With a 'mixed mandate' from the ALP's first experiment with a rank and file component in electing the parliamentary leader, Bill Shorten needs to move straight away to implement the reforms he promised to the 'Local Labor' internal ALP lobby group and to the membership generally. This is crucial in order to keep the Party unified , cohesive and with high morale - as the ALP rebuilds and aims to retake government in three years.
We speak of a 'mixed mandate' here because Anthony Albanese achieved roughly 60% of the membership vote; while Bill Shorten won over 55 out of 86 caucus votes. The majority of the ALP grassroots have spoken.
Importantly, 'The Age' reported that the ALP Right was enforcing 'pairing' (ie: Voting in pairs to ensure factional discipline) to ensure their members were voting for Shorten in the caucus. (See: 'The Age' October 11th 2013) Here, perhaps the ALP Left could have pressed harder for a 'free vote' for members of both factions – as the condition for the Left itself relaxing its internal discipline on the leadership vote.
That said, a number of members of the parliamentary Left decided to vote for Shorten. October 15th's edition of 'The Sydney Morning Herald' suggested perhaps as many as nine. Undoubtedly this had the effect of ensuring a Shorten victory. Perhaps four more Left votes for Albanese and the leadership would have been his.
Maybe Left figures who switched to Shorten felt they did so in good conscience – for what they perceived to be the Party's interests. There will be an internal debate about this which it it is not my intention to go into here. But were that the case – again there is an argument that it follows that Right MPs should have enjoyed the same freedom.
Hopefully the full story will come out in the coming days and we'll have a fuller appreciation of how this process has panned out.
But Labor had resolved to implement this process – to go down this path. Shorten achieved a majority according to the rules which had been agreed to upon 'the Rudd restoration' of June 2013.
A 50 per cent vote for the rank and file was still a step forward. Especially if there are more far-reaching reforms as part of the deal over the coming months. This could also include a stronger rank and file component in future elections for leader.
Another matter is that with Albanese recording such a strong vote amongst the members he deserves recognition. Shorten has already committed to Tanya Plibersek for the Deputy Leadership. Plibersek is certainly incredibly talented - and could have had a go at the leadership herself if she'd been inclined to do so. Importantly, Bowen has proven himself, having done a good job as Treasurer during the brief period allotted to him.. All this taken in to account, it would be fair for Albanese to have his choice of portfolio. And portfolios will be announced this coming Friday.
Importantly: as part of an understanding for Labor 'to move forward together' perhaps Albanese could also be given the task of heading a Committee to oversee democratic Party organisational reform between now and the next ALP National Conference. The Committee would be comprised of people genuinely committed to the reform process. And their brief would be to actually implement reforms as soon as possible– and not to 'bury' the process through endless review.
With Albanese at the helm of such a committee Party reformers would have cause for hope that it won't happen that way.
And maybe the ALP's National Conference could be brought forward so that whatever policy positions are adopted that there is plenty of time to campaign on difficult issues which nonetheless are a matter of principle. (for example: increasing Newstart in the face of Conservative attacks)
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