‘The end of the era of mass politics?‘, Inside Story, 26 February 2018
Historical look at the trajectory of the major parties in Australia.
Healthy or not, our parties are here to stay. The combination of the preferential voting system and public funding based on electoral performance means that they can sustain themselves even if their membership lists are padded with phantoms and their meetings sparsely attended. With their capacity to write the rules and harness public resources, the major parties effectively operate as cartels. Leaders can afford to politely ignore their members.
This leaves us stuck with parties for the foreseeable future. But that’s not necessarily bad news …
The truth is that we don’t really know how democracy will be organised over the next fifty years. Perhaps the mass party will be another artefact of a moment in history when the values of equality and state provision were at a high. Perhaps we, as citizens, need to shape the process by demanding more from those who govern us. As long as political parties, and ultimately government, believe that democratic legitimacy remains crucial, we stand a chance.