John Howard was interviewed by The Australian in Australia and offers some interesting perspectives on political parties, membership and ideology.
“All political parties need reform,” Howard said in an interview with this columnist to mark the 40th anniversary of his election to parliament.
“The greatest problem that my party has, the greatest problem the Labor Party has, is that we no longer pursue with zeal the idea of expanding the membership.”
The problem has become particularly acute for Labor.
The party’s terrible result in the West Australian Senate election underscores the need for reform.
With its two lead candidates beholden to unions and each representing polar ideological extremes, it is not surprising Labor received a dismal 22 per cent of the vote.
Both Labour and National face similar issues here, though I suspect Labour’s issue is more pressing.
When Howard joined the Young Liberals as an 18 year old in the late 1950s, he said it was the “mission” of every member to recruit new members.
“We spend too much time arguing about what the existing membership does rather than throwing open the doors to new members.”
However, given the loss of members in both major parties, retaining new members has become a life or death matter. At Labor’s peak in the 1930s, it boasted a membership of more than 150,000. The Liberals had a membership of more than 150,000 in the 1950s.
Today, membership of both major parties has declined even though the population has expanded. Labor and the Liberals each have about 45,000 members nationally.
“People don’t join local sporting clubs, local churches, local service clubs and political parties the way they did 50 years ago,” Howard says. Read more »