Fracking Gareth Hughes

Green MP Gareth Hughes has just published a blog post congratulating Labour for restating their pre-election policy of a demand for an immediate inquiry into the mineral extraction technique known as fracking.There has been fracking in New Zealand since 1993, and given current international concerns, there are calls to ban or limit its use.

The main point of Gareth’s blog post is to call on Labour to change its position to push for an outright ban on fracking…

Considering Labour’s concerns, they should commit to backing the call for an immediate moratorium, the only way we can safeguard our rights to clean water and air and a safe environment.

Which is a logically reasonable position, but not one I’m going to get into today.

My issue with Gareth’s post is that he is essentially calling on Labour to adopt a Green Party policy. The problem for Labour is if we do this, we will inevitably be slammed by the Greens for ‘stealing’ their policy, as has happened all too often recently.

David Shearer has been quite explicate in his desire to see Labour focus on building a greener, more sustainable economy. His appointment of his number two, Grant Robertson, to the environment portfolio shows that Labour are taking the environment just as seriously as the Greens. This is undoubtably going to cause further tensions in the future.

I’m look forward to the day when New Zealand politics can move past petty partisan bickering so that we can really start addressing some of the massive issues that our country faces.

Ratana – the verdict

While John Key has made a strong pitch for the support of the Ratana movement, it is clear that history does count for something. Not only is it history that is helping, but Shearer really does seem to have got his speech pitch perfect. From 3News:

“We would like to talk about how we go forward together, it can’t be achieved in one day once a year,” Mr Shearer told the gathering after being welcomed on the marae at the head of a delegation of his MPs.

His gesture was welcomed by members of the church’s executive committee.

Shearer isn’t just asking for the votes of the people, he wants to rebuild a strong and deep relationship. He has invited the church leaders to come and visit him in Wellington – a signal that he is genuine in making this a two-way relationship – and the offer seems to have gone down very well with the church leadership.

Contrast that with Key’s tone. Via TVNZ

“Despite the long standing relationship between Ratana and Labour, I would argue with you that it’s in Government that the National Party has made many gains,” Key said.

Another interesting point to note is that the second largest population of Ratana faithful are in the far north. Given the northern Ratana people largely supported Hone Harawira, who managed to beat Labour’s Kelvin Davis by only just over a thousand votes, I’d say that their influence is not unsubstantial.

Finally, aside from the political success of the day for Labour, it must be noted that this is yet another performance that David Shearer did not stuff up. His delivery was good and the speech natural and well crafted. Those who doubted his ability to be a credible front person for Labour should be re-evaluating that position right about now.

How Gingrich shows that inequality matters

I’m convinced that if you did one of those horrific “word cloud” infographics of political op-eds for the last few months, one word that would stick out like a sore-thumb would be inequality. One of the most read posts on The Progress Report is Hayden Munro’s excellent piece on the subject.

It’s interesting then to see how the issue is literally transforming the race for the Republican presidential nomination in the US.

In just five days, Newt Gingrich managed to turn a 10 point lead in the polls from Mitt Romney into a 12 point victory in South Carolina. I think that’s what David Cunliffe would call “a good old fashioned shellacking”. But it seems that the momentum is bigger than just South Carolina. The latest polls in Florida have Gingrich ahead of Romney, the former front-runner, by 9 points. Romney is now on the defensive, hitting back at Gingrich in such a scattergun approach it’s just making him look desperate.

So how has Gingrich managed this incredible comeback? This video sets the scene. Gingrich has tapped into a particularly dodgy aspect of his past, his time leading the investment group Bain Capital, his tax rate (15%, much lower than most Americans) and just how filthy rich he is.

It was not a strategy he would have come to easily. Not only does Gingrich have his own fortune, but saying these sorts of things has really put some noses out of joint in the right wing commeteriat. As sumarised by the Huffington Post

On Jan. 13, the Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced Gingrich for launching “crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism.” Rush Limbaugh compared Gingrich to Elizabeth Warren. South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who boasts a reputation as a crucial Tea Party power broker, accused Gingrich of sounding like a Democrat.

Despite these criticisms, Gingrich’s standing in South Carolina polls rose as his attacks on Bain Capital grew stronger. On Jan. 17, Talking Points Memo’s Poll Average pegged Gingrich at 24.6 percent, with Romney at 33.2 percent. On Jan. 19, Gingrich was at 33.9 percent and Romney was at 28.8 percent. On primary day, Gingrich was at 35.7 percent and Romney was at 26.4 percent.

Despite being blasted by the right wing media, and being severely under-funded and with a lack of high profile surrogates, Newt Gingrich’s message is really hitting a nerve with the (registered Republican) electorate. People don’t like the inequitable business practices that Mitt Romney has engaged in, and they’re voting with their feet.

Another good read on the subject is this article by Christopher Lamb, also on Huffington Post: ‘South Carolina: An Embarrassment of Riches’.

Will this message get wider resonance? If so, it does seem to be a huge opportunity for parties of the left, worldwide.

Rātana and Labour

Grant Robertson and Annette King congratulating Rino Tirikatene

Tomorrow marks the traditional beginning of the political year with the celebrations at Rātana.

Labour’s connection with the Rātana church is long and deep – going back to the 1930s, with Sir Eruera Tirikatene signing an allegiance with Michael Joseph Savage, and merging the Rātana political wing and it’s two MPs into the Labour Party.

The relationship between Rātana and Labour has been strained in recent years however, and probably reached it’s nadir in 2010.

That said, we have entered a new parliamentary term with a new leadership team, and most importantly, a new Rātana MP in Rino Tirikatene, the new MP for Te Tai Tonga. Rino is of course a descendent of Sir Eruera, and the late Dame Whetu, who held the seat of Southern Maori for Labour for a combined total of 64 years. His connections within Rātana are strong (I’ve even heard rumours that there are photos of him dressed up for the Rātana band when he was a youngster, I’ll try and see what I can find…)

Labour has turned a new page, and Rino is hopefully the start of new representation and connection within the Rātana  and wider Māori communities. We have worked so well together in the past, now is the time to make sure we ensure both organisations are stronger together.

ALP Left on what we can learn from the unions

The Australian Labor Party’s factions sure are interesting beasts. At their best, they serve as avenues for new ideas and new thinking. Both factions have their own magazines which are often full of interesting things.

Challenge, the magazine of the ALP left had a decent quick article in their last edition about what the party can learn from the union movement.

I know there will be those on both sides of the political divide who find the basic premise of the article ridiculous, but there sure is some good stuff in the meat of the article…

1. Invest in growth

Growing membership size and organisational capability are central to any renewal program – you can’t get stronger by getting smaller. But a target for growth is of no value if you don’t have a real plan for growth to go with it.

The Prime Minister’s announcement of an ambitious target for 8,000 new members is one thing – but a plan for growth is of no value if you don’t resource growth. Growing membership takes time, people and money. Labor needs to grow, but if it doesn’t prioritise and resource growth, it won’t happen.

Totally agree. In 2009, with the help of others in our ogranisation, and based on some excellent materials produced by Phil Twyford in Auckland, we ran a very successful membership drive in Wellington Central, attracting many new members, and re-engaging old members.

While there will (hopefully) always be localised success stories – that is simply not enough. We need proper resources (people, time, money) to run a well co-ordinated nationwide membership drive. Labour will only survive as a party of mass membership if we are able to systematically attract and retain new members.

2. Campaign

People who’ll sign up to a cause simply because they like your ideas are rare. Any union organiser can tell you the best way to engage new people is to campaign around issues they care about, whether it’s better safety, flexible work hours for parents, or secure jobs.

For Labor, the opportunities to work with communities at the local level to campaign for things that would make a difference – sports facilities, pre-schools, new bus services – are limited only by imagination and willing feet on the ground.

Again, I agree. Any MP or local government member who is not campaigning for their community throughout the three year term – and I’m not just talking about press releases and speeches – I’m talking actual campaigning and engagement – doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.

The one challenge that this doesn’t touch on is how to take the momentum of a campaign and transform it into long term support.

3. Respect your members; they’re your best asset

There was never an excuse for unions not to respect their members, but the days of lifelong, rusted-on allegiance made it easier and many fell into the trap. No longer. The union playbook has changed, it’s now best practice to make sure members take the lead in identifying issues with the union there to support, advice and lead.

Members need to be listened to, empowered to make important decisions and trusted.

This is a more difficult, less tangible one. An immediate example I can think of is a Labour friend of mine who was telling me how they feel that the upper levels of Labour’s byzantine structure do not represent her, and doesn’t feel there is enough two-way communication and consultation. I think she’s dead right.

4. Remember who you represent

Unions regularly take a pounding for the positions they take in the interests of their members. Take the Qantas unions – no-one can accuse them of not standing up for their members.

Even if they don’t like you much, people respect you for doing something consistent with your values and representing the people you’re meant to represent.

People understand Labor is a broadly socially progressive party that stands for working people. That is Labor’s core value. Labor should not aspire to be simply a ‘good economic manager’ in the narrow sense, but rather to manage the economy in the best interest of working families.

Over the weekend at Labour summer school I heard several different interpretations of who and what it is we stand for, including one or two nebulous references to ‘our people’.

I suspect this will be a matter of debate for some time to come.

5. Everything has to be aligned with the mission to grow

There was no single factor that turned things around for unions, except perhaps sheer determination.

Unions are a world away from where we were in the mid-90s – we have new attitudes, new organising techniques, new internal structures, new governance standards.

Similarly with Labor, no single measure will turn things around.

We don’t only need rules reform to increase party democracy. We don’t only need to reaffirm our values and renew our ideas. We don’t only need to reach out to communities and build the capacity of ordinary people to campaign for change in their lives. We need to do each of these things.

This is spot on. Everything we do must be aligned to our objectives or we are simply wasting our time.

From what I’ve heard them say, David Shearer, Grant Robertson and Moira Coatsworth all seem to be on board with this thinking. The problem we face is that not everyone is on board. There are still some very organisationally conservative elements in the party who will reject change, modernisation and growth, though they will dress their objections up with other far-fetched fallacies.

I have no idea how many of these ideas or similar concepts are already being embraced by the trade unions in New Zealand, but I know that Labour has already started heading down this path, and it’s first steps are encouraging so far.

Megan Woods on the situation in Christchurch

Labour’s energetic new MP for Wigram, Dr Megan Woods, made a fascinating presentation to Labour Summer School on rebuilding Christchurch, and the relevance of hope to the people of Christchurch.

It really amazed me how much new information she had. So many stories, both positive and negative, seem to be slipping under the radar. She talked about the work of various third sector organisations which have sprung up or morphed from earlier entities. Things like Rebuild Christchurch, Greening The Rubble and Gap Filler, which are all doing interesting and inspiring work.  There are also many things that the state can and should be doing, or doing better. I’m not even going to attempt to cover them here. Despite Megan’s excellent hour-long seminar, I now feel that I know even less about the Christchurch situation.

The relevance of hope was something that was easier to grasp. I’m sure we all know people who have left Christchurch, simply given up. It’s not hard to see how that could happen. Strong, inspiring community leaders are going to have a very important role to play. Though she was too modest to say so herself, I know that the work of the MPs of Christchurch is going to be such an important help to their constituents.

I’m glad that David Shearer’s first visit as leader was to Christchurch, that we’ve appointed a fierce community advocate in Lianne Dalziel as our Canterbury Earthquake spokesperson, and that we have a great team of local MPs and activists in place in Christchurch. These people need to know that we’re doing all we can for them. And I genuinely think we are.

As an aside, Ruth Dyson mentioned on Twitter this afternoon that city councillor Tim Carter has called for the government to replace the council CE, Tony Marriott, with a statutory manager. I think local government politics in Christchurch are going to be just as interesting as central government. If anyone who is following these issues wants to write about it for The Progress Report, I’d be very keen to hear from you.

Improving Labour’s leadership selection systems

Another very interesting session today, facilitated by Deputy Leader Grant Robertson and complemented by a very well researched presentation from Trevor Mallard.

Grant spoke in favour of opening the leadership election process to include members. Obviously in a forum like Labour’s Summer School, the participants were very much in favour of this. He did also offer a word of caution – we only have to look at the Republican primary to realise how an internal free-for-all can be so damaging.

Trevor laid out four potential ways the leader could be selected…

  1. A new leader may simply emerge informally, possibly from outside of Parliament.
  2. An electoral process where the leader is selected by caucus.
  3. A process where the leader was selected by conference or a specific leadership conference, presumably through conference’s delegate system.
  4. The direct election of the leader through a ballot of members – and there are many ways this could be done.

Note that none of these options are fully fleshed out, and different permutations of one or more of these options would be possible. Our current leadership selection process fits firmly under the second category, where as the British Labour Party and Canada’s NDP use a combination of the third and fourth options.

The feedback from the members was near universal. We need to establish a set of criteria as to what the leadership process needs to achieve and then evaluate our options against them. Of course, we all wanted the membership to have a say, but there was also a recognition that MPs, given their insider knowledge of caucus, must continue to play an important role, and we also need to consider how our affiliate members are engaged in this process.

It was a very thorough, positive debate, and people on all sides seem to keep the positives and the negatives in mind. Good stuff.

My own personal view is that a model similar to the one the UK Labour Party use, with an electoral college system divided between the Parliamentary Party, the membership and the affiliates, would be suitable. We would need to tweak elements of it to meet the New Zealand conditions.

The last point to consider is how we achieve change, particularly with the ongoing organisational review. Grant made the point that changes to the leadership selection system cannot be made in a vacuum. Opening up the selection of leader will bring with it a can of worms we only just began to see with the 2011 leadership contest. We cannot be afraid of constructive dissent. We must be able to be confident to disagree with each other without devolving to personal attacks.

If you can’t laugh at yourself…

Cactus Kate is giving Danyl McLauchlan a run for his money when it comes to NZ political satire with her latest post.

She’s been “leaked” a copy of the Labour Camp schedule for the weekend. It’s rather good.

A personal favourite…

5.15PM Rebuilding Christchurch

Megan Woods, MP for Wigram.

Megan will speak about Christchurch and the relevance of hope in the rebuilding of our entire electorate organization down there after the decimation on 26th November where even Aaron Gilmore whopped our arse in the Party vote.


The Third Way and Labour’s review

This morning we kicked off with a fascinating talk from Progress Report author Hayden Munro about the Third Way and how we should consider it, particularly entering into the party review.

He covered the work of Al From, who in Hayden’s opinion is the most important figure on the left for the last half century.

From was very deliberate in his re-working of the Democratic Party in the US. He felt that the party organisation was essentially moribund, and made it his mission to change it. By effectively changing (traditionalists would say hijacked) the party through its own reviews and re-organisations, he was able to influence candidate selections and ultimately policy.

Hayden has promised to write a post for The Progress Report summing up his talk, so I won’t spoil the story for you.

However, Hayden’s talk set the stage very nicely for the next speaker – Labour Party President, Moira Coatsworth.

Moira spoke about the nuts and bolts of Labour’s organisational review. She set the started by stating that all organisations should be continually renewing – which was good to hear. My personal belief is that this is particularly important in politics. One of my strongest criticisms of the 5th Labour government was a failure to renew, and I’d take a stab and say that the party was even worse at this than the parliamentary wing.

The review itself is still in its very early stages. Moira took feedback from the audience on the scope and nature of the review. She wants the review to be evidence based, looking at our sister parties around the world, and using real data. Good stuff.

It looks like the scope will be signed off very soon. The project co-sponsors will be David Shearer and Moira Coatsworth. They’ll establish a project team and nationwide consultations should happen in February and early March. It’s likely we’ll see a discussion paper late April / early May, with discussions at regional conferences.

We’re starting to hear signals that the review won’t be looking under every rock. There won’t be a line-by-line review of the constitution. I expect that we’ll be looking at how our organisation failed in 2008 and 2011 and the changes we need to make to fix those problems.

I’m sure we’ll be looking at some of the bigger picture stuff – leadership selections, the policy process, candidate selections etc. Some of this will be able to be addressed through internal policy and action, but any constitutional changes will have to wait until party conference in November.

There will be some who will be disapointed by the (potentially) limited scope of the review. I guess one of the key tensions is to ensure that the review goes far enough so as to ensure the Labour Party is transformed into the 21st century vehicle for the progressive left that it needs to be, without tearing itself apart or being bogged down in constitutional remits.

Personally I’m really looking forward to both the process and the outcome. It’s a very interesting time to be a Labour Party member.

Summer School Day #1

The summer school opened last night. Really good turnout, with members of all ages from every end of the country. David Shearer spoke briefly and he remarked that defeats always seem to bring out the biggest crowds. In my experience, the same was true in January 2009 after our last defeat.

It was very good to see David speak to the activists present. In his three years as party leader Phil Goff was never able to make it to summer school, and Helen Clark only managed it once. After the formalities were over he did circulate around the members, get their views and have some very good discussions.

There is pretty poor mobile coverage here on both networks, so apologies for not keeping you up to date. I have been tweeting this morning, and have a few blog posts up to date. Keep an eye out!