The decline of traditional TV

Netflix has launched with a roar in Australia and New Zealand, and research is starting to come in showing that the take-up has been huge.

Analysts predict that if Netflix were measured as a 24-hour station by Nielsen, it would have more viewers than ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox within the year.

This is yet another piece of evidence that very significant numbers of people are abandoning  the traditional “ Movie Box” media. Also (radio, newspapers and magazines).

While I have no doubt that a very good (and expensive) TV ad campaign might have previously been able to win elections, there are more and more reasons why this is no longer the case.

If you were to sink the vast bulk of your campaign budget into TV ads, you should really stop and think about how many people would actually see them (and that is assuming they have any effect at all, of which there is limited evidence).

Progressions

Apparently Phil Quin, Josie Pagani, Stuart Nash, Nick Legget, and some others want to start a think tank called “Progress”, which might, supposedly, endorse candidates. (Yes, yes, there will be inevitable jokes about think tanks containing Stuart Nash) Predictably, and with all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop, Greg Presland at the Standard has compared this to the Douglas-ite Backbone Club.

I can’t see why the supposed think tank is at all controversial. Quin, Pagani and co share a certain vision for the party. They want to advance this vision by advocacy; in order to advocate more effectively, they’ve decided it would be best if they formed a collective to amplify their voices. Those are all good left-wing principles.

Now, obviously Nash has to be careful. Unlike in the UK, where Progress, Compass, Socialist Campaign, and the Tribune Group are able to operate with MPs taking a significant role, New Zealand’s stricter expectations of caucus discipline probably constrain Nash from heavy involvement in a group that might disagree with official party lines. But individual rank and file members of the party shouldn’t have to worry about maintaining strict adherence to the party line, as long as they make it clear that they aren’t speaking on behalf of Labour, and avoid simply running the party down.

In the long run, of course, the Labour Party is a democratic(-ish) institution. If the membership disagree with the ideas “Progress” advocates, then they can vote them down. This might require left-wing members of the party to articulate ideas of their own and organise to get them into policy, and to support and develop candidates of their own. This would also be a good thing, particularly from the point of view of the left of the party.

The Labour Party under Clark was almost entirely devoid of ideological disputes, as a way of repressing the unresolved issues of the 1984-1993 era. Internal party elections were fought purely on personalities and factional allegiance in the worst sense of the word. This lack of internal ideological structuring meant that when, in the post-Clark era, the party was forced to develop novel political strategies, it lacked the intellectual armoury to do so. Internal decision-making still avoided any fundamental ideological component, and devolved into crude factional struggles based on patronage networks. The routes to advancement within the party did not reward the development and articulation of political theory or policy, but were instead dependent on patronage and personality.

Particularly frustratingly from a left-wing member’s point of view these patronage networks, which generally maintained lip service to the notion of “left-wing Labour” or a “true-red Labour”, allowed centrist, or even right-wing, careerist politicians to position themselves on the “left” of the party without in fact making any commitment to left-wing principles or policies.

An internal debate between left and right offers an opportunity for the party to move away from a purely patronage based model of internal organisation. This can only be good for the party as a whole. In particular, it offers an opportunity for the left of the party – which, after all, maintains that it is the largest grouping – to organise, proffer coherent and attractive ideas, and support strong candidates.

Reviewing the review

The envelope on which NZ Labour’s campaign review was written on the back of has unsurprisingly been leaked. Expect a witch hunt to distract from just how sub-standard the review is.

The content of the review, and lack-thereof, offer a fascinating insight into a party in turmoil. The actual 2014 general election campaign is skimmed over – most of the focus of the review instead seems to be the party’s organisational structures.

I’m going to go through the review and offer some thoughts. Starting with part 1 – General Election 2014.

Part 1 – General Election 2014

1A Campaign organisation

The late start under a changed leadership team left too little time to allow Labour to prepare and implement an effective campaign. In general, Labour’s campaign preparation was inadequate.

The new leadership team should make an immediate start on developing and implementing a coordinated strategic plan for contesting the 2017 election. A small and properly constituted Campaign Committee should be established at least a year out from the election and should be charged with preparing and implementing a campaign strategy which achieves buy-in from everyone, from the leader down.

While I don’t really disagree with the sentiment here, I find it an odd thing to open the review with (defensively stating “we didn’t have enough time”). David Cunliffe had a year between taking over as leader and the general election – which oddly is the lead time the review recommends for the setup of a campaign committee. I actually thought that the campaign committee was a standing committee, and if it isn’t, it should be. With three year terms no political party can afford to take two years off from campaigning.

1B Candidate selection

Candidate selection on the whole worked well and produced some excellent candidates. Late candidate selection hampered some 2014 electorate campaigns.

There should be a strategy developed for early selections and electorates with limited potential to generate a significant candidate pool. Attention should be paid to the transparency and fairness of the process for drawing up the list and to the structure of the list.

Oh candidate selection worked well, did it? The late selection bit is rubbish too – it is one area where Labour actually did really well. Six months out from the election Labour had selected all but seven electorate candidates, well ahead of Nats, Greens and NZ First.

Yes there should be a strategy developed for early selections, but this was done following the 2012 Coatsworth/Shearer review. What this review needed to do was ask *why* didn’t it happen – or is it simply misinformed.

1D Fundraising

The campaign was undoubtedly hindered by a shortage of financial resources. The finance available was less than in earlier campaigns, though only a little less by comparison with 2011. Labour must do better in this respect in 2017. Labour must build greater confidence in its ability to win and to form a successful government, and – in addition to building its database of online donors – it must use high – level business and other contacts, supported by a strengthened group of professional fundraisers on the staff team, in approaching the corporate sector and other potential sources of funding for donations.

We need more money. This could pretty much be the title of the review. Let’s see if any action is actually taken.

1E Leadership

Perceptions of tension around the leadership and disunity within caucus seriously undermined Labour’s credibility with voters and frustrated any attempt to present a Party that was ready for government.

It is imperative that Labour acts – and is seen to act – as a disciplined and coherent team that is ready for government if it is to win the trust of voters in 2017. As a key element of this process, the senior leadership team within Caucus should be given greater prominence and responsibility throughout the three years.

Yes, leadership was a problem. However the review conveniently ignores the harsh reality that the party was facing an election with a deeply unpopular leader. I’d be interested to know if this review panel has actually seen the research the party did on leadership? Yes, caucus disunity was a problem for David Cunliffe, but only in so far as it had been for every single Labour leader before him. Though I don’t have any hard stats to back this up, I actually think the party and caucus seemed pretty united during the campaign, and I certainly don’t recall any leaks against the leader (as had happened previously).

Sadly, the recommendation the review provides (giving the senior leadership team in caucus more prominence and responsibility) doesn’t really seem to be a solution to any problem, real or imagined.

So, we’re at the end of the General Election 2014 section of the review, and we have the following recommendations:

1. Form a campaign committee a year out from the election.

2. There should be a strategy for early selections. The list selection process should be “transparent and fair”.

3. More resources are needed for training candidates, campaign managers and volunteers (this was 1C, which I haven’t covered because it’s totally uncontroversial)

4. We need more money, and to do that we need more professional fundraisers in head office.

5. Giving the senior leadership team in caucus more prominence and responsibility.

I challenge any member of the Labour Party to take a look at that list and tell me that it adequately addresses the problems Labour’s campaign in 2014 faced.

Part 2 – Policy and Positioning

This section has a list of policy and positioning recommendations which it tells us are not actually recommendations, because they first need to be passed to the Policy Council and then the Media and Communications Unit in the Leader’s Office. I’m going to ignore it, as the party almost certainly will (after Patrick Gower has finished mocking 2G).

Part 3 – Party Governance and Organisation

This truly is the strangest part of the review. It goes from making recommendations based on problems Labour faced in 2014, to just making stuff up. I’ll try and summarise, but forgive me if I end up rambling, due to the nature of the subject matter.

3A – Party legal status

This is an issue I’ve heard about before, and still to this day don’t really understand (the review doesn’t go into much detail). I don’t know why it was a problem, or what the review is recommending, so hopefully the new general secretary will be able to finally resolve this.

3B – National level organistational structure 

This section a series of recommendations. Sadly the review doesn’t mention what problem they are trying to address. Here is what they suggest:

1. A new sub-committee of NZ Council, the Executive, which would include the Leader, President, two senior Vice Presidents, General Secretary, and three Party members elected directly by the membership. Tasked with developing and implementing campaign strategy as well as selection criteria.

2. Maintaining and expanding the NZ Council to include an ethnic representative.

3. A Campaign Committee to be appointed by NZ Council.

4. Sector groups to be reviewed (yes, this review recommends more reviewing).

5. Te Kaunihera Māori, the Māori section of the Party , should also undertake a review (are we seeing a pattern here?).

As I said earlier, I don’t really know what the problem is the review is trying to address here. I would actually assume that the new Executive and Campaign Committees would conflict and potentially hinder each other’s work.

3C – Local organising

The recommendations in this section are a mess. They recommend cementing the LEC (electorate committee) as the main unit of power, not abolishing branches but removing any power they have. It also recommends finally abolishing regional councils, which should have happened when Hubs were implemented. However it still leaves in place the regional reps on NZ Council (which will never be allowed to get smaller) and regional conferences will never die. Sadly review doesn’t touch on how the “Hub” organisational model worked or didn’t in the general election.

3D – Affiliates 

Precis: the affiliation model is broken (also, we get no money from them).

The main recommendation that there should be a working group to “examine the most effective way for affiliates to be integrated into a campaign strategy.” And it also handily points out that the money gained from unions is small, but doesn’t have any recommendations on what to do about that.

3E – Candidates

I’m going to quote the first line of this section: “The real question appears to be how the Party identifies candidates and then prepares and supports its candidates before, during and after the election.”

I’m sorry, does it?

It also then goes on to say:

“One of the most criticised aspects of the last election was the process for selection of list candidates”

Really? Not the fact that you got 25% of the Party Vote?

It then goes on to make the following recommendations to change this ‘problem’:

1. Any member with 10 signatures should be able to nominate for the list (this is raising the current threshold, but it’s still so low it doesn’t matter).

2. All nominations should be vetted (and presumably vetoed) by a three-person “Vetting Committee”.

3. Moderating Committee should change to being composed of the NZ Council + 4 members of caucus (does that include the members that already sit on NZ Council).

These three recommendations are the most incredible thing in the review. They’re proposing to centralise power in a way that would make Muldoon blush. While they complain about a lack of democracy and transparency, their recommendations propose the opposite. Amazing.

3F – Fundraising

The main recommendation here is to put in place a capital fund to pay for campaigns. And to do that they want to “unlock the significant resources held by local entities of the Party”. Good luck with that.

 

At the end of the day this review is a mess. However the biggest problem will be if the party focusses on the guff in it (I can already imagine the fights that changes to LEC and regional council rules will cause) and continues to ignore the very real political problems it faces – which remain largely unaddressed.

Given this review is a waste of the envelope it was written on, it will be interesting to see how the new leader and president react (I can’t imagine the current General Secretary doing much to improve the situation).