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January 2005

                                    Winning back the disenchanted

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 anytime soon.

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 in 2007.

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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