ALP conference: This party’s no cause for celebration
The ALP national conference is coming up and this time it might actually be interesting rather than an event more scripted than an inflight safety announcement.
By this time next week the Labor Party will know whether it has reinforced its claim to stand for something or simply invited internal voices of dissent to an unseemly shouting match.
Further, Julia Gillard will know whether the party gave her the authority she needed or was marking her down because of the manner of her elevation.
Meanwhile, the man she pushed out to become Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will be chasing his own plan for reforming the party with proposals which might not be entirely agreeable to his successor.
What won’t happen, certainly not in any convincing way, is a celebration of victory. A party whose government has 30 per cent of the primary vote couldn’t be that absurd.
The weekend will see the spectacle of the Labor Party trying to reshape its role at a time when its traditional voters are sprinting to the Coalition and the so-called progressives are paying more attention to the Greens.
What remains is a hollowed-out party which doesn’t know which direction to move in.
“The Liberals are the party of convenience. The Labor Party is the party of conviction,” former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating told TEN’s Meet the Press yesterday.
“When the convictions drop - when the reason for being dissipates or becomes opaque – then of course the people prone to support Labor drift elsewhere.”
The conference also will see a slight return of the left/right battles which in the olden days used to preoccupy the ALP but also energise it.
Jenny McAllister has a position not many Australians know exists, and even fewer know who holds it.
She is national president of the ALP, a left winger returned to that post last week by a ballot of party members.
Ms McAllister’s success has encouraged her faction to be more confident about the numbers in three critical debates – those on gay marriage, party reform and uranium sales to India.
Here’s a tip: Julia Gillard will get her way on uranium through support by right-wing unions, and by promising that the restrictions put on its use by India would in fact make the sub-continent safer.
Gay marriage is no longer a strictly left-right issue in the general community. It is almost mainstream, and Parliament would reflect that.
The contention now is how to bring it about, how to change the law. Labor’s left wants a change to the party platform and then legislation, Ms Gillard wants legislation going to a conscience vote, effectively asking Parliament to set the ALP’s platform.
If a parliamentary conscience vote were held on that other big social issue, euthanasia, it would be lost. If one were held on gay marriage, it would succeed.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott probably knows that which is one reason why he would not want a conscience vote. He would have to watch some of his MPs crossing the floor.
Julia Gillard would lose a few MPs, too, but the victory would make that easier to bear.
There will be a number of suggested reforms to the party processes with the aim of increasing the say of ordinary ALP members, and widening the decision making circle.
Kevin Rudd’s suggestions will add to speculation he is entering this debate in part to challenge the authority of Julia Gillard.
Just about everything he does is seen in this perspective, but certainly on this occasions the cynics might be right.
Mr Rudd blames “faceless men” and union chiefs for his departure as PM, and wants his revenge through a party reorganisation which would strengthen the influence of the folk who still adore him, the rank and file.
“Because I believe they are actually much closer to the Australian people themselves,” he yesterday told Sky’s Australian Agenda.
So he wants the direct election by party members of the ALP national executive and the national general secretary.
It will be interesting next Saturday to watch Mr Rudd, who insisted on a flat lining national conference while he was PM, attempting to stir the comrades into loud debate.
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