Labor movement accepted this successful approach. It meant that the dominant faction supported its parliamentary leadership. In parliamentary terms Centre Unity, the dominant group, was the leader’s dependable support base.
McKell model supporters have argued that sticking to the model is the reason why New South Wales has been a Labor stronghold with conservative governments for only 18 of the past 70 years. Supporters will be explaining that the 2011 election result is due to NSW Labor straying from the McKell model during electricity privatisation.
Tomorrow, after it suffers its worst election result since 1904, a debate within the NSW ALP will begin. It will be between those who argue that the party strayed from the McKell model (from Centre Unity aka Labor Right) and those, emboldened by the recommendations of the National Review, who will argue for branch reform and democratisation (from the rank-and-file and the Socialist Left aka Labor Left). The NSW debate is likely to mirror the debate on the National Review occurring nationally.
Whichever side wins the debate will shape how Labor acts and governs into the future. If reformers wins in NSW, there will be a massive change in the ALP and we will see a less cautious and conservative ALP across the country.
For the record, I’m pro-reform.