Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On comparative advantages

At least a few Canadian commentators have looked to Australia's process for selecting party leaders - with the party caucus rather than its membership making the choice - as a model which we should emulate. Which makes it noteworthy that it's Bruce Hawker of Australia's Labor Party making a compelling case as to why we already have the better of the possibilities:
(I)n a system where the rank and file selects the parliamentary leader the power of factions is dramatically reduced. Talent is rewarded over blind loyalty and ability cannot be supplanted by decisions of entrenched interests. Most importantly, any move to replace the leader requires rank-and-file approval. That certainly could have made recent Australian political history quite different.

In 2003, when (Jack) Layton won the NDP leadership, he did so in the face of opposition from his parliamentary caucus and the affiliated unions. He won it through rank-and-file support after a protracted engagement with and involvement by the party's rank-and-file membership. In the following years he transformed his party, united his parliamentary team and won the respect of a nation.

All this is real food for thought. The Labor Party has to grow if it is to attract the best talents. However, it will only do so if its membership feels a real sense of ownership and involvement.

Labor's membership has been in decline for years and compares poorly with the NDP, whose members may soon number about 100,000.

Reducing the influence of faction leaders and union secretaries would mean turning the ALP's present modus operandi on its head. However, Labor's popular vote sits at below 30 per cent for the first time in living memory.

Opening Labor's leadership ballots to all its members is surely an idea whose time has come.


  1. Darwin O'Connor1:07 p.m.

    I'm pretty sure orginally the caucus choose the leader in Canada, like they did until recently in Britian and apprently still do in Australia. Who gets to vote for the leader has been broadening over time, from the caucus, to convention deligates, to party members. There is now talk of expanding it to all voters, similar to the system(s) in the US. The Alberta Liberal party is expirementing with a system that lets anyone join for free and vote for thier next leader.

  2. jurist7:21 a.m.

    And I'll be curious to see whether that trend does continue among other parties. My take for now is that the membership is the right group to be making the choice - but particularly if the Libs (in Alberta and elsewhere) are able to actually get more people involved with open leadership/nomination votes then that might be worth a closer look.