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?


At 9:40 PM, Blogger Corin said...

Hi, depends what purpose it is done for. i.e. a lot of fundraising can occur by base broadening. However in an age of the internet it is possibly luddite-based thinking to imagine that you need to have large branches in each seat.

I mean isn't it possible that more tailored methods of achieving a larger mailing list other than membership will achieve better philanthropic results for the ALP. The GetUp website is a case in point of what the internet can do for base broadening.

I would advocate heavily for ALP primaries as the best method of base broadening. I mean really would you rather sit in dank dringey sub-branch meetings or actively campaign in the community.

There is no competition - activism and community integration go hand-in-hand, but only where a method pre-selection drives this rewarding outcome.

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Jim Belshaw said...

Geoff, a friend of mine has just fromed and become chair of a Democrat branch in a Republican area of New England simply because she is so sick of lack of choice.

The old NSW Country Party, a Party that relied heavily on membership subs collected by bank drafts (once signed, they tended to go on for ever)used to work on the principle that it needed one member for every 10-20 votes. So if you wanted 30,000 votes you needed 1500-3000 members. The party had the highest membership of any party in Australia.

The NSW party used the election cycle as a recuitment device. To be eligible for preselection, a candidate had to have a nomination from one branch. While branch delegates to electorate council were not obliged to vote for their branch's nominee, the more nominations you had, the better your chance.

So candidates used to tour the branch meetings in convoy. They also recuited members who, once signed under the bank draft system, stayed as members. Paid party organisers worked the elctorate in conjunction during the election cycle.

The effects at individual electorate level could be quite dramatic.

In 1972 I ran for party preselection in Eden Monaro and also became a key party official. The last time the party had run a candidiate in the area was for Monaro in, I think, 46 or thereabouts. The vote was then around 8 per cent.

We started with a membership of around 33, building it very quickly to over a thousand. The Party almost won in 72 despite the swing against the McMahon Government. Later after I left the area it won Monaro.

In funding terms, the NSW party paid for an agreed amount of TV, radio and press advertising plus how to vote cards using centrally prepared ads. This came from donations and reserves. The local party had to find all other expenses.

The professionalisation of the party destroyed the old system. The party began with the slogan no preselection or pledge. Multiple candidates were allowed in the one electorate. Maybe wasteful in some ways, but it sure built membership, some of whom stayed.

Multiple endorsements went. Increasingly rigid election agreements with the Libs reduced the number of available seats. The party machine started trying to interfere to get the "best" candidate. The party's collapse in Armidale is directly linked to this. The system of branch endorsement was changed, largely destroying the old mini-primary system.

Not surprisingly, membership started to collapse as did local fund raising capability.

Linking this back to Wannon. As Labor demonstrated in NSW in 1941, a targeted campaign can win apparently unwinnable seats. But it requires a very targeted and localised campaign.


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