Monday, September 15, 2008

Mr. Costello and N.S.W. Labor: two examples of how mass-membership political parties corrode the common good

So Mr. Peter Costello M.P. is going to stay in Parliament until such time as he can quit without looking like a crass opportunist. How gracious of you, Mr. Costello. And how grateful the humble folk of Higgins must be that a man of such august stature, such towering intellect would deign to continue to represent them without the adornment of office. Mr. Alan Ramsey summed up my feelings in one of his Saturday columns in The Sydney Morning Herod:

… if the former treasurer was as diligent a backbench MP as he is a salesman for his memoirs, nobody could possibly call him the parliamentary parasite he's become since the voters got rid of John Howard and his government almost 10 months ago. While Alexander Downer, Mark Vaile and Peter McGauran gave up bludging off taxpayers in recent months and left Parliament, Costello has remained in his subsidised hammock, contributing nothing to Parliament, his party or the community. His only interest has been self-interest.
In his defence, Mr. Costello has promised to continue to discharge his duties as Member for Higgins. But he was elected as Member for Higgins, and this was not contingent on his party forming a government and him continuing as a Minister of the Crown. If he were serious about his duties he would stay in Parliament until the next election. But of course, whether he cares to admit it or not, his first duty is not to his constituency or to the common good, but to his party. And this is a most lamentable state of affairs.

Meanwhile, the same newspaper recorded, in minute detail, the events leading up to the cosmetic re-arrangements in the N.S.W. (Labor) Government. And it was not edifying. The following sentence just about sums up the situation:

It has become a Government where the mediocre and compromised are rewarded while the remnants occupy themselves in petty debauchery.
Or, if you’d like it with a bit more colour:

"The wogs versus the bogans and the bogans won," was how a caucus member described the changes.

Dare I dream that, despite all its appearances, this government might actually be trying, in some unnoticed way, to advance the Social Reign of Christ? Ha, of course not. But it also would be a futile exercise to try to identify what this pack of miscreants is doing for the common good even if conceived of in purely material terms. And despite Mr. Rees’ desire to promote himself as a breath of fresh air, he is, as Mr. Christopher Kremmer notes,

part of what one metropolitan newspaper recently referred to as "a vast network of hacks, spivs, union bosses, developers and, occasionally, sleaze merchants".
In other words, a product of a mass-membership political party.

What I mean by the ‘mass-membership political party’ is the party that, contrary to the traditions of the Westminster system in which a ‘party’ was a loose, fluid coalition of like-minded M.P.s, draws its membership from all quarters of society, levying fees from them and maintaining a massive extra-parliamentary party bureaucracy. The problem is that this bureaucracy, like all bureaucracies, has imperatives of its own quite apart from the common good. Its chief imperative is the drive to be re-elected and form a government. The cases of Mr. Costello and N.S.W. Labor demonstrate, respectively (but with some connections), two of the unfortunate consequences of this. One is that the M.P.’s first duty is owed, not to the common good or his or her electorate, but to the party machine. The other, related to the first, is that the parties tend to field careerist candidates who have spent the best years of their working lives in the party rather than in the real world.

Now I understand that the rise of the mass-membership party in the Westminster system was a complicated process, resulting in part from the increasing separation of, in Bagehot’s words, the ‘dignified’ parts of government from the ‘efficient’ parts of government and the latter’s transfer to the legislature, i.e. the Government as The Queen in Parliament, which required a stable foundation for forming a government. And I don’t mean to pretend that the days when a political party was just a parliamentary coalition were somehow utopian. These objections notwithstanding, it seems clear to me that these party behemoths exercise a quite malign influence.

And that’s to say nothing of the two-party system. The two-party system is a tidy enough way to run things if the parties are just a broad but informal division between Whigs and Tories, with some transfer between the two, depending on the issue at hand. But when an external party machine and rigid party discipline is brought into play we start to see the economists’ median voter theory apply, whereby the two parties end up being but two shades of grey. On matters of binary choice in which the division in the electorate between aye and nay is roughly fifty-fifty, then one party stands for aye and the other for nay. But where, say, ninety per cent are in favour then both parties will concur with each other to give the majority what it demands rather than making a principled stand. Quite democratic of course, but not necessarily in the common good.

So what is the solution then? Expelling their members from Parliament would be nice, but the party bureaucracies would continue as parasites, albeit morphed into lobby groups without formal influence, while no doubt they would continue to exert their corrosive influence behind the scenes. Banning them altogether would be nicer still, but unconstitutional. So in the meantime, the least we can do is direct our preferences to an independent candidate or a small but principled party, knowing that one’s vote would not be ‘wasted’ since preferences would still flow to either of the major parties (in Australian Federal elections at least), while the big parties would be denied the funding that is allocated to first-preference recipients.

Reginaldvs Cantvar


Anonymous said...

Thankyou, Pole, for these interesting observations. I am not even remotely interested in day-to-day politics, regarding who is in and who is out etc. I am, however, very interested in principles. I have long been fed up with the two major parties and now I have a better idea why. I have been voting for independents wherever possible for many years now.

Anonymous said...

Dear Cardinal Pole

The DLP is a political aprty that has a constitution, rules and policies that more closely align with Catholic social teaching and Catholic moral teaching.
I used to be a member fo the ALp but because of abortion and privatisation of public assets and more since the 1980s I changed my politics.
If you would like to view the DLp go to:
but if you live in NSW post your details to
The Secretary
Michael O'Donohue
4 Dianella Court

Best Regards

Michael Webb
President- DLP -NSW branch

Cardinal Pole said...

Welcome, Mr. Webb, and thank you for your comment.

At the Federal election last year I made a fairly close study of the parties and individuals running for the Senate (even the ones that only had information on MySpace!). I found that the D.L.P.'s preference allocations were the ones most in line with Catholic social teaching, and so I gave it my first preference. I was impressed that the allocation was not simply along party lines but according to the views of each Senator. Keep up the good work.

(And I have noticed your comments at CathNews and Mr. Muehlenberg's blog--keep up the good work at those websites too.)

Catholic Mission said...

Friday, November 12, 2010
The new Democratic Labour Party, NSW, Australia whose President is Michael Webb and whose members include many priests and Robert Haddad of the Archdiocese of Sydney, perhaps unknowingly, holds the teaching extra ecclesiam nulla salus, as promoted by the leftist secular media in Boston in the 1950’s.It’s a modern version of the traditional teaching.Catholic critics could refer to is as ‘modernist’. It was created by Cardinal Richard Cushing, the then Archbishop of Boston, with the assistance of the Jesuits at Boston College and the Jewish Left media.

There are two DSP groups in NSW. The DSP Sydney of Michael Webb is Catholic with traditional Catholic Faith as their ethos but positively ‘progressive’ on the Church teaching, outside the Church there is no salvation. They are using the liberal, ‘spirit of Vatican Council II’ version of a changed, dogma.

The DLP Constitution according to Webb and Haddad opposes the infiltration of trade unions by Communist and Socialists.

The DSP Constitution does not claim to be Catholic in its ethos, whose membership is open to people of all religions and ideologies and whose aim is to serve all people with no discrimination based on religion, culture, nationality etc. This is fundamentally part of the Gospel teaching to love and serve all. There is also no separation of Church and State in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. So it would be religiously meaningful for Catholics in Australia to support Michael Webb. Probably because of the familiar sectarian secular laws, which could also exist in that province, he has not mentioned the word Catholic in the Constitution.