Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Fractions and factions

Moving house and the first weeks of term have preoccupied me. But some comments on the Labor preselection flap in which Simon Crean survived a challenge seem appropriate. I have no problem with challenging sitting MPs, one problem in the ALP is the 'sitting members' union'. In 1977 Simon Crean was a young up and comer, like Martin Pakula, who was surprisingly defeated for Labor preselection in his father's seat of Melbourne Ports. he then had to wait 13 years, fitting in the ACTU presidency along the way. At last they had a ballot in Hotham whereas in Western Province Pakula's ally Jala Pulford is to be imposed without a ballot. What is noteworthy is the emergence of a new generation in Labor Unity of activists all who began their careers in the late 1980s, those around Melbourne University were involved in student politics whereas the Monash group such as Shorten and Pakula were not. For a time they even had two separate sub factions of the right in Young Labor but now there seems to be a firm generational alliance, and the triviality and viciousness of student politics encourages a 'winner take all' style. The fact that student organisations for so long could rely on compulsory membership encouraged an indifference to the task of winning support, it is much easier to control a student organisation where electoral participation is low, ditto with the ALP. Julia Gillard has a point when she says:
Indeed, we are no longer talking about factionalism, we are talking about fractionalism: a party in which almost anyone with a pocket full of votes, often procured in dubious circumstances, believes it is their right to demand something from the party in return.
This reminds me of the debate on the relation between wages bargaining structure and economic efficiency. Calmfors and Driffell, in '“Bargaining structure, corporatism, and macroeconomic. performance,” drawing on the work of Mancur Olson, argued that the best options for macroeconomic stability. were either complete centralisation or complete decentralisation. At the moment factionalism seems to provide neither. The equivalent of decentralisation would no factions, the equivalent of centralisation would be an end to 'fractions' but this would require democracy within factions as a minimum condition. It is clear that Labor Unity today operates on a winner-take-all basis. Fractionalism thrives on low turnout where voters are reduced from the thousands or at least hundreds of party members to the handful of administrative committee and the national executive. Why not rank and file preselection of Senators?


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