March 10, 2004 | Peter

Labour’s Problems

According to British Labour’s leader of the Commons Peter Hain, New Labour is “overcentralised, undemocratic and closed to new ideas”.
I don’t honestly know how true this is of New Labour, but it certainly describes the ALP very well indeed. Despite reforms by Simon Crean following the Hawke-Wrann report, the ALP remains essentially a club for the benefit of party careerists. It is internally focused, driven from the top by a small group of operators, and completely disinterested in the concerns of the rank and file (let alone the wider public). The degree of concentration, due to dynasties and intermarriage as much as anything, is a serious impediment to anything like a proper functioning of the party. New members are welcomed with almost total indifference and a culture that is often actively hostile to new ideas. People with real competence are soon made aware that the old saying –
“it’s who you know, not what” – rules the ALP. Power means everything and power goes to those who organise the numbers. Thinking just gets in the way of following orders.
This culture of mediocrity and opportunism is why Mark Latham is so important. Whatever his failings, he is genuinely smart, and he has fire in his belly. He actually seems to care and he means business. But he is surrounded by the usual suspects, both staffers and parliamentarians, and if he is not careful they will drag him down to their level. If they have anything smouldering in their guts, it is a burning ambition for personal power. Latham will crash and burn if he lets them have their way, just as Beazley and Crean did.
So far leadership has done Latham good, and we can only hope he continues to try to be his own man. Given what the party culture has done to the ALP, and especially its increasingly hopeless leaders, he has nothing to lose.
Of course, I still think the ALP is the only game in town when it comes to effective (not to mention rational) national government, so this entrenched mediocrity is a genuine tragedy for Australia.

Posted by Peter at 2:14 pm | Comments Off on Labour’s Problems |
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