22 October 2004

The capitulation of modern Labor

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.

Labor lacks a set of core beliefs. The party must identify and promote them.

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?

Targeting Peter Costello was both a tactical and strategic mistake. So was Medicare Gold, which proved to be a turkey, after an enthusiastic debut. The substance of the Tasmanian forests policy was right, but the timing was appalling.

The dominant role of factions has contributed to ALP demoralisation. There is a complete disjunction between the feelings of branch members, as expressed in the recent national vote for party presidents, and the policies set forth in the election.

Preselections are now the gift of the factions, who reward those who are loyal and those who accept the conventional wisdom. The first Hawke governments had probably the greatest collection of talent in Australian political history. Given more recent arrangements in the ALP about preselections for safe seats, it is unlikely such a spread of talent would be available from the House of Representatives - or the Senate, where endorsement is now generally a reward for factional fidelity.

Barry Jones, who the ALP should regard as a treasure, not an embarrassment, hits it on the head, as he usually does. The ALP's core beliefs need to run a little further up the ladder than getting a McMansion on every plot and don't mention the war. That not fly in the aspirational electorates. We lost Greenway. Let's not waste another 3 years hoping that somehow or other the aspirational strategy will achieve its aspirations.

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