I read many stories and opinions from people in the general public about the insidiousness of factions within political parties.
Usually they are from people who are not and have never been a member of a political party and thus are commenting from a position of ignorance or gullibility by believing everything they read in a (usually biased) newspaper.
All parties have factions. It is usually the ALP which is singled out for negative media treatment. It irritates me when this happens because the Coalition and the Greens have their own factions and they are just as ugly as the ones spawned by the ALP. Witness the treatment of Gary Humphries recently.
The origins of the factions are steeped in history and differ depending on who is telling the tale, but I can say that there are essentially two types of factions. The first is a coming together of the mind to pursue a philosophy or an idea. This is where the notion of left and right and wet and dry came from. This is healthy in that the opposing philosophies and ideas can be debated and strengthened and introduced (provided a party is in Government) or an alternative policy developed (if it is not). The ground of membership shifts with the subject matter.
The second is a personality cult centred on charismatic leaders whose personal fiefdoms have a political expression. This is where the notion of power before principle came from. This is where the attainment of and retention of power for its own sake is paramount. This is where the disease of corruption in all its form spreads like a cancer. Evidence the NSW ALP Right in recent times.
I have seen both types of factions and been in the middle of it. There is good to be gleaned if the concept is pure. If it is corrupted, it becomes negative and dangerous. It also becomes contagious because this is where much of the political colour is vested.
However, factions are not official organs of the parties, and so the general public have no say in what happens (and perhaps they should not have a say unless they are members). In many cases the rank and file of a party are excluded also.
This is the battleground in the ALP at present. All power to Bill Shorten’s arm if he can bring purity to the party over the self-interest of a few powerbrokers. Power to the rank and file is the way to the future. That this debate is happening is a credit to the democracy within the ALP.