Winning back the
Labor has now lost four Federal
elections in a row – its worst run since the Menzies era – with
no real confidence among the party’s elected representatives,
policymakers or supporters that this dismal record will end
We have started this website
not because we claim to offer instant solutions, but because we
believe there are issues Labor must resolve before it can begin
to contemplate a return to office at the national level.
Unfortunately, we see little evidence that anyone in office or
within the branches is seriously attempting to address these
issues. We hope our website will at least get the ball rolling.
The foremost issue is the
collapse in Labor's primary vote. In the period 1949 to 1969,
covering nine Federal elections (all of which it lost), the
party’s primary vote averaged 45.8 per cent. Over the period
1972 to 1987, covering eight elections (of which the ALP won
five), it averaged 46.5 per cent. But from 1990 to 2004, during
which Labor won two of six elections, it plummeted to an average
of just 39.8 per cent. It hit a new low of 37.6 per cent in
2004, and few expect the party to recapture much if any ground
Of course these figures reflect
to a large extent the emergence and growth of minor parties,
particularly the Democrats and the Greens. But what should
concern Labor is that while it has since 1987 lost the primary
support of nearly 7 per cent of voters, the Coalition have all
but maintained their share. From 1949 to 1969 their primary vote
averaged 46.9 per cent; from 1972 to 1987 it averaged 46.5 per
cent; and from 1990 to 2004 it averaged 44.0 per cent (and this
despite One Nation's strong showing in 1998).
Does this really matter given
our preferential system of voting? We believe it does. It's not
the leakage of primary votes to minor parties on the Left that
should concern Labor – nearly all of these votes come back to it
as preferences, and will almost certainly continue to do so –
but rather the success of John Howard in persuading hundreds of
thousands of the party’s traditional supporters to vote for him,
not once but over and over again.
Nor do we accept the argument
that the appeal to the Left is necessary because Labor’s
traditional base is shrinking. Rather, we contend that the ALP’s
natural support base constitutes a clear and expanding majority
of the population, even though it has changed markedly over
recent decades. Labor needs to change with it.
We believe – and we are not
alone in this view – that a big part of the reason for John
Howard's success in wooing “Labor” voters to his cause is
precisely the focus that the ALP has maintained on persuading
those who vote first for a party on the Left to give their
second preferences to Labor. These lost traditional supporters
either dislike or are alarmed by the policies and pronouncements
Labor makes – and the issues it focuses on – in pandering to the
moderately disaffected voters on the Left. To compound the
problem, those who have (partially) defected to the Left are
highly geographically concentrated in a narrow band of inner
city and coastal "Seachange" electorates, while the lost
traditional supporters are dispersed through the middle and
outer suburbs and the regions.
So in short, we contend that
Labor is trying to win back the wrong group of people.
There are plenty of people, in
the media and elsewhere, who are vocally critical of Labor for
these sorts of reasons, but they are almost invariably our
political enemies. We on the other hand want Labor to win, but
we don't believe this will happen – certainly not anytime soon –
unless the party starts talking and listening to those who have
left it to support the conservative side of politics. This is
the discussion we hope this website will help ignite.
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