What are the advantages and disadvantages of having formal factions within a political party like the ALP?
As the ALP has had, historically, such a wide range of ideologies existing within the party, the existence of factions can be an effective management tool for dealing with conflict and can calm internal ideological disunity (Faulkner, cited in Miragliotta, Errington & Barry 2013, p. 201).
Factions amplify Labor’s capacity to overlap a variety of ideological inclinations and interests: they can guide many different forces into a somewhat cohesive electoral and political strength. They can guarantee that the battle for position and power within the party is managed by at least some forces of confidence and stability and that it does not collapse into bedlam. Factions can also provide an executive framework which safeguards party affairs – crises can be tackled via relatively systematic and sophisticated methods, with the capacity to avert internal conflict and out-and-out panic. As Tanner stated, “…the most beneficial feature of highly organised factional structures within the ALP is that they provide ALP members, supporters and affiliated unions with a reasonable framework of ideological choice” (1990, p. 12).
However, there are also disadvantages to the existence of factions within the ALP. Members who seek to gain power and have impact within the party have to adapt their views so that they fit into the prevalent ideology of the faction they are part of (Fenna, Robbins & Summers 2014, p. 176). Thus, factions can effectively exclude party members from admission to the policymaking processes within the ALP. Miragliotta, Errington and Barry state that “Because factions exercise such powerful control over party pre-selection, and because coveted positions on the Labor frontbench are generally allocated on a factional basis, it has become very difficult to have a successful career as a Labor member of parliament without belonging to a faction” (2013, p. 201). One can’t help but wonder about the machinations of the factions within the Labor Party when Kevin Rudd was deposed and replaced by Julia Gillard in 2010. There was much criticism of the factions in the media at the time, as the “faceless men” were blamed for Rudd’s swift removal and Gillard’s ascendancy to the role of Prime Minister.
FENNA, A., ROBBINS, J. & SUMMERS, J. 2014. Government and politics in Australia, 10th edn, Frenchs Forest, N.S.W., Pearson Australia.
MIRAGLIOTTA, N., ERRINGTON, W. & BARRY, N. 2013. The Australian political system in action, South Melbourne, Vic., Oxford University Press.
TANNER, L. 1990. Labor’s Turbulent Tribes. Australian Left Review [Online], 1. Available: http://ro.uow.edu.au/alr/vol1/iss118/5/ [Accessed 26 August 2015].