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.

Over 600,000 to vote in British Labour leadership contest

Early this morning AEST, the deadline to register to vote in the upcoming British Labour leadership election passed.  It will be the first time that a One Supporter One Vote system will be used.

With registration now closed, the Labour Party revealed the total number of people who applied to vote on social media:

In total, 610,753 registered to vote in the Labour leadership contest.

While some may be struck off the list of voters, it is a big number. It is 80% more that the number of valid votes (338,374) cast in the 2010 Labour leadership election.

Of the 610,753 potential voters, affiliated union members are 189,703 (31%), registered supporters are 121,295 (20%) and party members are 299,755 (49%). Interestingly affiliated union members will have a similar share to what they had under the old Electoral College model.

It is by no means a return to Labour being a mass party, the 1994 leadership election had 952,109 valid votes, but is a bigger than expected selectorate, particularly considering the membership fell to a low of 156,205 in 2009.

Ballots will start to be sent out from 14 August and the result will be announced on September 12. Polling has suggested the insurgent candidate Jeremy Corbyn will win, a massive upset to the party establishment.

The fallout is likely to be massive criticism of this new One Supporter One Vote system. Claims of “entryism” by the far left have already begun and there may be attempts to change the electoral system once again.

It is also unclear how sustainable this growth is. It is unclear how many registered supporters will become members, how many members will remain once the leadership election is over or whether the number of affiliated supporters will continue to grow.

Whatever the result is, it is clear that the high levels of registration will address a lot of the scepticism about opt-in union affiliation and whether registered supporters would join to be involved in party elections. Both seem likely to stay in one form or another.

UPDATE 26/8/15: LabourList reports that the number of eligible voters has been revised down to 553,954. The majority of these exclusions are because individuals do not appear on the electoral roll.

Based on these new figures, party members (292,973) will be 53% of the vote, affiliated unionists (148,182) will be 27% of the vote and registered supporters (112,799) will be 20% of the vote.

Giving members of affiliated unions a vote in the ALP is not a new idea

Over the past few years there has been a growing push to change how the ALP-union link operates. The union bloc vote has been the target of many who seek to change the link. Their criticism is that it centralises power, particularly over pre-selections, in a handful of union secretaries rather than giving individual members of affiliated unions a say.

Rather than let union appointed delegates cast votes in pre-selections, a common proposal has been to give individual members of affiliated unions (who are not necessarily party members) a vote as part of an electoral college. It is an idea that has gained significant traction across the party with union leaders, former MPs and even pressure groups like Local Labor supporting the idea. What is mentioned far less, however, is that this is not a new idea.

Individual members of affiliated unions (who were not party members) who were on the electoral roll used to be able to vote in local ALP preselections along side rank-and-file members. The practice existed in Queensland until 1980, in NSW until 1954 and in Victoria until the Split in 1955. These “closed primaries” were widely advertised, this newspaper article about a Victorian ALP preselection from 1954 clearly stating that all ALP members and financial members of affiliated unions could vote and stating when and where the ballot was taking place.

One of the reasons that the practice was ended was because it was used to rort pre-selections. A piece published by the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History gave one such example:

Bob Holt, a former Minister for Lands in Victoria, claimed that when he was the local member for Portland, which he held from 1945-47 and again from 1950-55, local Liberal employers urged their workers who were members of affiliated trade unions to vote for him, regardless of whether they were ALP voters or not. These employers wanted a man from Warrnambool, where Holt lived, as their parliamentarian, and not a resident of Port Fairy, another town within the electorate.

Bradley Bowen provides a description of how the “closed primary” which was manipulated by unions, such as the ETU, in Queensland:

Before pre-selections, blank “certificate books,” which entitled each barer to a vote were given to trusted officials who used them to ensure the victory of favoured candidates.

It unlikely that these practices would occur if affiliated union members were given a vote today. Firstly, few, if any, are suggesting a return to one supporter one vote “closed primary” model. The experience of community preselections in NSW shows that the fear of organised entryism is overstated. The level of public scrutiny and likely backlash would also means that if any organised manipulation were to occur and be exposed, the results would be quickly overturned by the state Administrative Committee or National Executive.

But what this does highlight is that many of the debates about the party’s structure that are not new and neither are the reform proposals. It suggests that we should revisit the history of our party to have a greater awareness of past proposals and practices. Unless we do so, we are likely to be reinventing the wheel and overlook lessons the party has learnt in the past.

Labor must grasp this opportunity to inspire

Labor’s 2015 National Conference is the most important in a generation. Our party is at a critical juncture. The 47th National Conference must set the path both on policy and on internal reform.

After many false starts, real Party reform is now within reach, Now is the time to guarantee rank-and-file members a direct vote for not just the leader but also for delegates to National Conference and Senate candidates. Just as essential is the continuation of our equal partnership with the union movement, the largest social movement in Australia. This opportunity to inspire must not be squandered.

One critical Conference debate will focus on the need for Labor to build a credible economic agenda. As Tom Skladzien argues, that does not mean slashing spending driven by a ‘surplus fetish’ or the imposition of arbitrary tax-to-GDP ratios. Instead we must ask: how can government best pay for the services Australians need and expect?

A progressive fiscal policy for Labor must address the revenue question. This is an absolute prerequisite to realising the society and public services we want to deliver. Jo Schofield rightly points out: if we accept an ever-shrinking tax base, progressives will end up squabbling over the ever-decreasing pool of revenue.

So how can Labor fund the program as that Australians need? Richard Dennis’s outlines four progressive revenue-raising measures.

Labor cannot lock itself into a low-revenue future and nor allow itself to be cast as a pale imitation of the Coalition. As Nadine Flood points out, the ALP must advocate a positive case for the role of over meant as an essential enabler of future jobs and prosperity.

Conference will feature several other key policy debates that will shape Labor’s approach in government. Asylum seekers, marriage equality, a fairer tax system that tackles corporate tax avoidance, housing affordability and tackling climate change are all high on the Left’s agenda.

Conference will also debate Labor’s core objective. It is a debate that seems to have been mainly conducted in the conservative press. While the case for change has not yet been made, we should always have the confidence to debate Labor’s purpose. In that spirit, we are publishing two competing views on the socialist objective.

The British election proved that even incompetent and hated governments can triump on the back of cynical fear campaigns. Being the least worst option will not lift Labor to government. Neal Lawson offers two lessons from the UK election.

Labor must grasp the vital opportunity offered by th 2015 National Conference. Facing a federal election, we must demonstrate our evolution as a modern, democratic movement with a positive policy vision for the future.

Originally appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of Challenge

How are state and territory ALP conferences structured?

The question of party reform is likely to dominate the upcoming ALP National Conference in July. While reform is undoubtedly needed, much of the commentary will be based on inaccurate information, in part because knowledge about party structures is not widespread.

It is important to understand that each state branch of the ALP has its own distinct structure. It can vary wildly from state to state. In some states, unions aren’t actually 50% of conference floor and in others committee members and the parliamentary party get many delegate spots. Furthermore, unions are not guaranteed 50% of the delegates at National Conference, “union delegates” are only elected indirectly through state and territory conferences.

This table from an ALP National Secretariat document provides a good overview of how each state and territory branch structures their conference:

State/Terr Conference/Convention NSW Vic Qld WA SA Tas ACT NT
Annual frequency 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Specified timing Oct May, Oct Jun None None Aug Jun/Jul Jun
Union delegates 445 300 211 150 100 100 92 33
— as percentage of total 50.0% 49.5% 50.0% 50.0% 50.0% 46.7% 46.5% 43.4%
FEA/FEC delegates 144 300 194 0 0 100 0 0
— allocation of delegates Fixed: 3/FE Proportional Ratios: 9,7,5/FE n/a n/a Fixed & Prop. n/a n/a
— elected how FE Councils Direct Direct n/a n/a Direct n/a n/a
— elected when Apr, annual Jul/Aug, odd yrs Every 3 yrs n/a n/a May, annual n/a n/a
State/terr electorate delegates 186 0 0 0 92 0 0 0
— allocation of delegates Fixed: 2/FE n/a n/a n/a Prop. Max 4/SE n/a n/a n/a
— elected from SE Councils n/a n/a n/a Direct n/a n/a n/a
Apr, annual n/a n/a n/a Aug, odd yrs n/a n/a n/a
Local branch delegates 0 0 0 148 0 0 92 33
— allocation of delegates n/a n/a n/a Proportional n/a n/a 0.1/member 0.1/member
— elected when n/a n/a n/a  Aug/Sep, annual n/a n/a May, annual < Sep, annual
Delegates elected postal or in person Person Person Person Person Person Postal Person Person
Total geographic member delegates 330 300 194 148 92 100 92 33
— as percentage of total 37.1% 49.5% 46.0% 49.3% 46.0% 46.7% 46.5% 43.4%
FPLP Caucus — elected 16 2 1 1 0 1 3 2
FPLP Caucus — ex officio 0 2 0 0 1 1 0 0
SPLP (or TPLP) Caucus — elected 16 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
SPLP (or TPLP) Caucus — ex officio 0 2 2 0 1 2 8 2
Entire caucus are delegates No No No No No No Yes Fed only
Municipal delegates 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0
— method n/a n/a 1 Ex off, 2 elect n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Total parliamentary delegates 32 6 6 2 2 5 11 4
— as percentage of total 3.6% 1.0% 1.4% 0.7% 1.0% 2.3% 5.6% 5.3%
Admin/officials 34 0 5 0 2 1 0 0
— method All Admin n/a Ex officio n/a State Sec, Pres State Sec n/a n/a
Policy 27 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
— method Ex officio n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Women’s 3 0 3 0 0 0 0 3
— method Ex officio n/a Direct n/a n/a n/a n/a Elect conf
Young Labor 16 0 3 0 4 2 3 3
— method Elected YL conf n/a Elected YL conf n/a Direct2 Direct postal Elect YL AGM Elect conf
Indigenous 0 0 0 0 0 6 0 0
— method n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a Elect, fixed/FE n/a n/a
Platform Committee 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
— method Ex officio n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Total policy/party delegates 83 0 11 0 6 9 3 6
— as percentage of total 9.3% 0.0% 2.6% 0.0% 3.0% 4.2% 1.5% 7.9%
Total delegates 890 606 422 300 200 214 198 76
Nat Conf delegates 108 86 72 42 34 22 6 6
— per State/Terr conf delegate 8 7 6 7 6 10 33 13
Nat Conf delegates elected how 56/44% SC/FEs 100% Conf 100% Conf 100% State Exec 100% Conv 50/50% SC/DE 100% Conf 100% Conf

1 ‘Person’ includes ballots with a postal provision for regional areas.
2 SA YL treated as a state electorate, 4 is assuming maximum allocation.
3 In some branches, union votes are weighted so the number of delegates present at conference will be less.

One thing that is clear from the table is that NSW has the least rank-and-file input into its conference and those delegates are a) not directly elected and b) the allocation is fixed, not proportional. It is a gerrymander that is out of line with all other states. A change to that structure will have flow on effects nationally.

With a clearer understanding of how the structure of the ALP actually works, it will be easier to identify the real barriers to a democratic party and push a more effective reform agenda.

No Labor Right majority does not guarantee a left-wing agenda or party reform

This morning, The Age carried an exclusive story claiming the Labor Right had lost its ALP National Conference majority, based on internal party numbers. The possible loss had been couched in a Guardian Australia article and I did a rough estimate many months ago that suggested numbers would be close.

No final breakdown has been provided so it is unclear whether the Queensland Old Guard is counted in the Right camp or how close the margin is. The lack of a Right majority, however, does not guarantee that the Left’s agenda, particularly on reform, will get up, even with the support of unaligned delegates.

While The Age spins a tale of independents controlling the balance of power, it is far more likely that sub-groupings in the Left and Right will be courted to split off on contentious issues. They may be “bought off” by Labor leadership giving them concessions on issues they care about. Independent delegates are unlikely to be more than a handful at most and they are not an organised grouping.

Neither faction is a homogenous group and each is made up a number of sub-groups with different stances on a range of issues. On a range of issues, there is no factional consensus. Party reform is one such issue where there is no consensus on the detail. For example, the NSW Left did not bind on party reform proposals at the last NSW State Conference because left-wing unions could not agree to John Faulkner’s proposals.

For a pro-reform agenda to get up activists must be disciplined and strategic. Common ground needs to be found with left-wing unions and antagonising them by talking about how bad “union influence” is only makes reform less likely.

There are a range of possible reforms and actions that could gain broad support, including from the unions. These reforms could include:

  • Cross-preferencing to ensure no Right majority on ALP National Executive
  • Direct election of rank-and-file National and State Conference delegates by members (not by Federal Electorate Council or State Electoral Council delegates)
  • Directly electing Presidents at a State level and giving them and National Presidents full voting rights
  • Entrenching the direct election of Parliamentary leader

This is not an exhaustive list but they are achievable outcomes that will have a long lasting impact and help make the party more contestable. Arguably ending the Right majority on National Executive is the most important as it makes real reform of the NSW ALP possible through an intervention and will flow through to future National Conferences.

Rather than seeing this as a one-off chance to push for everything, the priority should be to ensure lasting changes that ensure that Right never has an absolute majority again. This Conference is a chance to make that happen. If that chance is lost, it may not be regained for decades. It means the focus should be on a set of changes that will bring together a majority pro-reform coalition that will support lasting change. That coalition will require left-wing unions as allies.

Activists should not get ahead of themselves. Making control of the party contestable is the most important long-term outcome that may come from this Conference. It means being cautious and willing to compromise as it is easy to peel off a few delegates and wipe out a pro-reform majority. Whether this can all be pulled off is yet to be seen.

UPDATE 24/6/15: Mike Smith previews National Conference and rightfully points out that the tight numbers and the leakage of votes are likely to lead to negotiation and compromise, not unaligned delegates determining the order of the day.

UPDATE 6/7/15: The Guardian quotes party sources saying the ALP National Conference delegate breakdown is 196 Left, 197 Right, 4 unaligned.

Only a small number of union members are opting into (British) Labour Party affiliation

I have previously written about the push to change how unions affiliate to the Labor Party. Currently unions affilate on behalf of their membership but there have been calls to change this so individuals must opt-in to be counted for affiliation. British Labour has adopted it and there are advocates within the ALP pushing for it to be embraced here.

The big question has always been: how many affiliated union members will opt-in? In the 2010 Labour leadership election, 238,618 union members cast a vote but over two million ballots were mailed out. Any opt-in process would mean the number of voters would fall significantly. Estimates had ranged from 25,000 to 80,000 but a recent news article suggests it might be lower.

The New Statesman has reported that in London, only 1,197 members of affiliated unions have opted in. To give some context, Labour’s largest affiliated union, Unite, has 200,000 members in London and the most recent publicly available data indicates that 21% of Labour Party members are in London.  With Labour’s membership now in excess of 220,000, affiliated union members seem likely to be less than 10% of the vote in the upcoming British Labour leadership contest.

There are still two months left for union members to opt-in for the leadership ballot with 12 August being the last day to register. It, however, seems that even 25,000 may not be reached considering Unite has only just started getting members to opt-in since the election.

If the number of union members that affiliate to British Labour for the contest is tiny, it seems likely that the enthusiasm for opt-in affiliation amongst many in the ALP will disappear. It is possible that it will evolve into a much clearer debate about whether the current labourist model should be ditched and the party should move to a One Member One Vote model. Each model has its problems and while “breaking the link” is often floated by those who decry trade union influence, the Nordic experience of cutting links shows that the result is not always predictable and may not be the best outcome.

Whoever wins in the British Labour leadership won’t really matter to the ALP but the number of union members who opt-in and participate in the election will. We should pay attention to the contest because it will shape the ongoing debate about the ALP-union link and whether the “labour party” model is truly dead.

UPDATE 16/6/15: GMB have said 10,000 members have registered as affiliated members and Unite is said to have similar numbers, however, Labour says only 2,500 have completed the process & paid a fee.

UPDATE 24/06/15: LabourList has been provided with the numbers of members and supporters. So far only 9,115 registered supporters and 3,788 affiliated supporters will be able to vote. Total Labour Party membership is 246,469.

UPDATE 12/07/15: Unite is claiming 50,000 members have opted in as affiliated supporters.

UPDATE 15/07/15: Unite has stated it is aiming to get 70,000 members to become affiliated supporters by August 12.

UPDATE 17/07/15: The Evening Standard is claiming it has seen figures suggesting 65,000 union members have registered.

UPDATE 12/08/15: The latest breakdown is 70,000 registered supporters (16%), 92,000 affiliated supporters (21%), 282,000 members (64%)

UPDATE 13/08/15: The Labour Party has revealed total figures of those who applied for a vote: Affiliated: 189,703, Registered: 121,295, Members: 299,755, Total: 610,753.

British Labour leadership election is the first big test of opt-in affiliation

Following its shocking election defeat on May 7, British Labour will be holding an election for a new party leader. Unlike previous elections, there is no obvious candidate and the field is likely to be wide open. The Labour leadership election will be held concurrently with London Mayoral candidate and Deputy Leader election with results announced at a special conference on September 12.

Importantly, it will be the first Labour leadership election since the end of the Electoral College model. MPs and union members will no longer have separate votes. Instead, a closed primary will be run where members, individual members of affiliated unions who opt-in and supporters who pay a small fee will be able to vote in a One Member One Vote system. The timetable and process for the elections are available here.

The most interesting aspect of the Labour leadership election (for those outside of the United Kingdom) will be how opt-in union affiliation works in practice. It is the first big test of opt-in union affiliation, which Ed Miliband brought in last year and may shape the debate in Australia. There are already a number of high profile advocates of opt-in affiliation within the ALP.

It is difficult to estimate the number of union members who will opt into affiliation. In the 2010 leadership election, approximately 240,000 union members voted. Union members were all sent postal ballots which would have increased turnout. It has been estimated that only around 10% will be the proportion of trade unionists that will opt-in, but it may be lower. According to Labour Uncut, estimates of the potential number of trade union voters have ranged from 25,000 to 80,000. Some though are predicting that union members could cast more than half of the votes (250,000 out of an estimated 400,000 voters) in the contest, though that seems unlikely.

Concerns were raised, before the election rules were finalised by the National Executive Committee, about how many union members had opted in. Labour’s largest affiliate, Unite, has said it had only just begun signing up members. A longer race means more time for unions to engage with their members and get them to opt-in. August 12 will be the last day to join as a member, opt-in as an affiliated member or register as a supporter.

Whatever the result is, the level of participation by union members in the British Labour leadership election is likely to influence debate here about opt-in affiliation and how much of a say affiliated unions get over preselections and National Conference.

Why the ALP National President election matters

Nominations have now closed for the upcoming ALP National President ballot and the candidates have been revealed. Overall, there are five candidates with two from the Right (both men) and three from the Left (one man, two women).

Since the ALP National President became directly elected, it has been mainly a symbolic position. The Presidential ballot is, however, often used as a de-facto referendum on the direction of the party. As a result, the Left has usually run more high profile candidates than the Right.

Who are the candidates?

The Left candidates are senior Shadow Cabinet Minister Mark Butler, Victorian Minister Jane Garrett and former WA Senator Louise Pratt. Either Garrett or Pratt will be elected due to affirmative action requirements.

Mark Butler is running on party reform, specifically mentioning giving members a greater say over delegates to National Conference and candidates for the Senate and Legislative Councils, in his candidate statement. More broadly, Jane Garrett and Louise Pratt are pushing for Conference to be a contest of ideas and want to challenge the orthodoxy. Louise Pratt is also running on binding on marriage equality.

The Right candidates are Tim Hammond from WA and Henry Pinskier from Victoria. Tim Hammond has been endorsed by the national Right while Pinskier has not. Neither are as high profile as the Left candidates and neither are former or sitting MPs (Hammond has previously sought preselection though).

Interestingly, Tim Hammond specifically mentions extending 50/50 direct election model to all states and territories. TAS and QLD are the two states that have a different model (and both are Left controlled).

What is the election process?

The Presidential election will be conducted by postal ballot. Ballot papers will be sent out from Monday 11th May with voting closing on Friday 12th June. All party members will be able to vote.

I have previously written about the Presidential election process in case you want more information.

What are the implications of the election?

The results of the ballot could have some major implications for the ALP if party reform succeeds at July’s ALP National Conference. The reason is the ALP National Executive.

After ALP National Conference, the ALP National Executive is the next highest decision making body. Given that National Conference only meets every three years, National Executive is arguably the most powerful body within the ALP. Unlike similar executives or boards in other parties, it has the power to intervene and overturn decisions made by state branches. This not only includes overturning pre-selections but also rewriting the rules of state branches.

In the upcoming Presidential ballot, the Left is likely to win two out of three Presidential positions but none have voting rights on National Executive. The Left holds 9 out of the 20 National Executive positions elected by National Conference while the Right has 11. The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party leader also has a vote. This gives the Right a voting majority of 12 out of 21. This is despite the Right only having 40% of party members.

Party reform may mean the Presidents get voting rights

The Left has argued that the directly elected Presidents (and Vice-Presidents) should have voting rights on state Administrative Committees and the National Executive. It would give members a direct say over who effectively runs the party. This has been opposed by much of the Right.

If the Right does not have a majority at ALP National Conference, it is possible that the Left and non-aligned delegates could reform party rules to give the party presidents voting rights on ALP National Executive. There is currently a push to make this change and it would restore the voting rights that were taken away after the National President was made a directly elected position.

An even number spots elected by Conference means that even if the Right has more delegates, if the margin is close enough, it is quite possible that the National Executive could be evenly split. If the President has a casting vote, this creates a pathway to end the Right majority on the ALP National Executive, if the Presidents get votes, and opens up the possibility of more party reform, particularly of the NSW branch, and far fewer candidates being imposed.

This all, however, relies on a number of results falling into place. It may not happen but for the time being, it seems there is a chance of genuine change at July’s ALP National Conference.

UPDATE 2/7/2015: Troy Bramston outlines how the proposal to give the President and Vice-Presidents a vote on the National Executive will lead to Left control of the Executive.

NSW Labor’s leadership contest

The resignation of John Robertson months before the state election has thrown a spanner into the works for NSW Labor. Few expect Labor to win in March and even fewer expected Robertson to continue as leader post-election but a 2PP swing of 10% and the return of 15 seats seemed likely. Labor would have new MPs, elect a new leader and be competitive for 2019. All that is now up in the air.

While NSW Labor now directly elects its party leader, the new rules adopted ensured that it would only occur after the 2015 election and if there was more than six months until a state election. This Caucus only ballot will occur on January 5. Until the ballot, Deputy Leader Linda Burney will be the Acting Leader of the Opposition.

To date, two contenders have declared their candidacy: Michael Daley and Steve Whan. Both are from the Right and have been touted as potential leaders in the past. Linda Burney has also been suggested as a candidate. The main contender who has not declared his candidacy yet is Upper House leader Luke Foley.

The main barriers to Luke Foley becoming the leader have been the lack of a Lower House seat and his membership of the Left. With Robertson’s resignation and the need to quickly get a new leader, these barriers are disappearing courtesy of Head Office.

The emergence of a deal to let him take the state seat of Auburn through a National Executive intervention addresses the lack of a Lower House seat. The pre-selection there has not been finalised and it would be a solution to the reports of branch stacking that have dogged the Auburn pre-selection process.

Being part of the Left faction means being in the Caucus minority. Of Labor’s current Caucus, 14 MPs are from the Left, 22 are from the Right and one is unaligned. To gain a majority and become leader, Foley would need support for an additional five MPs, mainly from the Right. Who could those five be? The Right’s Walt Secord is on the record as a Foley supporter and with Head Office’s backing, it seems likely he will get at least four others if he decides to run.

While Luke Foley would be the best option, he does have baggage. He is a machine man, having been a union secretary and also been the NSW Labor Assistant General Secretary. There has also been a lot of controversy over his socially conservative views on marriage equality, however, he is clearly Labor’s most effective Shadow Minister. He cuts through and scored multiple hits on the Government in the environment portfolio. The same cannot be said of the other contenders.

If Foley does become leader, it seems unlikely that he would accept unless Head Office backed him in a the ballot post-election. It also might mean that the expected post-election direct election does not occur. More concerning is it may mean that leaders are torn down six months before an election to avoid a direct election.

Whatever does happen, the new leader needs to ensure Labor articulate a clear vision and plan for New South Wales. It has not outlined an alternative to the Liberal’s plan to fund infrastructure through privatisation which is a major weakness. There is only so much that a new face can do for Labor, the party needs a credible agenda. Opposition to privatisation will not be enough as the public remembers Labor’s attempts to privatise electricity. Whoever is elected Labor’s leader must show leadership and ensure that credible agenda for Government is developed and campaigned for over the next two elections.

UPDATE 28/12/14: Luke Foley has announced he will contest the NSW Labor leadership but will run in a rank-and-file preselection for Auburn.

UPDATE 29/12/14: Steve Whan has withdrawn from the leadership ballot & Linda Burney has ruled herself out.

UPDATE 30/12/14: Michael Daley has pulled out leaving Luke Foley as the only candidate for leader.