How the impact of branchstacking in Victorian Labor differs to NSW Labor

With the fallout in Victorian Labor, attention has fallen on the practice of branchstacking. Branchstacking within political parties is not anything new and happens in all parties. The combination of low membership numbers and the closed, privately regulated nature of party preselections in Australia means it occurs but is usually only acted upon when the results go against the ruling grouping unless there is significant public scrutiny.

While other Labor state branches do have a history of branch stacking, the Victorian Labor rules provide particular incentives that do not exist, for example, within the New South Wales Labor rules.

In Victorian Labor, state and federal preselections (other than for the Senate) occur via a combination of a 50% local component from rank-and-file members and 50% votes from the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC). The 100 member POSC is elected by the State Conference which has 600 delegates.

Furthermore, the 300 rank-and-file delegates to State Conference are allocated to each federal electorate on the basis of the number of members in that electorate. The Federal Electorate Assembly (FEA) delegate results from 2019 give an indication of the divergent number of delegates each federal electorate gets, which reflects the likely location of stacking.

FEA Total Socialist Left Right Industrial Left Independents
Aston 3 0 3
Ballarat 7 5 2
Bendigo 6 3 1 2
Bruce 17 8 9
Calwell 16 6 10
Casey 3 1 2
Chisholm 6 1 4 1
Cooper 20 5 12 2 1
Corangamite 5 3 1 1
Corio 5 2 3
Deakin 3 1 2
Dunkley 5 4 1
Flinders 3 1 1 1
Fraser 20 1 19
Gellibrand 8 3 3 1 1
Gippsland 2 1 1
Goldstein 5 1 3 1
Gorton 12 5 7
Higgins 6 1 4 1
Holt 6 3 3
Hotham 11 2 8 1
Indi 2 0 2
Isaacs 6 3 3
Jagajaga 13 4 9
Kooyong 4 2 1 1
La Trobe 4 3 1
Lalor 6 3 3
Mallee 2 2
Maribyrnong 12 2 10
McEwen 5 2 3
Monash 3 1 1 1
Melbourne 14 8 3 1 2
Macnamara 12 4 6 2
Menzies 4 3 1
Nichols 2 0 2
Scullin 19 10 9
Wannon 3 1 2
Wills 20 4 15 1
Total 300 108 168 6 18

The party rules means that stacking in one geographic area has statewide implications for preselections because more State Conference delegates means more spots on the POSC, which can override the local component in preselections even if localised stacking does not result in a majority of the local vote. It results in horsetrading between groupings as a combination of enough of a local vote plus a bloc on the POSC can override the local component.

How does this differ to other states? Well NSW Labor is far from immune from branchstacking with historical examples in the inner city throughout the 1980s, Wollongong, Cabramatta, Liverpool and the Inner West in the 1990s and around Bondi in the mid-2000s. But where stacking occurred, its impact is more localised because of how preselections occur and the fixed number of indirectly-elected delegates from each state and federal electorate to NSW State Conference, regardless of the number of rank-and-file members who reside in an electorate. There is also no equivalent to the POSC, NSW Conference selecting the Upper House and Senate ticket.

The NSW Labor rules also include anti-stacking “tripwire” if five or more members apply to join a branch at one ordinary meeting or more than fifty members apply to join a branch at one formation meeting that freezes this. Some may argue this is more about maintaining existing control top stop challengers but it also makes the scenes in Tarnait less likely.

Though NSW Lower House preselections are notionally 100% rank-and-file votes, there was a previous N40 rule that could be invoked, which allowed a combination of 50% Administrative Committee and 50% delegates to the State or Federal Electorate Council (excluding the additional affirmative action weighting given to female candidates). The N40 rule (now N41) has not been used in recent times due to its extensive abuse by the Terrigal sub-faction of the NSW Right to impose its candidates in Lower House seats.

What it means is NSW Labor has a massively malapportioned delegate system that does not reflect the geographic distribution of membership to the benefit of the NSW Right who hold a majority at State Conference as a result. It also means there is less incentive for factional fragmentation to horsetrade like in Victoria and branchstacking does not have a strong statewide impact on preselections.

It is important to understand how party structures drive particular incentives if we are serious about party reform to tackle branchstacking in parties and to have true mass membership parties, otherwise changes will be ineffective and only ever be superficial.

Challenge Magazine Editorial – 2018 ALP National Conference

The next year will be a pivotal year for progressive politics. Australia may become the most populated Western country governed by a social-democratic party if Labor wins in the federal election due next year. We have a responsibility to provide leadership at home and abroad and inspire our sister parties by doing what is right.

While Labor has put forward the most economically progressive platform it has in some time, our narrow focus limits the deeper conversation we need to have. Rightly there is a focus on job security, increasing wages, and funding for public services such as health and education but it cannot be at the expense of ignoring deep seated challenges that are only growing. With only a decade to combat climate change and the growing erosion of democratic norms, distrust of our institutions and attacks on pluralism, not only across the region but at home, by illiberal nationalist and conservative forces, Labor urgently needs to sketch out how it will credibly respond to these crises.

Calls for “sensible centrism” misread the public mood. Labor’s landslide victory in Victoria challenges the conventional wisdom that we must choose between our progressive base and suburban swinging voters. The public is ready for a bold progressive offer so long as it also delivers on their every day concerns and provides a credible plan for the future.

This National Conference is our opportunity to show Australians our offer for the next election. We will be judged by future generations if all we are willing to offer is incremental changes that focus on improving immediate material interests of swinging voters in marginal seats and alleviating excessive inequality but do not offer the transformative agenda that is needed to head off the climate crisis, reinforce our democratic institutions or fundamentally shift power relations to ensure economy to ensure it serves the people.

Our offer needs an economic agenda that delivers real change, both at home and abroad. We need a progressive energy policy that tackles climate change equitably and guarantees a just transition that does not leave workers behind.

It calls for a reshaping the social security system to ensure it does not punish and bring shame but rather provides the support that all our citizens deserve.

It demands rebuilding trust and strengthening our democratic institutions with a commitment to doing what is right, not easy, by embracing the Uluru Statement in full before any attempt at becoming a republic, actively working towards an international ban on nuclear weapons and ending the inhumane treatment of refugees which continues to damage the moral fabric of our nation.

It requires confronting and fighting the resentful nativism of One Nation that has infected our body politic and defeating its antipodean Poujadism. Ground zero for this battle against their nasty politics will be Queensland where Labor’s path to victory runs through.

An ambitious agenda that seeks to transform the country cannot be elite-led and decreed from above. It requires a mass democratic party where rank-and-file members and affiliated unions are both valued and have a genuine say. It also means we need a more representative party that reflects the community that we represent. The Left has led on improving the representation of women across society and in our public institutions, but we have much more to do to better represent people of colour if we are truly committed to multiculturalism.

It is up to all of us to take this responsibility seriously and to reject short-termism. We should not expect a honeymoon period and we must not indulge in what the community might see as arrogant, tribal triumphalism. We must not squander this opportunity to deliver what Australia needs to do to achieve good society. The price of failure will be felt by future generations. It is time to get to work.

Published in the 2018 National Conference edition of Challenge Magazine

Understanding Labor beyond Sydney and Melbourne

A few years ago, the NSW Socialist Left celebrated its 60th anniversary and got historian Frank Bongiorno contributing a short history of the faction. I re-read the short history a few days ago and it got me thinking about the origins of the Left faction in other states.

While there is often much talk about rumblings within the Left faction, as I have previously written, the reality is that it is a loose coalition of state-based groupings. They are shaped by local factors and histories which mean they often disagree (as shown at the recent ALP National Conference) and even have their own sub-groupings. The state-based nature of the ALP also meant that the various factions did not all form at the same time and are very much creations of certain circumstances and local party cultures, something that is not well understood or analysed.

The NSW Combined Unions and Branches Steering Committee (as the Socialist Left was originally known as) was formed in 1954-55 to fight the Groupers, however, the Victorian Socialist Left was only formed after federal intervention in 1970. Elsewhere around the country, formalised Left factions were formed at later dates. For example, in Queensland, a formalised Socialist Left only established itself in 1978-79 around then Senator George Georges. In Tasmania, party reform in 1976 resulted in dominance by the ‘Broad Left’ from the mid-1970s onwards which became a formal faction in 1983. The ACT Left Caucus was not formed until the early 1980s. In each of these cases, a Left faction was instigated by local circumstances and those local factors meant that they were often ideologically and operationally quite different.

The experience of South Australia and Western Australia is different, in part because factionalism was imported from the other states. Until the 1980s, much of the rest of the party outside the East Coast was not factionalised. Two factors changed this. Firstly, in 1981, ALP National Conference approved the introduction of proportional representation for the remaining state branches. As Clem Lloyd and Wayne Swan pointed out in their 1987 Australian Journal of Political Science article ‘National Factions and the ALP‘:

Because the state machines could no longer control the composition of National Conference and National Executive delegations, a premium was placed on factional representation which transcended state limits.

Prior to then, the Labor Right did not organise beyond the state level and the Left only had a rudimentary national structure at best. Whoever already controlled the branch had complete control and there was limited incentive because it required complete control.

Secondly, it was the formation of proper national factions, instigated ironically by the creation of the National Centre Left in Adelaide on 19 February 1984, that led to factionalisation in states like Western Australia and South Australia. The Centre Left established itself in opposition to the factionalism of Left and Right factions. Lloyd and Swan explained that:

Lacking any prospect for winning power bases in NSW and Victoria, where existing factions honeycombed the ALP structure, the National Centre Left focussed its aspirations on the outer states which were largely unfactionalised.

Reflecting on all this, it becomes clear that whenever Labor’s past is discussed, it only really focuses on either Sydney or Melbourne or the going ons in the Commonwealth Parliament. It overlooks the importance of local factors in shaping distinct party cultures that do have an impact on national decisions. Labor still is a federation of state branches with alliances across state lines. The Labor Party is more than what happens in Sydney, Melbourne and the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. There should be more knowledge and discussion about these local histories such as the origins of local factions and political clashes to understand how and why things are the way they are.

The danger of generational politics

Released yesterday, Richard Cooke’s essay in The Monthly has really touched a nerve. Lots of friends have shared the essay on social media, saying how it captures how they feel about the dominance of the Baby Boomers.

For many young people, it is increasingly hard to find a secure, well paying job. Many rack up big debts to pay for their education but still can’t find a permanent job. At the same time, housing is increasingly unaffordable with any hope of home ownership disappearing. At the same time, they feel patronised by an older generation who condescendingly say they just need to make sacrifices like they did. Yet it was a different age, an age of secure jobs, free education and more affordable housing, something almost inconceivable today.

This resentment at Boomers isn’t anything new, it has been bubbling away for awhile. While Generation Less is being released next month, a decade ago Please Just F* Off, It’s Our Turn Now was released. The young sticking it to older generations isn’t anything new, the Baby Boomers rebelled against their parents, but something makes the current situation different. There is a pervasive sense that young people today will be the first generation since the Great Depression that will be worse off than their parents.

What’s more is that young people are increasingly angry and frustrated that they have been sold a lie. They have grown up in an individualised, consumer-driven world where it was about their choices. The idea that you can do anything you want to do, work hard and you’ll be successful and the future would keep improving was uncontested. There was an emphasis was on social mobility and equality of opportunity, “growing the pie”, not redistribution. Post-GFC, people are starting to realise that it is utter bollocks.

The strange thing is that it has taken the form of intergenerational rather than class conflict. Young people are railing against an unfair distribution of resources, privilege from the ownership of capital or having wealthy parents, a system rigged against them. And yet it does not manifest as a form of class consciousness, even one that is intersectional. A single female pensioner that does not own her own home is in a similar position to a young renter with insecure work except with fewer options. Essentially timing has meant that it is more likely to be the Boomers who have accumulated wealth and capital but it is mostly about class. But why is generational politics rather than the politics of class the dominant narrative?

I would argue that the erosion of traditional institutions and forms of identity, particularly class, has played a big role. Structural changes have meant the demise of traditional career paths, declining union density, decoupling of where you work and live have all played a part in the breakdown of traditional sense of class identity. With many people no longer living and working in the same community or staying in the occupation for long periods of time, the strength of class identity has eroded away.

At the same time, there has been the rise of identity politics. Age fits quite well within an identity politics framework. While not the same as other manifestations of identity politics, there is a sense of institutionalised disadvantage and there are common experiences that unite a disparate group of people, creating a common identity that resonates with many people.

This growing intergenerational conflict is not unique to Australia. It is happening across the world. The big danger for progressives it that unless addressed properly it becomes a right-wing vehicle for dismantling the welfare state and pursuing anti-tax individualism, based on resentment.

Fundamental to the welfare state is the idea of intergenerational solidarity. Solidarity is about feelings of sympathy and responsibility for others. Welfare spending is essentially a compact of intergenerational solidarity. Younger workers pay taxes to support older workers’ pensions and healthcare costs but they benefit from previous generations’ investments in infrastructure, innovation and environmental protection. The understanding is that everyone benefits from the support of others and that we are part of a larger community of shared interests.

Intergenerational conflict undermines that compact, particularly when fiscal pressures caused by an ageing population has meant a push to rein in support for the young, particularly as the old become a larger proportion of the population. Any sense of reciprocity is destroyed because while the older generations get or maintain support, the young lose theirs and thus do not have a stake in social supports. While older generations have a (rightful) sense that they should get support as they contributed financially, younger people ask, “Why am I subsidising the old when I don’t get any support?” It is a recipe for a highly divided and stratified society.

Shifting the focus to class and rebuilding intergenerational solidarity won’t be easy. It requires a cross-generational understanding there is a shared interest in tackling inequality and entrenched privilege but it needs to be done. If it isn’t, the intergenerational conflict will only get worse and it will further breed resentful, toxic individualism.

 

The Coalition Government is not “moderate”, it is privatising NSW

One of my biggest gripes is about how the Coalition Government in NSW is portrayed. It has been called “centrist” and “moderate” when its agenda is clearly driven by vested business interests.

It is mistaken as “moderate” because it is contrasted against the socially conservative and reactionary federal Coalition. The fact is that it would be impossible for a Coalition Government to get elected in NSW if it was seen as a bunch of bigots. It understands that it cannot be seen as too overtly socially conservative or racist.

Unlike the federal Coalition, the NSW Coalition is playing the long game and has sought to avoid overtly antagonising key groups. The use of the “asset recycling” narrative is their way of doing this as they pursue widespread privatisation. The history of New South Wales being a naturally Labor state and the failure of the last NSW Coalition Government undoubtedly played a role. The decisions it has made are strategic, seeking to gradually change New South Wales over many terms, not a single term.

As a result, there are many decisions that the NSW Government has made which have flown under the radar, assisted by a lack of scrutiny. Resourcing to the Opposition is pitiful and the media is focused on federal politics. If the same level of scrutiny was applied to the NSW Government that has been applied to Auburn Council, there would be community uproar.

Below is an ongoing and incomplete list of things that show how the NSW Coalition Government is privatising the state and delivering for its base of property developers, big business and conservative interests. Feel free to share this list and let me know if there is anything I have missed:

  1. Privatising the electricity network.
  2. Privatising the Northwest Rail Link & beginning the privatisation of our rail network.
  3. Selling the land the Powerhouse Museum is on to developers.
  4. Exempting the casino and a range of pubs from the lockout because of pokies.
  5. Evicting tenants from public housing in the inner city and selling off their housing in Miller’s Point.
  6. Using the Metro to demolish public housing in Waterloo.
  7. Slashing funding to womens’ shelters, leading to closures & transferring remaining shelters to faith-based providers.
  8. Ending one person, one vote in the City of Sydney.
  9. Gerrymandering local government boundaries.
  10. Watering down the powers of ICAC.
  11. Destroying TAFE by introducing contestable funding.
  12. Using the NDIS as an excuse to shut down all publicly run disability services by 2018.
  13. Changing strata laws to make it possible for developers to force people to sell their home.
  14. Allowing James Packer to take public land from Barangaroo to build a casino through an unsolicited bid.
  15. Privatising all public transport in Newcastle.
  16. Shutting down the Newcastle rail link because developers wanted it.
  17. Privatising ports in Newcastle, Port Kembla and Port Botany.
  18. Privatising the land registry, which is a natural monopoly.
  19. Selling off historic public service buildings in the CBD to hoteliers and Australian Technology Park.
  20. Selling the land Hurlstone Agricultural High School is on to developers
  21. Imposing a wage cap on public servants and taking away power from the Industrial Relations Commission to determine wages and conditions
  22. Demoted the Department of Environment to an office under the auspices of the Planning Department
  23. Allowed councillors with a pecuniary interest to vote on planning controls that effect all or a substantial part of a local government area as long as they declare the interest.
  24. Outsourcing public sector jobs in IT, corporate services, construction & maintenance that will undermine public sector capacity.
  25. Impose additional and reintroduce tolls on the M4 & M5 to pay for WestConnex
  26. Allowed shooters to hunt in national parks.
  27. Cut all funding to the Welfare Rights Centre.
  28. Introduced donations and expenditure laws to make it impossible for unions to run political campaigns.
  29. Promising to repeal legislation to allow the clearing of native vegetation like the Newman Government did
  30. Pursuing an anti-cyclist agenda by tearing up bike lanes and making it harder to cycle.
  31. Making it more difficult for children to enrol in ethics classes at school.
  32. Privatising HomeCare by stealth by transferring it to Australian Unity with no transparency.
  33. Selling off and closing regional TAFE campuses.
  34. Setting up the Greater Sydney Commission to override local council planning controls.
  35. Privatising ferry services in Sydney.
  36. Introducing ‘three strikes’ laws to evict public housing tenants with little recourse to natural justice.
  37. Rezoning a potential World Heritage site in Parramatta to allow developers to build apartments on it.
  38. Wasting $38m on a little used pedestrian bridge over Anzac Parade while refusing to fund the Iron Cove to Cooks River GreenWay.
  39. Carving off parts of Sydney Park to make way for WestConnex.
  40. Using the legalisation of Uber to water down taxi regulations such as vehicle standards and deregulate fares.
  41. Using the promised “one-stop shop” of Service NSW to shut down service branches and call centres and force people to use digital transactions.
  42. Compromising the safety of Sydney’s water by axing the jobs of five of the six top scientists responsible.
  43. Bulldozing a major arterial road through the historic Thompson Square and Windsor Bridge.
  44. Forcibly relocating a long-standing community  pool in Parramatta to make way for the corporate redevelopment of Parramatta Stadium.
  45. Cutting down 100 year old trees along Anzac Parade and Alison Road for a light rail route so Randwick Racecourse can keep a bus lane and 150 car spaces.
  46. Seeking the power to shut down rail lines without Parliamentary approval for the benefit of developers.
  47. Increasing usage of the “Cabinet in Confidence” excuse to block Freedom of Information requests.
  48. Environment agencies getting their budgets slashed by $20 million, with National Parks and Wildlife and the Royal Botanic Gardens among the hardest hit.
  49. Examining the privatisation of Sydney Trains.
  50. Refused to support a pill testing trial as part of a drug harm minimisation strategy.
  51. Failing to invest in our urban water infrastructure, forcing Sydney Water to pump sewerage into our waterways.
  52. Expanded police powers to use against protestors, including removing restrictions on move on powers and extended search and seizure powers.
  53. Reducing penalties for companies that explore or mine illegally.
  54. Pursuing a contestability agenda in prisons to drive down wages for staff and conditions for prisoners.
  55. Resourcing shortfalls pushing Western Sydney public hospitals in Penrith, Westmead and Blacktown to breaking point.
  56. Giving police the power to ban individuals from public places for 72 hours without a judge’s approval.
  57. Banning schools from being show a documentary about gay parents during school hours.
  58. Supporting the gutting of the Safe Schools program.
  59. Calling for a GST increase to pay for tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
  60. Planning to turn open parkland at Moore Park into car parks and stadiums.
  61. Concealing illegal donations and refusing to reveal their identities.
  62. Accepting cuts to federal funding to public schools.
  63. Closing down ticket offices at rural and regional railway stations.
  64. Effectively pushing for welfare quarantining for public housing residents by supporting deducting rent directly from Centrelink payments.
  65. Cut funding to ICAC.
  66. Imposing an extremely harsh penalty regime on cyclists.
  67. Making fines for protesting illegal mining greater than fines for illegal mining.
  68. Privatising education and training in prisons.
  69. Establishing a Commissioning and Contestability Unit to come up with new ways to privatise public services.
  70. Pursuing outsourcing of the operation of school and recreation facilities.
  71. Destroying critically endangered woodland to provide temporary parking for WestConnex.
  72. Privatised foster care services.
  73. Transferring a third of public housing from the public sector and demolishing estates which will be rebuilt as majority private residencies (70:30).
  74. Selling off the Sirius Building in the Rocks and opposing heritage listing to allow its demolition.
  75. Increasing land registry fees by 25% prior to its planned privatisation.
  76. Getting the NSW inter-city train fleet built overseas at the expense of local jobs, investment and skills.
  77. Privatising five regional public hospitals in NSW.
  78. Planning to use proceeds from privatising the land registry to pay for a stadium upgrade.
  79. Closing Service NSW shopfronts and reducing opening hours.
  80. Temporarily relocating Ultimo public school to a site contaminated with lead.
  81. Seeking federal government “reward payments” for privatising public services.
  82. Letting councils outsource the running of local government elections.
  83. Proposing changes to Compulsory Third Party insurance that would remove motor-accident victims access to fair compensation and legal representation.
  84. Seeking to get rid of licences that strictly control the number of native animals killed.
  85. Spending $150m per annum on consultants, significantly more than the previous government.
  86. Outsourcing fleet management.
  87. Selling off prime real estate in the CBD to pay for an upgrade of Circular Quay and refusing to say how much revenue will be foregone.
  88. Selling off a historic house to a wealthy private school when local public school enrolments are surging.
  89. Offshoring public sector shared services and using 457 visas to do IT work.
  90. Changing legislation to make it easier to privatise public spaces like beaches and parkland.
  91. Privatising the state superannuation administrator.
  92. Planning to privatise all public transport within the next fifteen years.
  93. Forcing council amalgamations in Sydney but not in areas in regional NSW and the Eastern Suburbs and North Shore of Sydney controlled by the Coalition.
  94. Privatising Inner West bus routes.
  95. Selling off $9 billion of government-owned property.
  96. Ramming through legislation to force the homeless from Martin Place.
  97. Putting a $110 levy of Parramatta residents to pay for its light rail but not on Eastern Suburbs residents to pay for theirs.
  98. Effectively subsidising private toll roads by giving free car registration to those who pay $25 a week in tolls.
  99. Spending $1.6 billion on rebuilding stadiums when neither gets anywhere near capacity on a regular basis.
  100. The former Water Minister sharing confidential documents with irrigation lobbyists and offering assistance.

Three observations about the Labour leadership election

For weeks Jeremy Corbyn had been expected to win the British Labour leadership race but the sheer scale of yesterday’s victory has shocked many.

While some thought it would go to a second round, Corbyn won in the first round with 59.5%. His closest competitor, Andy Burnham, only received 19%. It was a larger victory than Tony Blair’s in 1994 who won with 57% (although the selectorate was far larger in 1994).

It has left no doubt about Corbyn’s mandate amongst the Labour membership and the sheer number of registered supporters have quelled concerns about entryism.

Personally I am sceptical that Corbyn is the long term answer for Labour but neither were the other candidates. His victory does highlight, as Tim Lyons has noted, that the centre-left needs to deal with its inability to seek with moral clarity and a clear purpose. I can only hope that the disruption that his victory brings may force many within Labour to rethink and move on which it sorely needs to do.

There will be a plethora of thinkpieces about what Corbyn’s victory means over the next few weeks and months. It’s too early to tell what the long-term implications of his victory are but there are three quick observations I have from the leadership election based on the results.

1. The landslide victories were built on recruitment campaigns

Corbyn won 49.6% of the membership in the first round but he absolutely dominated the registered supporters section with 83.8%. The size of his victory amongst registered supporters is staggering but not a surprise.

Unlike the other leadership candidates, his campaign team actively recruited. Similarly Sadiq Khan actively recruited registered supporters and it helped to secure a landslide win over Tessa Jowell who was seen as the favourite to become the London Mayoral Candidate. She was well-regarded, had a good public profile and was associated with the successful London Olympics.

The moves by winning candidates to expand the selectorate reminds me of Canadian leadership elections. In the three major parties, members directly vote fo the leader and party memberships are actively sold to supporters during leadership contests by each campaign team. Those who can often recruit and organise the most supporters win.

The lesson for future Labour leadership elections will be the need for genuing organising and fieldwork and to bring potential supporters into the tent.

2. Union turnout was low

I have been sceptical of opt-in affiliation for unions and whether it would actually engage members of affiliated unions. While initial registration figures made me question my scepticism, the low turnout suggests that union member engagement, even amongst those who opted-in, was not high.

While turnout has not been officially revealed, based on those who registered to vote, only 48.2% of union members who opted in did. In contrast, 93.6% of registered supporters and 83.8% of members voted.

In the end, affiliated voters constituted only 16.9% of total votes (down from 27%) with 71,546. Rank and file members were 58.1% (up from 53%) and registered supporters made up 25% (up from 20%).

If there is no greater Labour Party engagement amongst affiliated union membership, it raises questions about what opt-in affiliation has really achieved beyond reducing funding from unions.

3. There will be a rethinking of support for primaries

The great irony of this result is that that the New Labour Right were the biggest advocates of primaries. They have admitted that it was an attempt to dilute left-wing member and union influence (through opt-in affiliation and primaries). Meanwhile the Left opposed the Collins Review that suggested recommended.

The problem is that their understanding of how primaries would work relied on America and the idea that a significant portion of the general population would participate. A better example to study would have been the party primaries run by the Italian Democratic Party (PD). The model was the same with a small fee and a pledge that voters needed to sign.

Academic studies have been done on participants in PD primaries, profiling them and their attributes. These studies found that participants have been more political than the average voter and more left-wing with no guarantee of party loyalty.

It is quite likely that the Labour Left will become converts to primaries whereas elements of the Labour Right will rethink their support. Already Dan Hodges has admitted that the Labour Right got it wrong.

There will be ripple effects here. It is likely to strengthen opposition to further democratisation of the Labor Party and the use of One Member One Vote being used to select leaders. Nick Dyrenfurth has already highlighted concerns about such a direct election model and is unlikely to be the only one to do so. The global trend, however, seems to be towards greater democratisation and primaries which poses a challenge for opponents.

Whatever does happen next, British Labour and social democratic politics will never be the same again after Corbyn’s victory.

Blue Labour and the Left

Blue Labour has a bad reputation in left-wing circles. Many perceive it to be racist, conservative, patriarchal and anti-state, summed up with the view that it is about “flag, faith and family”. While there has been widespread criticism of Blue Labour by many sections of the British Labour left, concern not only exists in Britain. For example, I helped organise a Fabian Society event with Maurice Glasman, a key figure in Blue Labour, in Sydney and got the NSW Left to promote. There was some criticism that we should not be promoting such an event.

Understandably a lot of the hesitation comes from what people think of Glasman on issues of national identity and a perception that Blue Labour is about social conservatism. The framing of Blue Labour as a “radical conservative” tradition has not helped win fans on the broader Left. Many are uncomfortable with what he has said about immigration and nationalism in particular, dislike of how he framed the middle-class Fabian and working-class traditions of the political wing of the labour movement in highly gendered terms.

But to dismiss everything Glasman and Blue Labour has said is wrong and foolish. There is a lot from Blue Labour’s analysis to draw on and much of it is already in common use. For example, the idea of community organising and building a relational approach has already taken hold in parts of the Left here, most notably through the Sydney Alliance. Glasman has been heavily involved with London Citizens, the London counterpart to Sydney Alliance. Similarly, focusing on the common good is nothing new with Australian academic David McKnight talking about similar issues and using the same language nearly a decade ago.

Blue Labour’s focus on importance of relationships, place and work also has much to offer. They are all fundamental to personal identity and anchor our lives. Maurice Glasman has also championed ideas of mutuality, reciprocity, solidarity and community ownership, all drawn from important Left traditions that some argue has been lost.

Many in Left may feel uncomfortable with Glasman’s suggestion that it should ditch talk about equality. It is not because Glasman is opposed to equality but rather he argues for most people it is an abstract concept rather than being grounded in everyday life and common sense. This everyday politics and common sense has more in common with those associated with Stuart Hall and Marxism Today than the conservative Right.

Blue Labour also draws on Karl Polanyi, who arguably should be to social democrats what Hayek is to the free market Right, particularly his concerns about commodification. It is most powerful because its language about commodification is something that much of the Left has lost. It is the ‘moral critique of capitalism’ that historian Frank Bongiorno argues Labor has lost. The resistance to the dehumanising effect of the commodification of labour is a fundamental part of organised labour. That is the element of conservatism within the Left, resistance to the radical nature of free market liberalism. The Left has always sought to decommodify education, health care through guaranteeing universalism and rejecting basing value on economic benefits of decisions and actions.

In many ways aspects of Blue Labour could serve as a powerful and useful critique of the politics of the Hawke-Keating era and its top down, elitist and market driven politics. Nostalgia for those politics still runs deep despite it being the source of many of the ALP’s current problems.

While there is much from Blue Labour that is of use, there are many aspects I disagree with, most notably immigration and nationalism. Even supporters have acknowledged its shortcomings in Australia. For example, Nick Dyrenfurth has said this on immigration.

There are also questions about Blue Labour’s vision for the role of the state and communities. David Walker has rightly pointed out that while there is a focus on power, the two unanswered questions are: who pays? and what about professional skill? What happens when the community and those with expertise disagree? Windfarms and floridation are two immediate examples that come to mind. It is also unclear about who gets to define what the ‘common good’ is and how. It reinforces my belief that while Blue Labour has a strong critique but it does not offer a lot of good solutions.

I am also wary of Glasman’s idolisation of Germany. Mark Blyth has highlighted that the German economic miracle is far from one. It has relied on freezes in real wages, an increased labour force from the intergration of East Germany and the impact of the Euro making German exports more competitive. The German social market economy was designed afer the Second World War in response to the perceived threat of socialism. Its basis, ordo-liberalism, seeks a competitive enterprise economy.

Furthermore, he points out that not every country can be a Germany and run a surplus, some need to run deficits, just as for someone to save, someone else needs to spend. This idealisation of Germany risks generalising ideas, policies and institutions that cannot be generalised.

Blue Labour also seemingly has little to say about the challenges we face. It is unclear what it has to say about the impact of technology and how it is transforming the economy and society. Can technology aid its vision of strengthening relationships and a sense of place or is it disruptive? What are its implications of technology for the future of work and what does that mean for its vision? Then there’s challenges across the Western world such as climate change and an ageing population, let alone how to grapple with the waves of mass migration caused by conflict (and soon climate change).

If a Blue Labour approach was to be adopted in Australia, it is unlikely it would look the same as its counterpart in Britain. The historian Frank Bongiorno has argued that we had our own version Blue Labour through Mark Latham. I’m not sure given Latham’s tendency towards neoliberalism, albeit tinged with working-class nostalgia and contempt for anything associated with the New Left.

Whatever the future holds for Blue Labour, there are aspects of it that the Left can draw on. The Left should embrace its moral critique of capitalism which much of the social democratic Left has lost. Rejecting abstract notions and a focus on the everyday (place, relationships, work) to reconnect with people are also important. However, for all that it can offer, Blue Labour does not provide any answers to the bigger challenges we face in the 21st century and it is trapped by its own romanticism and idealisation.

Queensland might show Labor the limitations of a small target strategy

After the shock defeat of the Queensland Government over the weekend, there is a growing sense that the Liberals could lose the next federal election and that Bill Shorten may become Prime Minister.

While the overwhelming focus has been on what the Queensland election means for the Coalition, the implications of Queensland Labor winning with a risk-adverse, small target approach will be just as important for the ALP.

Queensland Labor ran a small target campaign, focusing on dissatisfaction with the Newman Government. Labor opposed their cuts to the public sector and asset sales and emphasised cost of living pressures. Rather than outlining a big-picture vision and detailed policies, new policy announcements were rather modest. The small target strategy got Labor across the line but it remains unclear what the implications of this strategy will be for Labor in government, particularly if it needs to propose anything contentious in its first Budget. It may act as a political straight jacket and limit what Labor is able to do.

It will be worth keeping an eye on how Queensland Labor does over the next year as it may show the political limits of a small target strategy in government and be a warning for federal Labor.

Critical thinking, political dialogue and the violence in Tucson

Politics presumes a recognition that negotiation and dialogue must occur, that what is “right” is simply a given but is a matter of resolving inescapable conflicts of interest. Trying to kill politicians is an extreme expression of the rejection of politics—a puerile fantasy that has been cynically encouraged in some quarters. But to reject the very possibility of negotiation and compromise is ultimately to express a preference for chaos and anarchy. This yearning to be beyond politics, if not neutralized by general prosperity into apathy, will inevitably find its expression in violence, and political violence, precluding the possibility of nonviolent resolution of disputes, is inherently a wish for violence without end. That is why those who commit these acts are usually depicted as madmen. But this kind of madness may be what happens at the margins when society fails to facilitate critical engagement with the world and with one another’s ideas.

Tucson Shootings, Rob Horning, 11 January 2011

I can’t help but feel that something has been missing from the broader discussion about Jared Lougher and the horrific Tucson shootings. Institutions, individuals and legislation, rhetoric have been heavily scrutinised but it doesn’t seem to explain the deeper malaise it represents.

Maybe it is, as Horning suggests, a discussion about the lack and devaluing of critical thinking skills and with that, the dismissal of engagement in political dialogue.

Without those critical thinking skills, it becomes harder to make sense of the world you live in and express how you feel. If people are unable people to coherently express what they feel, adequately critique their world, it becomes difficult to engage in political dialogue with opponents. It can lead to disengagement from politics, either by apathy or a rejection of political dialogue. The act of political violence is the extreme end of this rejection of political dialogue and liberal democratic politics.

It’s food for thought.