Anthony Albanese (Image: AAP/Glenn Hunt)

Labor’s poor performance in the recent byelection in the Upper Hunter, held by the National Party since 1931, has prompted a new round of soul-searching about the party’s failure to maintain the support of its traditional "base".

Implicitly or explicitly, the base is assumed to be typified by male manual workers, particularly those in rural and regional areas like Upper Hunter, or in industrial cities like Whyalla.

In historical terms, this makes sense. The Labor party was founded after the defeat of the shearers' strike in 1891, and the party long drew much of its support from workers like shearers, canecutters and miners, as well as from urban factory workers and railway workers. There is plenty of nostalgic appeal in recalling the struggles through the 19th and 20th centuries from which today’s Labor party emerged.