Kelvin Thomson is on my television screen advocating for a leadership ballot. Following the defeat of the Rudd Government on Saturday, the chatterati have returned to discussion about the ALP leadership. ALP leadership has been a recurring issue throughout the past three years and, arguably, one of the reasons the ALP lost so decisively was because of the perception of division and disunity within the party.
In the twilight of the Rudd era, the ALP changed its rules for electing leaders. The idea was to prevent the situation we had seen in the Rudd-Gillard years of Prime Ministers being replaced overnight by the Caucus. Rigidity, inflexibility, and immutability is stability, so the argument goes.
This has caused an unusual problem in the post-election world. The ALP is desperate to show a united front, but ballots can show division and disunity.
But could a ballot be used to promote and communicate a sense of unity and stability within the ALP? Yes.
If the ALP doesn’t go to a ballot for the leadership, the image is of the ALP machine deciding its leadership without appropriate consultation. The cost of a unified appearance is the image of a party that lacks transparency and accountability.
If the ALP does go to a ballot for the leadership, the ALP reveals the internal power factions once again. Whoever wins, they have to contend with the image of a faction that opposes them.
The solution is to hold a ballot where the candidates ‘campaign’ for each other, rather than for themselves. Ordinary ballots have candidates striving to ‘win’ by promoting themselves and tearing down opponents. A ballot could instead have the message: ‘The ALP is overflowing with leadership talent. Here are three candidates that we think are excellent. Regardless of which is picked by the ALP membership, we will have a leader better than our political opponents. We believe this so much that our candidates will promote the alternative candidates rather than themselves.’
No matter how good the ALP’s policies are, if they don’t look like a credible alternative government, they will spend years in the political wilderness. A new type of ballot would promote a new culture in the ALP.
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