Where to now for Labour in local government?

Saturday’s local government results have had many lefties celebrating. We now have Labour-aligned mayors in Auckland, Christchurch, Porirua, Rotorua, Wanganui and Masterton. In many areas, particularly in Christchurch and Auckland, Labour candidates have done really well in picking up council and local board seats.

I was particularly pleased to see a good number of young Labour members stand, and get elected. I’m sure I’ll forget someone, so I’m not going to attempt to name them all, but Young Labour really stepped up to the plate with some fantastic candidates, many of whom got excellent results. I really hope this is something that continues.

[Update: Phil Twyford’s Red Alert post is well worth a read for a good summary of how the left did on Saturday]

But it wasn’t all sun shine and rainbows. Here in Wellington, we lost a long standing and dedicated councillor in Leonie Gill, and hard working Labour member, Daran Ponter from the regional council. In Auckland, the chair of Labour’s local government sector council, Richard Northey, lost his council seat. And I’ve heard some unsettling things about Labour’s results in the east of Christchurch.

So that brings us to the question of where does Labour go from here in local government?

On Saturday we saw the success of many strong Labour candidates, running smart, locally informed, data-driven campaigns. The benefits of these to the wider Labour movement are huge. Not only is it an excellent training ground for candidates, campaign managers and activists, but it ensures that Labour is deeply connected with the communities that it hopes to represent.

I’ve had this blog post from the New Statesman saved in my bookmarks for sometime – Labour must embrace localism. I’d strongly encourage any Labour member considering local government to take a read.

Fundamentally, the party needs to decide if it’s going to take local government seriously. This Saturday activists and candidates have shown that it can be done. But if we are going to really connect with our communities, we need to do better. I’d suggest that this would involve seriously reforming the local government sector council, so that it becomes a campaign engine room, which is able to assist local branches to resource and implement decent campaigns. It would mean drawing upon the resources and expertise of our MPs (Phil Twyford’s work with the Labour Henderson-Massey team is an excellent example) and sharing best practice.

But first, I think there needs to be a strong decision to take local government seriously, rather than treating it as a poor cousin.

Christchurch local government results

The under-reported story about the Christchurch elections has been the rise of the Labour-linked People’s Choice ticket. The People’s Choice now has 6 Councillors out of 13, outright majorities on two of the six metropolitan community boards, and the chance to build working majorities on three more.

There’s two aspects to this: firstly, how did it happen, and secondly, what should the new People’s Choice dominated council do?
The People’s Choice ran a campaign based around hard work, clever strategy, and Labour values. It wasn’t a campaign driven by money or media profile. From memory, only one People’s Choice candidate appeared on the front page of the Press, and that memory’s not a happy one. The spending figures aren’t available yet, but I’d be surprised if any People’s Choice candidate spent anywhere like as much as Erin Jackson, Raf Manji, or Aaron Keown, let alone the representatives of Merivale money, Jamie Gough and Paul Lonsdale.
Instead, the People’s Choice worked hard in the community, getting out there, doorknocking and meeting voters. They focussed their efforts on those communities where progressive values are important, and made sure that those communities were able to turn out and vote. And they talked about Labour and Labour values.
Not every People’s Choice candidate is Labour, but many are, and the People’s Choice’s values are very much Labour values. Voters know what values are important to them, and we need to communicate that we share those values. Being clear about our political position is good strategy. Hiding behind “independence” or, worse, “non-political groupings” isn’t just kinda weird and creepy, it doesn’t work. Being honest and upfront does work.
Now the People’s Choice has won elections, what should they be aiming for?
The People’s Choice should be expecting to have a say in how the council works. They have several senior figures, people like Yani Johanson, Phil Clearwater, and Glenn Livingstone, who are capable of taking on leadership roles within the council. They should be pushing for their key policies, especially around healthy homes, openness and good government, a living wage, better public transport, and more. And Lianne will need solid support to make sure her mayoralty’s the success it should be.
They’ll also need to stand up against proposals that go against the values of equality and justice the People’s Choice represent. With six councillors, they can expect to have a say in every key decision, and should make sure they use that power. Voters will be unimpressed if the People’s Choice doesn’t deliver.

Machiavelli on luck and opportunity

I’m currently reading a book by Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair’s chief of staff, and remarkably, the first ever chief of staff to a British Prime Minister. In The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World, Powell takes the lessons he learnt from his time working for Blair, and looks at them through the lens of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Discourses. It’s a fantastic read, and I’ve already got a stack of passages from the book I want to share. Here is the first:

In examining the lives of Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus, Machiavelli concludes that ‘we shall see that they were debtors to Fortune for nothing beyond the opportunity which enabled them to shape things as they pleased, without which the force of their spirit would have been spent in vain; as on the other hand, opportunity would have offered itself in vain, had the capacity for turning into account been without wanting’. He believed that the great leaders had both luck and the capacity to seize an opportunity when it presented itself without thinking twice, and that is what Tony had done when John Smith died.