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.


At 8:41 PM, Anonymous Corin said...

Geoff, cheers for the citation. I don't agree they would favour "activists". I would argue that Labour should be able to get 10 to 15% of its sympathisers to vote in a primary, so 5 to 10,000 voters in a constituency.

I would argue that in the opposite it would favour a "centre-coalition" - perhaps a Clintonian centre for the Australian scene.

I would also consider that primaries should not be done for the Senate and not for all LH seats either - so this is my departure from "Imagining Australia". Though - I read their book after I wrote my piece. Indeed I also disagree with the view that all parties need to do them - for the ALP - they would get most benefit if they were the only party doing it. i.e. the toff Libs versus the an open community friendly "connected" ALP selection process.

I would argue for 65% of LH seats - with ministers and shadow ministers exempt. I would also argue for a primary every second term - otherwise it leaves too much volatility. I would suggest 15 or so primaries every Federal elections - so 25-45 over a two election process.

A 65/35 or even a 50/50 balance of primary/executive preselection and Senate being exempt - would in my view be the optimum balance of wider interests coming into the ALP.

Primaries would certainly encourage growth.

Also read:

I've been away from Oz now for too long to know who Labor First are - but this summary is reasonably good I think.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Corin McCarthy said...

Sorry - read the above - obviously primaries would be conducted well before Federal poll.

Also the executive should be able to deselect a candidate that is out of step or not appropriate to the total brand.

Clearly in my view - more independent thinking by back-benchers whilst a difficult management issue- makes for a more dynamic party, which is what people generally want in voter land.

I also reject the assumption that people crossing the floor would be "catastrophic" but clearly there would need to be a modified pledge of some kind. I do however think the Plerdge as it stands in the ALP is broadly a discouraging factor to the brand not a good thing in terms of vote winning, so it is a tough balance.

Clearly control of persuasive message is the key issue! She how Blair gets regularly voted against by a group of MP's- but who really cares in the end - I actually think it might help keep the vying constituencies from splintering: see the current ALP.

At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Corin said...

Sorry for a third - I read the Dreschler piece. I would consider the 40/40/20 process to be strange. I really doubt that 20% composition would create any real interest. I also hold a view that primaries don't connect to "traditional" bases, they connect to non-traditional bases. I mean loads of ALP sympathisers may not even vote for the ALP in every election - indeed some may even be fond of the current Liberal party led by Howard. The point is - primaries create a far bigger cross section than Dreschler aspires toward - indeed I don't really see the point of his proposal. It is a fudge like the Hawke/Wran recommendations - clearly the ALP needs a bigger constituency to find its values in.

There is so much to discuss - but I'll leave you alone for a while.

Put simply though 40/40/20 is little or no better than the current system.

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