Saturday, July 22, 2006

Easson on the NSW redistribution

Here is a good article of the NSW redistribution by Shane Easson. It is the only analysis I have seen to point out that the leftward drift of Bennelong is largely due to the increased population of Asian-Australian voters. This was a constituency Howard alienated (relative to how an affluent largely petty-bourgeoisie community on the north shore they would otherwise vote) with his flirtation with Hanson. On ethnic politics at least NSW Labor seems to likely to endorse candidates from communities that support the party, an improvement on the Carr era. Meet Shane Easson once back in the 1980s, compotent and hard working, but I remember he was pleased with his submission to the 1986 NSW state redistribution, which was adopted by the Commissioners, to spread out the Labor vote by making Cessnock into a largely rural seat cutting about 14% off the Labor margin. The embarrassing result (aided by the errors of the Unsworth government and many other issues) was that Labor lost Cessnock in 1988. Jack Baddeley would have been horrified.

Reading recently

Been reading for work some very interesting papers on drought relief and farm poverty on which more shortly, but apart from this Isaac Deutscher's The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky 1879-1921. Odd when you read something for the first time in 20 years and you think you know the story but you are still enthralled, reflecting on this history puts everything present in perspective. You know why Trotsky never capitulated. Tom Griffith's Ecology and Empire, partially for work, apart from the Eric Rolls chapter, very good, brings out link between environmental thought and progressivism. To the ridiculous Roger Kimball's 'culture war' manifesto The Betrayal of Liberalism, confess I only got through a few chapters of this before I had to return it. The better pieces (relatively speaking) run the 'Humean' line but Keith Windshuttle, apparently presuming he was only going to be read by an American audience (of Woodrow Wilson haters?) claims the first world war was an imperialist war and was fault of social liberalism. Dear me. Also recently reread some of Hayek's work the first volumes 1 and 2 of Hayek's Law, legislation and liberty and Road to Serfdom. Insightful in parts but unconvincing, for reasons some of which have been identified by Andy Denis. Will draw on these for a paper on social and economic liberalism which will argue good reason for free-marketers to be social conservatives, an argument unclearly hinted at in my March paper to the Relaxed and Comfortable conference and even more unclealry here in my rather overstated The Road to Joh.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Primaries everywhere

Some interest in the introduction of primaries within the ALP, whereby ALP supporters would register as ALP supporters and then be entitled to vote in ballots to select ALP candidates. Supporters include Andrew Leigh , Corin McCarthy and Geoff Drechsler. In 1931 Peter Board, educationalist and All for Australia League activist, argued for primaries. It is difficult to imagine a more shell-like organisation than the contemporary ALP, but I have my doubts. Primaries in the US are perhaps dependent on the fact that the executive is not elected by parliament. MPs vote independently far more than in Australia although there has been a long-tern trend towards more bloc voting and under Bush the Republicans have mostly been rallied as a disciplined force, with some identifying a quasi-parliamentary system emerging. But if aspirant Labor MPs made different appeals to Labor voters to gain their support how would these voters feel when 'their' MPs voted a caucus line? Labor endorsement in inner-city Sydney or Melbourne would require a different position on refugee policy than that which might be adopted by a pragmatic caucus majority. It could be argued Tasmania and the ACT with multi-member electorates already allow voters to choose between competing candidates, does it make a huge difference. In the US success in a primary contest usually requires money to appeal to thousands of voters and to persuade them to bother going to the polls, interestingly this does enable unions to exercise substantial influence on the choice of Democrat candidates as in the recent California primary. Can IT entrepreneurs and teacher unions craft a way for the Democrats to appeal to the white working-class? Odd too that 3rd way centrists, like McCarthy, would support primaries, because they are likely to favour party activists who bother to turn out to vote. Labor MPs who supported the party's policy on asylum-seekers in 2001 might under a primary system have suffered the same fate as it seems Joe Liebermann will in Connecticut, where recent polls show him trailing his anti-war opponent Ned Lamont. Labor's problems are not just structural rather as Stuart Macintyre argued in 1991 they are with the party's social base and ideology.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Demise of American independents

The weaker US party system creates less incentive for independents than Australia, but since 1990 Vermont's sole representative in Congress has been independent and avowed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. Vermont is the type of north-eastern state that was once moderate Republican but now with the reversal of the civil war polarity and the conversion of the Republicans into a southern conservative party it has become a Democrat stronghold. Sanders won election against Democrats and Republicans and for some his election has been seen as a model of progressive politics. Says one supporter:
this is not a man who is independent in the “between Democrats and Republicans” way - this is one of the most committed progressives ever to hold federal office, a man who is an independent because he has long believed the current political system is bought by Big Money. Electing him to the U.S. Senate transcends this election because it would elevate one of the strongest voices progressives to the national stage - a stage that, beyond a handful of courageous leaders like Ted Kennedy and Paul Wellstone, has been sorely lacking strong progressive voices for years.
Sanders is now running for the Senate. But is striking that his lower house seat he has no independent successor, indeed the likely Republican candidate Martha Rainville is rated a chance, if a low one, of winning the seat, her website doesn't seem to mention that she is a Republican. I cannot find anything on Sanders' website about the Representatives contest. Democrat leaders in Vermont are working to allow Sanders a clear run even though he has announced he would refuse to accept the Democratic nomination if offered. here is a clear example of how the American left is incapable of organising outside the Democratic party, in his local government career before 1990 Sanders had his own party-type organisation, the 'Progressive caucus' but this seems to have evaporated. . Sanders seems indistinguishable from the Progressive caucus in the Democrats, of which he is the only non-Democrat member and which he helped found. Perhaps George Bush has encouraged the demise of the non-Democrat left.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Building the base

One interesting development in American politics has been the commitment of Democratic National Committee Howard Dean to a '50 state' strategy that tries to build the Democrats in safe conservative states and rejecting the short-sighted past policy of only supporting the grassroots party in swing states. A good model for the ALP I think. Consider south-west Victoria. Wannon has been safe Liberal since 1955 but the coastal seat South-West Coast is now marginal and population trends favour the ALP, yet with such a tiny unsupported branch membership it will probably remain in Liberal hands. Where are the Labor senators office in rural Victoria?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

History summit letter

I sent the following letter to The Australian on the government's history teaching summit and Gregory Melleuish's role:
As a historian I wonder if Gregory Melleuish's paper for the history summit will highlight the truly distinctive aspects of Australian political history: the high levels of industrial conflict in the late 19th century, the unique industrial arbitration system and the extremely high levels of union membership and left party voting that emerge from around 1910?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Menzies and Costello

Much drama about an alleged agreement between Howard and Costello in 1994 for Howard to hand over the leadership after one and half terms. The Hawke vs. Keating precedent is flogged by the media but more appropriate is 1938-40, the facts of which are recounted in Martin's Menzies. PM Joseph Lyons was in poor health and some felt struggling as PM particularly in chairing an acrimonious Premiers' conference in October 1938. A speech by Menzies that month on the need for a 'national spirit' in Australia was interpreted by some in the media and by the PM's wife Enid as a disloyal attack on Lyons. When Lyons reconstructed cabinet in November some of those disappointed blamed the influence of Menzies. In March 1939 Menzies resigned over the government's decision to shelve the introduction of 'national insurance' (a contributory pension and welfare benefit scheme on which it had been elected, more on it in Watt's Foundations of the National Welfare State). So like Keating Menzies quit but unlike Keating or Costello there was no mention of deals, however Menzies did have a clear policy issue, far more than Costello's recent musings. In April 1939 Lyons died. Earle Page Country party leader took over as interim PM. The anti-Menzies group including Page and Casey tried to persuade Bruce to return as PM without success, and it was then that Page denounced Menzies for not serving in the Great War. Menzies defeated the 77 year Hughes by only 4 votes in the leadership ballot. Does this indicate that Menzies' had resignation made him unpopular; it seems extraordinary that Hughes could come so close? If this precedent counts for anything Costello would have done better to keep his head down and wait. Nelson, Abbott et. al. are surely stronger potential rivals to him than Hughes was to Menzies.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Turkish words of wisdom

Interesting American debate about events in Iran sparked by an article in Monthly Review that many saw as apologetic for attack by police on an Iranian women's demonstration. I agree with Doug Ireland's views on this and with the sentiments in an open letter of protest to Monthly Review:
We can assure you that left-wing activists inside Iran will not rest until they have exposed the sham reactionary anti-western slogans of this president, dished out by your web site as anti-imperialism. After all, many of us remember the consequences of earlier shallow anti-American sloganising, culminating in disasters such as 'Irangate' -- when the 'anti Imperialist' ayatollah Khomeiny ended up supporting Nicaraguan Contras through payment for Israeli arms, via none other than Oliver North!!
One of the signatories of the open letter, Yassamine Mather of the Center for the Study of Socialist Theory and Movements at Glasgow University gave a noteworthy address to Turkish Communists recently on political Islam:
I think that the way for the left to expose the dangers of political Islam despite the differences that exist between the Sharia law in Sunni Islam and Sharia law in Shia Islam is to point out the realities of 27 years of political Islam in power in Iran. Not as political propaganda not as what George Bush says about Iran. The real issue is not whether Iran has nuclear plants. We should look at the realities or what has happened to Iranian society where women have no rights, where workers have no rights where poverty has reached this level that I am talking about. A country where the mentality of getting rich at all cost would use violence. This populist demagogy of being anti west is still fed but it has almost become like Tony Blair saying I am in favour of democracy. People just listen to it and it is part of background noise. The reality of drug addiction, the reality of exporting prostitution into the states near us, are the realities of political Islam in power. And unlike 26 years ago we now have an example of sharia Islam in power.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Redistributions US style

The recent Australian redistribution proposals are the work of an independent electoral commission, but in the US Congressional boundaries are drawn by state legislatures. 'Partisan redistricting' (see this example from Texas) is rife and the only constraint is the civil rights era Voting Rights Act which has been interpreted to require that boundaries be drawn so as to give some ethnic minorities a chance of electing Congressional representatives from their minority. This has meant a requirement to draw some districts so that they have African-American or Hispanic majorities. The best book on this is Morgan Kousser's Colorblind Injustice. This has been criticised by conservatives to whom it implies 'racial gerrymandering', some Democrat fret it locks up minority votes in safe Democrat seats. Has an argument about minority representation ever been raised in the Northern Territory? Could an argument have been made that the placing of Broken Hill in an electorate whose numbers are made up to the south rather than the west reduces the chances of western NSW aboriginals having an MP that they voted for? Some have blamed partisan redistricting for a decline in the competiveness of most Congressional elections, although this has been disputed. Recently the US Supreme Court (brief outline here) has upheld the constitutional validity of Republican partisan redistricting in a case about Texas, although it did enforce some modifications due to the Voting Rights Act. American election law is a massive area, closely entangled with race debates, well covered at the Election law blog which has much more on the Texas decision. In Australia partisan electoral boundaries have a long time been restricted to controversies about the boundaries of electoral zones that allowed for varying enrolment levels, and zonal systems are almost completely defunct. The most famous recent example was the excision of an aboriginal community entirely included within the then marginal National state electorate of Barron River in Queensland and its addition to the safe Labor electorate of Cook. The establishment of electoral administrations as statutory authorities (finally to be done in NSW) has been intended to guard against any suggestion of partisan redistributions but I not aware of any evidence for decades that suggests partisan redistributions have occurred in Australia. Some in the US have looked to the Australian model, but recent referenda in Ohio and California to establish independent commissions to draw electoral boundaries have been defeated and only Iowa and Arizona have independent commissions. Race anxieties may play a role perhaps minorities fear losing 'their' electorates and in California the proposal suffered by being one a package of measures put by Schwarzenegger. Many progressives opposed it on this basis (although Marc Cooper supported it). Many liberals and progressives in the US are reluctant to support reforms such as nonpartisan redistricting because they fear it would be an act of unilateral disarmament when Republicans do not support them, this case is made in the best book on current US politics; Off Center.

Self-employment and politics again

NSW Labor party secretary Mark Abrib has pronounced:
In a rare public analysis of Labor's electoral failures, Mr Arbib has described what he calls "a huge change in the dynamic" as former blue-collar workers turn away from unions and become independent contractors, with no rusted-on political allegiances. "They think, 'I'm running a business, I want to keep going up the ladder, so who's the best party for business, who's the best for managing the economy, and who's the best party for aspiration?',"
But have former blue-collar workers actually become independent contractors and small businessmen (and it is men that the proponents of this analysis have in mind)? The short story is that self-employment and small business activity did increase in some areas of the economy, areas in which blue-collar males were employed, from the early 1980s to the late 1990s but if anything the trend has slightly reversed since then. This is explained in my new paper; Herbert Spencer buys a truck: class, politics, ideology and the Australian petty-bourgeoisie in the Howard years.
Labor's electoral problems among workers are too great to be explained by a growth of self-employment. Abrib's analysis also ignores a large section of the working-class; routine clerical and service workers, but they're women so perhaps they don't count. Increasingly labor notables assume workers vote against Labor because they are 'aspirational' but currently state Labor governments are giving workers plenty of reasons to vote against them, such as NSW trains and
Queensland hospitals. Does this mean the left can win workers by a simple class appeal? No, as I said in my PhD:

Recent concepts of ‘social movement’ unionism call for a return to the identity of trade unionism as a movement. These arguments sometimes seem to assume the existence of a unified working-class subject waiting to be called into political activity by a Labor party that has returned to ‘traditional labour values’. It is here that Langism has some lessons to teach. The alliance of Lang and the Trades Hall Reds fused class and populist themes into a powerful force. Without union support Lang’s appeal withered; equally a political party that was no more than the political reflection of organised labour, centered around production relations, would not have been successful as was NSW Labor was in 1930. Production relations are as likely to generate segmental loyalties to employers or sectional craft or group consciousness rather than class-consciousness. A productivist appeal divides male production workers from female family workers. The mobilisation of political support requires the construction of a subject that exists at the level of the political. A revived popular radicalism in Australia would not centre on a concept of ‘class’, and concepts of the nation would play a central role in its formation.
Now not so sure about the Miriam Dixson-style “nation” theme at the end.