Power: Give It & Grow It

Political power doesn’t work the way most people presume.

Underpinning those recommendations of the Bracks/Carr/Faulkner Review rejected by Labor’s National Conference last year and not implemented by National Executive and the Leader (the secret http://bit.ly/tPmRlD and the public http://bit.ly/vlfisv), is the proposition that if the Labor Party is to survive, power must be shared or devolved.

Unconvinced that future political prosperity mandates empowering members, many of Labor’s leaders, warlords and chieftains saw off those proposed reforms, many of which are now before Labor’s State and Territory Conferences.

Most made this decision because they mistakenly equate the empowerment of members with reducing their own power.

In politics, devolving and sharing power don’t necessarily involve reducing your own power, because power doesn’t come out of a single-sized bucket.  Giving away your power paradoxiocally grows your power in three ways:

  • If you invest some of your power in building everybody’s power, then there’s more to go around, and you should end up with an equivalent or larger piece of a bigger pie.  It’s the same logic that drives smart businesses to spend money on training, ostensibly just a cost, but in reality an investment in future success; if you invest your power in things that grow the Party, or improve it’s capacity to win, then you’re not draining your power, your investing in keeping and growing it;
  • Investing power in building Labor’s standing in teh community, and electoral success, has the same impact; and
  • Australian Labor Party members will acknowledge and reward those who show them respect, who empower them, and who involve them meaningfully.  Even a cursory reading of the Bracks/Carr/Faulkner Report will demonstrate that’s what’s sought by members, and the status of any of the leadership figures who deliver can only increase.

Labor Party leaders – Parliamentary and machine – who support the empowerment of members, earn more power for themselves – it’s that simple.

Too many in Labor’s leadership think of political power as a zero-sum system: it’s not, and thinking of it the wrong way is part of what’s killing Labor.

  1. Steve Hannington

    Labor Party Leaders do not have the power to empower the rank and file just as the rank and file don’t have the power to select their leaders. So as much as I agree with the sentiments of what you say Mike, surely the target of this discourse should be reducing the intransigence/power of the middle men in the process – the factions.

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    • Small “l” leaders – I really wanted this to refer to everyone across the Labor Party who holds power, not just Parliamentary Leaders! WordPress tells me you’re now in Norway.

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  2. Steve Hannington

    Yes, I understood the gist of what you were trying to say. My point is that your logic only works when there is a direct relationship between the leaders and the followers. There is no such direct relationship between the factions and the rank and file. In fact I’d suggest the factions see themselves as being the rank and file. The factions are the most influential bodies within the ALP but are not accountable in any way to the average party member (I’m not even aware of any Party Rules that pertain to factions). I’m not opposed to factions (as you know, I’m a member of one) but I do think they need to be made more accountable – maybe allowing all Party members to register as a factional supporter without formally having to join may be a good starting point. Such registration allowing ordinary members to participate in factional leadership ballots???

    Yep, am in Norway at the moment – love the natural scenery, hate the man made rip off prices!

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  3. Andrew Marrington

    The Party rules actually do permit us, as ordinary ALP members, to take control of our branches and our electoral committees and our state conferences and therefore our state executives and therefore our national conferences and executives as well. On paper there is nothing stopping us from forcing the warlords and leadership of the ALP machine to devolve some of their power to us, the rank and file membership.

    The strikingly obvious tragedy is that we don’t do it. And anybody who has ever been an office bearer in even the smallest local party unit knows why – the organisation necessary to “take back the Party” by these means made available to us by the Party rules would be staggering. Worst of all, if anybody did manage to organise a movement big enough and powerful enough to affect meaningful change, and force the devolution of some political power from the Party’s leaders and warlords, they would themselves have become a leader or warlord in the process.

    There is some tangentially relevant quote from Caesar about promising to hand back the power given to him when the task is done but I can’t quite remember it.

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