Learning how to lose

One thing the contemporary Labor Party has become very good at is winning elections, but a cost of this is that Labor loses badly. Perhaps the fact that so much of the active membership of the ALP is now dependent for the livelihood on Labor governments has encouraged this determination to win at all costs. The last NSW and Queensland elections are an example struggling Labor governments were returned after campaigns that aggressively targeted the mediocre opposition leaders in each state (video is from Queensland). But now the Queensland and NSW labor governments are in truly diabolical trouble and face smashing defeats at the next state elections. There is knack to ‘sucessfully’ losing where a party keeps its nerve and doesn’t disintegrate into a rabble and remains able to remind voters of its strengths. Facing Rudd the Liberals largely achieved this and during the election campaign itself they actually made up ground. The NSW and Queensland Labor governments are failing to achieve this, NSW Labor is at 26% of the vote in recent polls, but I am sure that more than 26% of voters find Labor’s policy record preferable on average to its rivals. There is a tradition of left-wing argument that Labor governments by tracking to the center alienate their core base with negative electoral consequences, my first ever published article in the long gone Labor Forum was on these lines (inspired by the 1988 NSW labor defeat) and the main contemporary advocate of this position is Andrew Scott (an interesting analysis of the circumstances in which this might occur is in the work of Adam Przeworski). Labor’s remarkable record of electoral success calls this argument into doubt but the NSW and Queensland woes suggest there is something to this argument. Where do this leave Victorian Labor? I think Labor will win the coming state election reasonably comfortably but the next 4 years after this will be very difficult, it will be a test of Labor’s ability to lose well. Jill Hennessy , Labor’s Altona by-election victor is a rare talent, but she should have been by now a minister in a first term federal Labor government rather than a backbencher in a fast ageing state administration. Two years from now how far ahead in the polls will be the Victorian Liberals be?

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