25 March 2008

What are you doing here?

What does it mean to be a member of a branch of a political party? This is the sort of thing that the Liberal Party needs to think through over the long term, but will instead settle for a short-term fix ... if only one were available.

Members of political parties used to:

  1. raise funds for political parties at election time

  2. hand out how-to-vote cards at polling booths

  3. have a substantial say in who the party would choose as candidates

  4. contribute Liberal candidates from their ranks.

This is the traditional role of the party member, but it is not the contemporary reality:

  1. Political parties raise much more money from donations and fundraisers than party members are capable of raising. A Millennium Forum function at a major hotel can raise sums in the tens or hundreds of thousands; a function run by a branch might get twenty people along to a dinner with $10-20 a head profit going to the administration of a branch, or making a small contribution in an electorate that might not prove decisive in a wider campaign.

  2. The average age of a Liberal Party member in NSW is well into their sixties. They are not physically capable of standing around a polling booth from 8am to 6pm in all weathers, then scrutineering afterwards, then going to the after-party to watch the result and congratulate/commiserate with the candidate for whom they have worked. The Liberal Party increasingly pays people to hand out how-to-votes, which doesn't make for much commitment at the very point of engagement with the wider public.

  3. Partly as a reaction against branch-stacking, and partly to facilitate the imposition of head office candidates, the input of local branch members is diminished when it comes to preselections. Branch members find candidates foisted upon them who have no idea what they do, and who are not grateful to them because they didn't help them get preselection. A Liberal MP experienced in the ways of the party relies on his or her local branch members to smooth over problems or bring them to the MP's attention; the Liberal MP inexperienced in party affairs has no idea and assumes that stuff gets taken care of with the same assiduousness as their own preselection.

  4. As above: Brendan Nelson, Jackie Kelly and other Liberal MPs had been party members for less than a year before they were first elected. Part of the difficulty of duchessing people into becoming Liberal candidates is that the experience prepares them poorly for the hard graft of political life. They do not relate to their local branch members, which demotivates them.

All of the above applies to the ALP as well. Anthony Albanese might be enjoying his boot-on-the-other-foot moment but it doesn't contribute much to the wider debate. When it comes time to get rid of duds like Morris Iemma or Julia Irwin, we'll see who's sick.

The recent kerfuffle over Scott Morrison's foray into political homelessness illustrates how the changing nature of political parties encourages cluelessness. Morrison was a former State Director, he should have made it his business to get to know Liberal branch members in the Cook electorate and find out which were good branches, which weren't. His performance in that job shows he has a talent for sucking up to those with status and ignoring those without. Simply plumping for a branch "near his home" was an act of such pissant carelessness that he deserves being shown up by someone like John White. I hope White has moderated his views on white Australia from when I knew him, and that he no longer holds branch meetings at Audley Weir on Christmas Day to test people's loyalty.

The latest contribution from Malcolm Colless is not well-informed or well thought through. The speculation surrounding Greiner is nothing but hype and is used as a hook to re-state the bleedin' obvious.
It is widely believed that the road back to the Treasury benches in Canberra must begin in NSW if for no other reason than it has traditionally been the breadbasket state for Liberal Party funding.

That, and the fact that 49 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives are in NSW, and it's hard to form a majority therein without lifting your vote in NSW. On the state level - well, a win anywhere would be nice for the Liberals. It's possible for a party to have heaps of money and still pull up short electorally: the goal is to achieve the latter, Malcolm. A bit of digging on your part would have revealed that the Liberal Party's treasurer is not a well-connected Sydney person but some Melbourne grandee who probably can't operate a push-button telephone.
As the Liberal Party continues with the grim task of reviewing its future in the wake of last November's federal election defeat, it is abundantly clear that internal structural reform to break the stranglehold of any self-interested faction is what is needed ahead of any moves towards mergers or takeovers within the Coalition.

No shit. When that faction takes over state executive, however, it creases to be self-interested and its interests become inseparable from those of the party organisation. That's the whole idea of why they're doing what they're doing. Those who stand against them simply haven't stood up.
O'Farrell needs to send a signal that he is in charge and is taking the party forward because, while having a field day attacking the chronic mismanagement by the Labor Government of Premier Morris Iemma, the Opposition cannot seem to capture the imagination of the electorate.

Maybe this is because the electorate doesn't know what the conservatives have in mind to make this better, if anything? And the electorate is quite justified in asking what is their plan to remedy the crises in the public hospitals and transport systems, to curb the frightening surge in urban violence and to restore respect for a police force undermined by years of Labor-imposed political correctness, just for a start.

As things stand, Liberal strategists are grimly pessimistic about the Opposition's chances in the next State election, due in 2011.

While people are working on policy, the Taliban are addressing weird religious cults and getting their 500 members to stack out hardworking Liberal branch members. Having Peter Phelps in any role, even handing out how-to-votes, would be politically suicidal. Colless is a little hysterical about Laura Norder but his analysis of the problem is commonplace. Readers don't need a newspaper to reinforce what they already know, they need to be told what is happening but not widely obvious. One phone call and he could have had an interview with O'Farrell to answer some of these questions, and have a better article as a result.

I was an active Liberal for 14 years and tried to avoid the kind of stupidity that has come to pass. The best way to avoid such stupidity is to get out. Let's hope that those who would rush toward the flames are actually doing good work for party, state and nation.


  1. "to curb the frightening surge in urban violence and to restore respect for a police force undermined by years of Labor-imposed political correctness"

    Which planet is this guy on? Clearly the same one as the NSW Libs and its not planet Earth - that's why they're not getting elected. The problem is not the advertising but the product.

    Urban violence in Sydney has been falling for years, partly because "political correctness" has got rid of a lot of the uniformed crims who used to control it. Not that there isn't some way to go on that front, but setting the NSW police up as a private business enterprise again isn't going to help.

    Don't mistake Alan Jones' opinions, aimed at an elderly demographic, for general public opinion. More laura norder auctions is a dead end for the NSW opposition, because experience has shown that Labour is not going to let itself lose that auction. But I suppose it's a nice change from the equally out-of-touch obsession with gays and fetuses.

  2. Couldn't agree more: but this guy has the hide to dump on people who won't tell him what he wants to hear.