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ALP: a slow decay? « Previous | |Next »
October 22, 2004

An Allan Moir cartoon from earlier in the week:


There is no soul. The ALP has becoming a factionally-driven machine preoccupied with clever tactics for fighting elections, and less and less a political movement that expresses the desires of Australians for a better kind of life.

Barry Jones in The Age makes some good points. The first is about tactics verus strategy:

"The ALP has a thousand tacticians - and no strategists. Giving ALP Senate preferences to Family First in Victoria and Tasmania is a classic example of a tactical decision that would have probably looked clever if it helped Labor win seats at no cost to itself. But clearly this decision was never considered strategically - when Labor's vote collapses, would the party really prefer a Family First senator to a Greens senator?"

Rightly said.

Why is this important? Jones makes another point:

"The ALP is not, and should not be, simply a machine that organises election campaigns every few years - it needs to provide spiritual, ethical and intellectual nourishment to the Australian people, and promote a creative, generous nation. Labor must promote an inclusive agenda, not an excluding one.
At present, there is a significant disenfranchisement of Labor's traditional vote, people who feel lonely and alienated from the party they have always voted for. If Labor does not bring them home, the party's heart and mind will die."

Well said.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:48 AM | | Comments (3)


Yes they are good points, especially the ones about to provide spiritual, ethical and intellectual nourishment to the Australian people, and promote a creative, generous nation.

The important thing is that that need will always be there. Whether the ALP will provide it is another matter.

However comments abound from the Hugh Mackays of this world, or Clive Hamiltons of this world that people who decide elections tend not be that concerned about that stuff, but are more focused on their houses and families.

These seems to be the voters that Mr Interest Rates Howard has captured, leaving those of us (left ALP/Greens) marginalised and seemingly nowhere to go.

I am not sure whether if the ALP 'regains its soul' it would necessarily be more electorally successful. Although it may raise the hopes of many Australians, and that is a good thing.

Barry Jones makes another good point. He says:

"Labor failed to stitch up a coalition between the aspirationals, who were presumed to have narrow economic preoccupations, and people who were preoccupied with moral or quality of life agendas. It was not necessary to offer much to people with non-economic priorities (for example, the Friends of the ABC) - but Labor should have at least acknowledged that they were there."

The ALP did not tell a story that connected the nation, the economy and environment, centred around its two electoral bases, and expressed its core beliefs.

The aspirational suburban ladder of opportunity story is very individualistic, implies some climb the ladder at the expense of others (using their elbows), and suggests that some are left forgotten on the ground.

That says nothing to business, to the liberal intellectual middle class, to those who fall into economic blackholes due to market failure.

On its own Latham's suburban is a story that divides not unites. It needed to be part of a bigger story. The bigger story was left untold by the campaign team.

So the campaign was about clever political tactics not long term strategy and national direction.

I think the debate being played out in the print media and therefore to an extent on politically aware websites such as this one are ignoring a far more basic point about the defeat. Labor's branches are full of ageing activists that do not represent the suburbs in which the branches have been set-up and therefore the party cannot connect to those it seeks to influence.
This problem exacerbates the factional difficulties the party has to navigate and obviously flows right up the lines of power to the top of the parliamentary party.
Solution: who knows which needs to come first, construction of policy that touches Australians in their day to day lives and which will encourage people to join the ALP or revive the health of the branches which leads to better policy making.
One thing is clear however. If the party wishes to avail itself of modern campaign techniques including but not limited to focus groups, private polling and letterboxing marginals it really ought to freshen up its image and put together some sort of recruitment drive amongst the young which will have the double effect of making it once again competitive and destroy the Greens (both positives insofar as our political system is concerned). What is the ALP waiting for?