The Northern Territory and Heffron

There were two elections yesterday in Australia, the Northern Territory election, and the Heffron by-election in New South Wales.

Labor lost in the Northern Territory. I haven’t followed the election closely, so I’m not going to to speculate. However, I was reminded of this passage from the brilliant book by Christine Jackman, ‘Inside Kevin07‘:

But one should never underestimate the Northern Territory when it comes to originality. Out of the blue, Gartrell received an email from the NT’s Labor secretary, George Addison. ‘What if someone writes or paints a political slogan on an animal, say a pig or a cow? The animal is then tethered on private property – though clearly visible to voters entering a booth,’ Addison had written before adding, almost as an afterthought: ‘I would suspect this question is restricted to the NT.’

(Many thanks to Jonathan Williams for helping me locate the passage as my copy of the book has gone missing)

The Heffron by-election was a much better result. It was the seat of former premier Kristina Keneally, in a state where Labor is still well behind in the polls. The Liberals chose not to stand a candidate, presumably for the same reasons they kept out of the Melbourne by-election, almost handing the traditional Labor stronghold to the Greens. However, in this case the strategy totally backfired, with Keneally’s successor, Ron Hoenig, crushing the Greens with a massive 70.6% of the two-party preferred vote. The Liberals and Greens will both have a lot of thinking to do.

Organisational review: delegate numbers

The Labour Party has a system for heieracrhical representation based on delegates – which will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a similar organisation, but totally alien to anyone who has not.

In effect, each branch appoints delegates to it’s Labour Electorate Committee, and to regional and national conference, based on the number of members it has. This is covered by rules 163a (Representation at Annual and Regional Conferences/Congresses) and 171 (Representation at a branch-based Labour Electorate Committee).

The rules for annual and regional congress in effect give one delegate for each 50 members, the LEC rules are somewhat more complicated.

In the organisational review, there is a proposal to change rule 171 to give delegates using the following allocation:

10-20 members  1 delegate
21-50 members  2 delegates
51-125 members  4 delegates
126-200 members  6 delegates
201-300 members  8 delegates
and one delegate for each 100 members or part thereof

It is my understanding that this change, which introduces a new delegate allocation at 21 members, is designed to encourage very small branches to grow. Which is an admirable thing. I am supportive of any efforts to grow the party.

The thing is, this solution only encourages growth of very small branches. If you have a branch with 301 members, and you want to grow your delegate entitlement, you have to find another 99 members just to get one more delegate. If you were in that situation you’d be much better off forming a new branch with the 99 members, which would be represented by 4 delegates.

So I’m going to send in a recommended amendment to this proposal, which keeps the new delegate entitlement at 21 members, but also flattens out the delegate growth so branches continue to get another delegate for every 50 members. It would look like this:

10-20 members 1 delegate
21-50 members 2 delegates
51-100 members 3 delegates
and one delegate for each 50 members or part thereof

And just to make things easier to understand, I’ve graphed what it would look like, with the current proposal in red against my new proposal in green:

I’ll be putting this idea forward, and I hope it does get some support.

However, this does not solve all the problems. I think ideally we would have rules 163 and 171 aligned so that the delegate entitlement is unified in all situations, thus making the organisation of the party much easier to understand. Perhaps that’s something I’ll work on for the next organisational review…


Organisational review: University of Labour?

In my post late last night, I said that the regional hubs might be a good idea, but they are a structural solution that probably won’t, in of themselves, solve our struggles with the party vote.

One of the ways that we can improve this is by training our members about how to run a better campaign. I’ve heard many times about gripes about how one campaign or other didn’t do well enough at getting party votes, part of the problem is likely to be that no one ever told them how.

An idea that I’ve seen thanks to Progress is the concept of a ‘University of Labour’. From Progress

Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol has made clear that Labour can’t win using ‘the old playbook’. But what will replace it? An essential part of the new playbook should be the training programme Labour has for its members. A new training programme should build on the strengths of the current ‘Train to Win‘ programme and become an accredited, effective and meaningful ‘University for Labour’ that is accessible to every party member.

We know that a well-trained volunteer is far better prepared for the rough and tumble of party activism than one with minimal to no ongoing training. Therefore, the new University for Labour should make its mission the creation of well-trained volunteers at the variety of levels required to win elections. By engaging its diverse membership, Labour can drive innovative and forward thinking approaches to community organising, grassroots recruitment, fundraising, campaigning, policy analysis and speech writing.

Now, this is not a totally new idea. In early 2011 Labour held a candidate and campaign managers conference, and in a couple of weeks time Young Labour are hosting their first ever campaign leadership school. It’s probably also too late to get a University of Labour, or similar, included in the organisation review, but given that it wouldn’t take any rule changes to implement the basic concept, that certainly doesn’t have to be a show stopper.

At the end of the day, if we want to run better party vote campaigns (and electorate, and local government), the first step has to be making sure that our members have the skills to do so. And that is a project I would love to be a part of.

Organisational review: A very quick thought on regional hubs and the party vote

I’ve been to several last minute meetings about Labour’s Organisational Review recently, it’s now something I feel like I know like the back of my hand. Yesterday I was at a meeting for members of my local LEC, and heard something that I’d heard many times before: the regional hubs will be a campaigning body which will focus on the party vote (not a direct quote, but I think it will suffice).

While I do have some problems with this particular solution, which I’m not going to go into now, something struck me yesterday. Every time this party vote problem that the regional hubs are meant to address, one generic example is dragged out – local campaigns which focussed too much on the candidate at the expense of the party vote.

The more I think about it, the less I agree with the regional hub model being a proper solution to the problem. That said, I don’t think regional hubs are a terribly bad idea. I think the concept needs a bit of work, but may fix some other problems the party has.

The point I’m getting to is that if we want to campaign better for the party vote – we need to run better campaigns, and the solution is probably going to be cultural and operational rather than structural.

I think if all the effort that will be devoted to setting up 16 regional hubs was spent on training candidates, campaign mangers and activists, and building up and sharing a body of knowledge around campaigning, we would be far better off.

Of course, it’s not an either/or situation, and regional hubs may fix other problems. But if the problem we are trying to fix is to run better party vote campaigns, I think there are better ways of getting there.