There will be plenty of analysis of what went wrong. The short answer is a lot. Much will be made of the 'worst result for NSW Labor since the 19th century ' line, but that is a statistic, it's not analysis. We have already heard a lot about fundamental re-alignments and structural change etc. The important point is that any realignment is between the LNP coalition and Labor. The Greens did not emerge as a third party. Disaffected ALP voters went overwhelmingly to the right not the left of the spectrum. The ALP will probably end up losing 28 seats, the Greens will be lucky to win one. In his victory speech, O'Farrell made much of "winning seats we never dreamed of winning". So did Labor under Wran. Wakehurst, for instance, on Sydney's northern beaches. Yesterday, the Libs got 70 per cent of the primary votes in Wakehurst and the ALP came third behind the Greens. Its a cyclical business.
It may take a decade, but the ALP will eventually win back most of the seats it lost yesterday. It won't happen because of some "searingly honest" (as Luke Foley described it) internal navel gazing. It'll happen when the ALP get's on with the business of winning seats. ALP reviews by party elders are a waste of time. Here's what I think the ALP needs to do to win them back sooner rather than later:
1) Pre-select 40 or 50 good candidates as quickly as possible. Labor needs new candidates in the seats it lost, and in others, as soon as possible. It needs people on the ground, with connections to local communities, who are willing to do the hard grind of doorknocking every weekend, running local issue campaigns, representing voters with a grievance against the O'Farrell governmen etc. This won't be easy. Pre-selections should cover two terms so that those who are willing to put in the work starting this year have a realistic chance of getting into Parliament, rather than just warming the audience for some factional trustie down the track. If the ALP can't build an army of enthusuastic candidates anything else it does will be a waste of time.
2) Campaign everywhere. Follow the lead of the Democrats and republicans in recent presidential campaigns with their 50 state campaigns. The marginal seats strategy, conducted at the expense of safe ALP and LNP seats, has to be moved away from. It's outlived its usefulness, as most political strateges ultimately do. We live in an era of demographic shifts and decreasing party alignment.Labor should consider every seat winnable given the right candidate and the right policies. Focusing on marginal seats creates resentment and disillusionment among your supporters in non-targeted seats, it also lets your opponents target their resources on your marginals. For instance, the Liberals were able to bus supporters from the northern beaches to the western suburbs to staff booths etc because they faced no opposition north of the harbour.
3) It's the substance, stupid. Labor leaders like Carr and Rudd became obssessed with the 24 hour media cycle. There's nothing wrong with polishing the silver, but there were so many promises made (complete with media stunt and glossy brochure) in NSW and broken, and re-announced again that in the end nothing the government said was believed by anybody. Political campaigners often view the long-term as a string of 24-hour news cycles, like points played in a tennis match, the side winning the highest number of points wins. But voters just don't see it this way. If you promise a hospital and don't build it, no amount of clever PR will remove the fact that the voters feels betrayed. Media management works on journalists, for a while, but not so easily on voters.
4) Forget the Greens. Recently, there has been talk about the need for the ALP to reach out to Greens voters to rebuild its primary vote. Nonsense. The Greens would like to become a third force, but they are a small left-wing party reliant on Bob Brown's popularity and mostly confined to Tasmania, and the inner-city areas of Melbourne and Sydney. To rebuild its primary vote the ALP needs to win people off the LNP. Moving towards the Greens makes that harder not easier. Labor should co-operate with the Greens on issues where it is in Labor's interests to do so, and on Labor's terms. In those ALP heartland seats in western sydney and the Hunter, cost of living trumps carbon pricing. I can't see that changing.
5) Don't blame the unions. Another misunderstanding is the idea that Labor would have greater electoral appeal without unions. There is scant evidence for this idea. Unions provide significant resources, especially in campaigning personnel and they provide the ALP with a distinctive identity. The problem lies in relationships between the party organisation and the parliamentary party. Where the organisation tries to dominate the parliamentary leadership (blocking privatisation, engineering leadership coups) the electoral consequences are invariably disastrous. As galling as it might be for the egos of those in the organisation, the best option is always to support the parliamentary leadership team. Disunity never works, and the parliamentary leader is ultimately the person responsible for winning elections and governing. The party organisation has a lot of influence through pre-selections, but once those candidates have been pre-selected its role is, or should be, purely supportive.