The following is an informal interview with Bob Howard, Governing Director of the Workers Party, by Merilyn Giesekam, editor of freeEnterprise.
M.G.: In general, Bob, what path do you see the W.P. following?
B.H.: It depends on the make-up of members. All things being equal it will become a more fully libertarian party. If the libertarians get out-numbered by the Conservatives in the party, the danger then is that the Party could start to lose some of its consistency. But at the moment it seems destined to remain libertarian.
M.G.: What percentage of the membership is libertarian now?
B.H.: A rough guess would be that less than 5% of members are educated libertarians. John Whiting in Adelaide and Mike Stanton in Tasmania, along with a group of us here in Sydney have set up three “schools” to educate those who attend in libertarianism. I hope that we can follow John Whiting’s lead in S.A. to make it mandatory for anyone who stands as a candidate to attend those schools.
M.G.: What do you see as the major role of the W.P.?
B.H.: Too many people tend to be a little bit too impatient. I don’t think they have a clear idea about how social or political changes come about. Change here can only occur very, very slowly. But what we have to do is continue on every front possible to promote our ideas and then as time goes by all these various threads will start to gather strength and come together.
What we are looking at in a sense is a form of public consciousness. I believe that there is such a thing as a matrix or set of ideas that could be said to be generally accepted. Today that set of ideas is far further to the left than it was say ten years ago. Now what we have to do is drag that set of ideas back in a libertarian direction.
Most people don’t think these ideas through. For one reason or another, they just accept them. What we will be doing is putting some of our ideas into circulation in competition with these. Because our ideas are basically common sense, I believe they will gradually come to be more widely accepted.
Our major role will be to bring back into public awareness free market alternatives. This will happen much more quickly and successfully if we can get some candidates elected to political office.
M.G.: Do you ever conceive of the W.P. ever actually gaining office?
B.H.: It’s certainly possible, but it depends on what happens elsewhere. For instance, our future is very much dependent on what happens within the Liberal Party. I remember when Milton Friedman was out here last year and he made a very interesting point about the Socialist Party in America. The point he made was this: that although the Socialist Party had never gained office it had had the single biggest influence on policy-making of the parties in office simply because it had pushed an extreme view consistently with the result that all the other parties had gradually adopted some of its more moderate policies.
M.G.: To go back to the second question. The public at large, certainly don’t regard well-known personalities such as John Singleton, Maxwell Newton, Lang Hancock and Sinclair (I’m just a farmer) Hill as being libertarian figure-heads. These are the people one mostly hears about in connection with the W.P. Doesn’t this contradict your prediction of a growing libertarian outlook in the W.P.?
B.H.: For a start, Lang Hancock is not a member of the Party. It is true we have managed to get an unfortunate public image. I think we should try to round out our image — try and present a much more decent and reasonable one. We’re not inhumane, cold, uncaring, Big Business or big money. But what you have just pointed out doesn’t contradict what I said before. The leaders of a libertarian party cannot operate independently of the party membership.
In any group of people you can usually divide them into at least two categories. Firstly, the doers. Secondly, the takers. Now, the people you’ve just mentioned are very much the doers. It’s up to the people like Mark Tier and you and me, as we regard ourselves as libertarians, to grasp the opportunity that we’ve got, and supply the doers with the necessary ideological ammunition that they need. And this is what I said before — if we fall down on our job and we become outnumbered by the Conservative element, then the party will not remain libertarian.
We are producing new libertarians all the time and the very nature of the philosophy is that it comes as such a (sought-after) revelation — usually something the person has been looking for for a long time, that they become hooked for life.
One of the things we have to realise is that the Workers Party has largely achieved the acceptance and credibility that it has because people like John, Sinclair, Max Newton and Lang Hancock have had the courage to stand up and support it. If you don’t have people of public stature in the Party, then it’s an unfortunate fact that you don’t have any credibility in the eyes of the Press, the business world and the political commentators.
M.G.: You have just said that the leaders of the Party can’t operate independently of the Party membership. Surely the proposed Branches Constitution of the Party contradicts this and in fact ensures that all power ultimately rests in the hands of the few leaders.
B.H.: It is true that the Board of Directors of the Workers Party has the ultimate say. However, a moments thought will show you that if the Board went its own way without any regard for the members then it would very quickly find that there were no members. The position of the Board is the same as that of the management of a company. It is in the Board’s interest to ensure that members are as happy as possible with their management. That’s the only way they will keep their members and encourage more.
The reason that we have the power that we do is that in order to resolve disputes there had to be some ultimate decision makers. What is true is that in the past we have not delegated enough responsibility to other people. However, even when this responsibility is delegated, for it to be a meaningful responsibility those charged with it have to be answerable to somebody. Hence, you have a hierarchy and the buck has to stop somewhere. In our case, it stops with the Board.
I think that too often libertarians are unnecessarily paranoiac about any form of organisation. Somehow they think it compromises their individuality.
M.G.: Are you in any way disappointed by events of the past year?
B.H.: Definitely not. In just twelve months we have established the basis of a very solid libertarian movement for the first time in the history of this country. We have brought together and given a voice to all the single individuals and groups of people that previously existed in various parts of the country.
M.G.: When is the W.P. going to change the wording of the basic premise from “No men or group of men, etc.” to “No person or group of people, etc.” or does it support the sexist implications of the present wording?
B.H.: The implication of your question is that if it is not changed it is because the Board doesn’t want to change it. However, if you read the Constitution of the Party, you will see that there is a constitutional procedure to be followed in order to make this change. In other words, it is not up to us to change it. It has to be changed by a vote of members.
M.G.: Why was it worded in such a way in the first place?
B.H.: It was a straight oversight. We (the all male member of the board. Ed.) didn’t count on the paranoia of the female members of the Party.
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