It’s the timeless sales pitch for joining a political party: A megaphone and bad hair will only get you so far, the real way to effect political change is from ‘inside the tent’.
But when it comes to politics, we’re not happy campers. Membership of mainstream political parties is on the slide, with Labor’s shrinking and disaffected base a key area of debate during the weekend’s National Conference.
Essential polling this week shows meeting the Prime Minister’s target of 8,000 new members this year will be a serious challenge for the party. In fact, to achieve the target will mean improving the current performance by a factor of about 8,000.
This week we asked about membership of all sorts of social, community, recreational and political organisations and of all these categories, it is the political parties that are suffering the most.
When Labor governments get into strife they call for the doctor, knowing that the management of the health system is one of the areas of policy where the ALP enjoys a strong brand advantage.
The defining image of Kevin Rudd’s final days as leader was his lap of the nation in scrubs with a constant flow of picture opps: it worked for a while, the polls recovering and 58 per cent supporting his reforms.
But in a sign of the hole the Government is now in, even health is proving a barren battleground with the Government lagging behind the Coalition as the party trusted to handle health amidst general confusion about what the latest reform package is all about.
The compelling narrative emerging from the Canberra Press Gallery is that Labor is dead, Gillard is a dud leader and the whole show should put itself out of its misery and hand power to the Coalition.
It’s a message reinforced with the release of each major opinion poll; take this week ‘Budget falls flat’, ‘Gillard on the nose’, ‘More troubles with boatpeople’.
The problem is that polls and analysis are completely different beasts and if you judge the national debate purely on the numbers, there is a very different story – a government weighed down by a major reform, stabilising in key areas.
1. Preferred Party
The Coalition has an election-winning lead, but it is two years out from the election. The polling numbers have been stable since the announcement of the carbon tax – proof that Labor requires a long game if it is to win the next election.
This week’s Essential Report actually picks up a minor bounce to Labor, exaggerated by some rounding issues, but like the other polls, Labor is behind but not miles behind.
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The Prime Minister has been dedicating a significant slice of stump time in recent weeks to explaining the differences between the ALP and the Greens, how one emerges from real-world struggles and the other is a group of out-of-touch extremists.
A similar debate has been being waged within the Greens following their underwhelming NSW state election performance, where a local candidate’s intervention in the Middle East peace provided the platform to portray the party as a collective of bat-faced ideologues.
But as the debate about the Greens’ orientation gains pertinence as they move to assume the balance of power in the Senate a more basic fact is being missed: Labor voters and Green voters agree on just about everything.
A review of findings to Essential Research questions over the past few months finds that on nearly every big debate the similarities between Greens voters and Labor voters far outweigh their differences.
New South Wales political history was being written on Saturday night. Now it is being rewritten with key Labor figures refusing to accept that the scale of the debacle came down to their own blind pursuit of power.
Former NSW premier Morris Iemma, along with his renegade treasurer Michael Costa have taken to the media claiming it was the party’s failure to allow the privatisation of electricity (read, influence of the unions) that was at the root of Labor’s demise.
A more sober analysis of the poll data suggests the opposite may be true, the reason Labor got hammered was that 39 per cent of people who identify themselves as Labor voters could not bring themselves to vote for this government. And for many of these voters, the power sell-off was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If political progressives want to stop the ALP from drifting to the Right, energetically backing the decision to move women and children out of immigration detention looks like a good place to start.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Immigration minister Chris Bowen took the new minority government’s first truly brave decision last week, yet all they got was a sullen acceptance from a Left still acting like jilted lovers after the disappointments of the election campaign.
Attempting to manage public confidence in the war in Afghanistan, the Labor Party is exposing its left flank in a way that calls into question three decades of political centrism.
These are challenging times for the ALP, with minority control in Canberra, hand-wringing election post mortems and flagging state administrations around the nation. A key theme appears to be ‘Labor has lost its way’.
But what is the ALP way? Since at least the Whitlam era, Labor orthodoxy has been that the occupation of the centre ground was a precondition for electoral success. Careers were built on the tough work of shifting Labor from ideological dogma to more pragmatic policies.
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