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Friday, March 10, 2006

Rank and File vs the Machine

Labor frontbenchers Gavan O'Connor and Ann Corcoran have lost their pre-selection battles as part of the ongoing Victorian bloodbath. O'Connor had some harsh words for Kim Beazley on this morning's AM - which isn't surprising, given the circumstances - yet one of his comments bears repeating:

GAVAN O'CONNOR: But the simple fact of the matter is that they [factional leaders] have wiped out federal independent [non-factionally aligned] members in Victoria, and that has sent a terrible message to the rank and file, who by and large are of independent thought.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: What message is that?

GAVAN O'CONNOR: Well, there is no room for them in the party. Most people in the party are not factionally aligned. They are horrified with these machinations that have done enormous damage to the Victorian party federally. And of course that will be reflected, in my judgement, at the next election.

The issue of whether Labor's factional disagreements will have an electoral impact is debatable - most people are, by and large, uninformed about the particulars, but may be turned off by the overall impression of inner turmoil (by contrast, the discipline of the Howard Government - regardless of whether it reflected the actual state of mind of its members - is one thing that has counted in its favour, especially after the disastrous times the Coalition experienced during the mid 1990s). However, the other point O'Connor makes - that most rank and file members don't give a tinker's toot about factions - is a pretty sound one. Ultimately, factionalism - or the wheeling and dealing of factional chieftans - obfuscates the true will of the rank and file.

So too does the suggestion, made by several dissidents such as Simon Crean and Julia Gillard, that all leaders and their deputies - both of the party and the houses - abandon their factional allegiances as a matter of necessity. This is pure common sense. Of all party reforms, this is the only one Kim Beazley has shown any signs of taking on board.

However, he has given another of Gillard's major suggestions - to adopt the Liberal habit of giving the leader rather than the caucus the job of choosing ministers or shadow ministers - has been given short shrift. This is a suggestion that has been made many times before, and always generates controversy when it comes up. On one hand, the current system is designed to ensure the leader does not have excess power and to promote wider participation in the selection of the leadership team. However, if we accept Gillard's assertion that the faction system has descended to a mere game of `I scratch your back, you scratch mine', we must accept that this system will, at worst, simply reward the ambitious rather than elevate the best people for the job. Surely - now more than ever - Labor needs the best people for the job? And more scope for the leader to demonstrate leadership?


At 2:28 pm, Blogger weekbyweek said...

Its all a bit of a miss isn't it.

Basically we think that the 5 should have gone. just plods really. however, Crean was a different case, for all sorts of reasons.

And now that he has won so convincingly, it places the 'rejuvenation' programme in no-mans' land, and given the Left a further grievance

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