The last three years in particular have been a time of much discussion and soul-searching within the Australian Labor Party. A little over three years ago a first-term PM was deposed with the aid of powerful factional forces and replaced with his deputy. The party vote plummeted not long after the 2010 election and after three years of internal chaos and division the vanquished Kevin Rudd was returned as Labor leader and Prime Minister by more than half the ALP caucus.
Upon his return – and leading up to it actually – the revived Prime Minister promised change. Kevin Rudd promised us that he had changed. He was no longer a micro-managing, frantic and overbearing leader of the Labor Party. Rudd also promised a slight policy shift in certain areas.
By far the biggest, most publicised element of Rudd’s change agenda is the internal reform proposals he has put forward since he was returned as Australia’s Prime Minister. These matters’ of Labor housekeeping include proposed changes to how the party selects and disposes of a leader and how a future Labor ministry will be picked.
There are of course changes which have been proposed as a result of the events in New South Wales, but this piece is not concerned with those proposed changes.
People in policy know of one basically universal rule which applies to policy decisions, and that is that there are almost always unintended consequences – pros and cons of almost every choice made. There are possible unintended consequences and negative outcomes from the ALP renewal proposals which Prime Minister Rudd will put to the party on July 22.
On the potential plus side, a PM free from the knife-wielding wrath of backbenchers with intense factional loyalties would ensure leadership stability and promote a feeling of certainty across the electorate at large – most importantly with the swinging voter who might have backed the party in at the ballot box.
On the face of it, it may not appear that there are downsides to Kevin Rudd’s announcement that a Labor Prime Minister elected by the people will not face the knife of backbenchers, except under extraordinary circumstances.
But there is a downside. A leader who becomes toxic to the party in an electoral sense would be next to impossible to remove as the criteria for removal is set pretty high. A leader would only face removal after having brought the party into disrepute according to 75% of the caucus.
It is also rather difficult to argue against the idea that the rank-and-file members of the Australian Labor Party have a fifty percent say in the election of a leader for the parliamentary arm of the party. The move is quite democratic and fair and rather unique in the Australian political environment, though whether or not it will result in more people rushing to join the ALP is less than clear.
On the downside, the process will be potentially expensive and would leave the party effectively leaderless for 30 days after a wrenching defeat.
With regard to the ideas put forward by Rudd on the leadership side of the equation, there have also been fears that branches will be stacked by unions trying to gain more influence under a slightly less union-friendly environment within the party organisation if these changes are successfully passed.
In terms of parliamentary reform, the other thing Rudd has proposed, which has been flagged for some time, is a restoration of the ability of the ALP caucus to decide who wins coveted ministerial positions.
With caucus able to determine the frontbench, there is the potential for less division within the caucus. Only those with majority support would be successful, leading to a stable team. At least that’s the theory.
With caucus again able to elect ministers, the factions are as important as ever. The powerful factions will dominate the ministry. Those with little factional loyalty, and even those more suitably qualified, may miss out on roles altogether, though the latter will happen regardless of the model for choosing the frontbench.
Kevin Rudd has probably moved as much as he could. What caucus decides will be keenly watched by political observers, though the whispers appear to indicate that the changes will be agreed to by the party room when it meets in a couple of weeks’ time. What the broader union movement feels and how they react will also be a point of interest.
Whatever the outcome, there are potential consequences, good and bad.
Society Has Factions Too, But Their Fluidity and the Need to Appeal to Many Leads to Ideological Impurity of Political Parties
We’ve all heard about the prevalence and strength of factions in politics, particularly the power that factions can hold when determining the policy of a party or even the people in it- think of the now infamous New South Wales right faction which, by virtue of its own actions has been dragged through the mud in recent years in Australian politics. It is equally true too that society is made up of factions, even if they do differ to the relatively unmoving in ideology groupings within political parties in the Australian political landscape.
These “political factions” that exist outside of the political sphere, in broader society, unlike their intra party equivalent are not stagnant and people within society often straddle different factional groupings or move in and out of these different and border-less sects depending on individual policy leanings where a person can support the party overall, but may strongly disagree with one or some of their particular policies.
This phenomenon too, does occur in political parties, but of course democracy rules and when policies are voted on by the party and carried by a majority, those in the minority as is fair will lose out.
The difference between these like-minded sections in political parties and in broader society is that these numbers in the latter are open to decrease over particular issues and increase over others whereas within these men and women of similar mind in our political system tend to stick together on many
As a result of societal faction instability and fluidity, ideological purity of political parties in the Australian political environment is non-existent. While a party may not completely stray away from their respective political beliefs, there will often be occasions where political reality deems it necessary to nudge or even overstep the boundaries of their political faith.
Political parties have to appeal to all the different factions that exist within the broader electorate, which political parties have to represent in order to hold a majority in the parliament. It is an electoral reality that parties at some stage in the electoral cycle will have to resort to populism in order to appeal to the vastly different stakeholders that exist in any municipality, state or c0untry.
The trick for political parties is to strive for relative ideological cleanliness, to not give in too much to populism and not go too far down the path of walking away from the ideology their respective party was created to pursue and to uphold to the perceived benefit of the people. For if our parties were to venture too far from their political and ideological origins, then that can be no good for the party and would lead to the breaking away of the “true believers”, those who firmly believe in the ideology of the party and would get disenfranchised were it to forget where its roots were forged.
Either way, both society and politics has factions, albeit of a different nature and strength and if the latter ignores the former, then it does so at the downfall of its wider representation, the political party. It’s a delicate balancing act for political parties to respond to this kind of movement within society.