Labour activist Tony Milne, who was involved in the successful Civil Unions campaign, has pulled together this quick list of lobbying tips for those who want to make a difference in the campaign for marriage equality.
Respect the way in which an MP has decided to make a decision (there are multiple ways MPs are influenced or could come to their decision, and multiple factors they are taking into account when making a decision – some of which may have nothing to do with the bill itself).
Discuss, don’t lecture.
Share your view and experience, don’t bully, hector, or harass (makes you feel better, but doesn’t help persuade – in fact, does the opposite).
Pick up on the signals in any response to inform future responses. For example: if an MP says they will be guided by their electorate (incredibly valuable information for an MP to share!), organise locally to encourage locals to explain from a personal perspective what it will mean to them the day the law passes. Or organise a petition of locals to demonstrate local support.
Never attack an MP you’re trying to persuade.
An undecided MP (even a “no”) who has been treated with respect, dignity, compassion and understanding, is more likely to become a “yes”.
Let’s not repeat the mistakes of our opponents whose poor tactics and lack of lobbying skills have helped our victories in the past.
A guest post from an anonymous ALP member.
I’m not sure it matters who ends up winning the eventual ballot/s, there isn’t going to be much of a prize for the winner.
Both the Rudd and Gillard governments have done some great things (putting aside our inability to sell half of them) but the next election won’t be fought on Labor’s record in bringing us through the global crisis in a better position than any other country. It won’t be fought on issues such as workplace relations, health care, education, broadband or climate change – all areas (and there’s many more) where our policy is superior. Instead it will be fought entirely on the revolving door leadership. This isn’t just the fault of Rudd, blame can be cast on both leaders, the cabinet, the strategy and media advisers and indeed the faceless men.
We look an absolute rabble and the election is now Abbott’s to lose, something which thankfully he is uniquely capable of doing.
In similar circumstances the QLD election is the LNP’s to lose with polling putting the conservatives well in front. Can they make it through the six week campaign period without screwing it up? The ALP’s strategy clearly was to have an extra long declared campaign to give Newman and the LNP enough time to fall in a heap. While hoping for the other guys to screw it up isn’t the best strategy ever, it’s understandable – this is a party that has spent most of recent history in opposition because they are so divided and dodgy.
The LNP is that short of talent they had to find a leader outside of Parliament, and clear divisions between the merged party remain. Voters who are sick of an aging government are only going to start scrutinising an alternate government late in the election cycle. It’s the “are they ready to govern?” question that will be crucial to the result. Clearly I believe they are not, but the ones that matter, the voters have a six week long timer to make up their mind on that question.
Because of Rudd’s actions, you can take at least two weeks off that timer, as state election stories will be buried by the latest in speculation over the challenge and the fallout from the result. That assumes a one sided result, a close contest and it’s going to remain the only political story for the foreseeable future. A landslide result might have a good result for Queensland ALP, but it appears Rudd’s best case response is a second winning challenge after a close loss in the first one. If it wasn’t his home state I could understand him not wanting to delay his ambition by six weeks to help a state election that is likely lost. But he’s blowing one of his own state party’s few remaining strategies.
Which I guess sums up how I see his motives, it’s all about Kevin. He’s willing to sell his QLD state colleagues out for his personal gain. He’s willing to destroy the credibility of the Government to take back power. In tearing down the Government to try and take back the leadership he either hasn’t considered (or does not care) what condition the party will be in if he loses. ‘If I can’t have it, nobody can’ is a disturbing approach for a progressive politician when on the other side of the chamber sits a hard right conservative who would love to wind back all the good policy both Labor Prime Ministers have put in place.
This is a guest post from an anonymous ALP member.
I first became involved in the Australian Labor Party in 2007 and winning that election elicits some of my fondest memories of my political life. I’ve been heavily involved in the ALP ever since.
Kevin Rudd’s press conference and decision to resign as Australian Foreign Minister is the beginning of the end for his career with Labor. To use a great phase: he’s done a Mark Latham.
Kevin Rudd is a very popular guy with the wider community. He has a great ability to make spin sound like straight talk (sadly contrasted by Julia Gillard’s unenvious ability to make straight talk sound like spin), but the message that comes out of Canberra is that he’s hated internally. As Prime Minister he was the School Principal that the parents loved, but the teachers couldn’t stand. Nothing has changed.
Kevin talked in his press conference today about his concern for the nation. Australia is a country that has coped with some of the most serious economic times that the world has seen in more than fifty years better than any other nation on earth. Our unemployment rate is phenomenally low. We’re officially the richest people in the world. Our government has made amazing progress that should warm the hearts of lefties everywhere: we’ve put a price on carbon, increased the wages of our lowest paid workers. We’ve introduced paid maternity leave and we’re rolling back middle class welfare. We are taxing our billionaire mining magnates who have become rich off resources we all own. We’re investing more in education and health
Kevin can proudly take some of the credit for our achievements of the last four years. So can Julia. Labor’s problem has been that we haven’t been able to sell our achievements. So when Kevin attacked the direction of the nation and the direction of Australia, he said exactly what the disillusioned wanted to hear and exactly the opposite of what the party faithful have been trying to get across since we took office.
It’s now increasingly clear that from the moment Kevin chose not to contest the leadership in 2010 he has been working to destabilise this government; working against Labor and for his own interests.
Aided by the media desperate for blood, Kevin and his tiny band of follows have done chipped away at Gillard. Not because of any policy difference, but purely in the quest for power. Hopefully now it comes to a head.
The feeling I get from my friends and colleges in the party is that he’s done. In an extremely anecdotal fashion the message I got today was almost universal dislike for Rudd’s resignation. Rudd might still be popular with the public, but his ego is too big and his quest for power too great for him ever to be an option again.
He wasn’t rolled in 2010 by “faceless men”. He was rolled by his work colleges, by the elected Labor members of the Australian Federal Parliament. He was rolled because he couldn’t work with them and he still can’t. He proved that today with his calculated dummy spit.
There is no longer a place at the Labor table for Kevin Rudd.
Paul McMahon is a member of the Spreydon-Heathcote Community Board, Chair of the Labour Local Government Committee (Christchurch) and Chair of The People’s Choice (Christchurch 2021): This post is his personal opinion and is not speaking for Labour or Christchurch 2021.
As several other writers have reminded us recently, in the past the Christchurch City Council used to win awards for their community engagement due to the high quality of civic leadership and local democracy: a lot has changed since then. There are serious problems within the Council and in the way it is run and led. The public have a right to feel angry and disenfranchised.
At the protest the feeling of anger and a real desire for change was palpable: this is not a flash in the pan of civic history, it was the beginning of the end of the ruling regime. Change is coming to Christchurch, but what the nature of that change is very much up in the air. We are on shaky ground in more ways than one.
The problems are not new and the current cause is simple: the reigning majority of Councillors, led by the Mayor, have not adhered to the basics of democratic process, oversight and governance. This group has been called the “A-team,” and, according to one local body veteran I know, they are the tightest-knit governing political party Christchurch local body politics has seen within living memory. This grouping has allowed the Mayor and the CEO to dominate our local government, by giving them the votes they need at the Council table and by not requiring due democratic process to be followed. The dysfunction currently under the spotlight is how this ruling party has decided our local government should be run since 2007, but the foundations were laid before then.
Between 2004 and 2007 our local democracy was routed in a pincer manoeuvre of democratic deficit and corporatisation. It was the halving of the number of councillors and the amalgamation of wards (merging wealthier wards with poorer wards) before the 2004 local elections (highlighted by Chris Trotter in a recent piece published in The Press) that delivered the king hit that severely weakened democratic representation on the Council, while the corporatisation (presided over by Mayor Garry Moore and CEO Dr. Lesley McTurk) gutted the Council of its public service ethic, institutional knowledge and, therefore, its capacity to respond adequately to the challenges of the recovery we now face.
Furthermore, I would go as far as to say that the reform programme of the Moore-McTurk era is precisely what has enabled two men, the Mayor and the CEO, to so detrimentally dominate what was once the best governed city in the world. In particular, the dissolution of the standing committee structure, the reduction of the power and role of community boards, the centralisation of service-provision and decision-making, and the proliferation of middle and upper management roles. All of these changes have, directly or indirectly, undermined the supremacy of elected members and elevated the roles of the Executive staff and Mayor.
The solution to the problem is to return to democracy, not to remove it altogether as some are advocating. The prospect of government-appointed commissioners is not one anyone should relish. I understand why it has some appeal, but we have already lost a democratic voice in our Regional Council (Ecan), so losing democratic control of the City Council would mean all the decisions about the recovery of our city would be made in Wellington, disenfranchising us even further.
Christchurch is the people’s city, it is neither the Council’s nor the government’s city, and so it should be the people who decide who governs: and the only way to do that is, whether sooner or later, through elections. Disenchantment with the recovery process will only be heightened, and the democratic deficit increased, if the government installs commissioners. They must be sorely tempted, but it carries with it a lot of political risk: once the government installs commissioners they will shoulder all the responsibility and all the blame.
If there are going to be any radical changes, they should be in-line with the principle of subsidiarity and aimed at giving the community a stronger voice in the recovery from the earthquakes. Rather than centralise decision-making in Wellington, the government should go completely the other way. Instead of concentrating power, they should disperse it into the community through strengthened and empowered community boards, whose job it is to be representatives and advocates for their communities.
Decisions about the recovery should be made as close to the people they affect as possible, as openly as possible and with as much participation by the people of Christchurch as possible. If the government appoints commissioners they will be depriving us, the people of Christchurch, of our local democracy and of the ability to determine the shape of the recovery: that is precisely why people feel frustrated with the Council now!
As people who already feel powerless in the face of over 10,000 earthquakes, losing local democratic representation, even for a time, will rob us of even the little voice we currently have. Change is needed, but it must be democratic and it must be empowering to our suffering communities. If the majority of the Council will not change, then an early election is the only answer.
So now we come to the point of this story, the lessons we should draw from From and Blair’s story. The lesson is an important one and it is this: if progressive Parties weaken the organised forces that push for the interests of working and middle class people, they should not be surprised to find themselves with a political system that does not listen to these people. The out sized political power of the super wealthy is the direct result of decisions to weaken the organisational power of groups representing middle and working class interests. As happened throughout western economies and society, the push for individualised methods of social organization, rather than the collective action that defined the post-war era, weakened the power of ordinary voters to influence the system.
Hacker and Pierson, in their unbelievably highly recommended book Winner Take All Politics explain why organised groups can influence government action where individual voters cannot:
“To influence the exercise of government authority in a modern democracy generally requires a range of formidable capabilities: the capacity to mobilise resources, coordinate actions with others, develop extensive expertise, focus sustained attention, and operate flexibly across multiple domains of activity. These are attributes of organisations, not discrete atomised voters.”
No matter how worthy the cause – it must have organised power behind it if our political system is to respond to it. It’s this fundamental truth, that ordinary people best exert power over their leaders when they organise and band together, that is the foundational assumption of the labour movement. It’s why we have unions and why we have progressive political parties. Sadly, the story of progressive parties for the last 25 years then has been a concerted effort to weaken the ability of working and middle class people to exert organised pressure on their leaders.
It is important to know that this move from effective organised participation to ineffective individualised participation is not the story of all forces in our political system. In fact there is one interest group who has moved in the opposite direction: corporations and the super wealthy. Since the 1970′s business groups have become ever more organised and effective at putting pressure on politicians to take their concerns seriously and to govern in their interests. One way to measure this is the exponential rise in the use of lobbyists by business groups (a rise it should be noted, that can also be seen in New Zealand). The extent of this new organised lobbying effort was dramatised by a recent report by Public Campaign, an American interest group who found that 30 of the US’s biggest corporations paid more in lobbying fees trying to influence public policy than they paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2011. So while corporations and the super wealthy were finding more and more organised and effective ways to push policy makers to bow to their concerns, progressive parties have spent the last 25 years removing their members ability to effectively organise in their own interests. In the battle over who Government listens to, one side has been unilaterally disarming while the other has been stocking up on ever more effective weapons.
The last few years have shown decisively that the current political-economic arrangement, where the super wealthy have vastly disproportionate power and bend the rules to suit their interests, isn’t working. It is widely accepted within Labour that our party has to change, has to allow more say for our members in everything from leadership to policy formation. The challenge we have is creating a party system in which our members not only have a voice, but the organisational might to make sure their voice is heard. We must remember that any reforms that lessens our members’ ability to organise, be it through a union or sector group or even just a voting bloc, lessons their ability to make the political system respond to their interests. We must make sure we build our new Labour Party on foundations of real, effective representation, rather than top down elite control in the name of “democracy”. Collective action and organisation are the tools by which members of the labour movement have built a better world and a fairer New Zealand for the last hundred years. They are the way through which we will create an economy that once again works for everyone. We must make sure we protect them.
The second in a series of guest posts by Hayden Munro. Read part one here.
However as we now know, for all its electoral success, Clinton and Blair’s Third Way failed in some very real ways, ways that would see it summarily rejected by the majority of progressive thinkers and leaders by the turn of the decade. Within ten years, Blair would watch as his successor Gordon Brown re-embraced the Keynesian style demand side stabilisation policies of “Old Labour” in the face of a Great Financial Crisis that Blair never saw coming. Even worse, Blair was forced to watch as his chosen heir David Miliband was defeated in a Labour leadership election by his brother Ed Miliband, who ran on a ticket of opposition to the Iraq War and a “turning the page” on Blair’s legacy. Likewise Bill Clinton could do nothing but smoulder as his wife Hillary was defeated in the 2008 US Democratic Primary by an upstart Senator who promised to move on from the days of “Old Washington” and the small scale incremental change of the Clinton years. The electoral repudiation of the Third Way is the strongest possible evidence that there was something fundamentally unsatisfying with the outcomes of the Third Way project, and a look at Clinton and Blair’s economic record tells us why. Fundamentally, on the key economic challenges facing us today, the Third Way did not offer solutions.
To understand why the Third Way was unable to address these concerns, we must look at how it came to dominate the politics of Labour and the Democrats. It is here that we begin to see answers for why our politics stopped being responsive to the vast majority of our citizens. Because what both From and Blair did was takeover their parties by reforming how their members participated in their parties’ internal democracy. Despite the vast differences between the US and UK political system, and the rules structure of the Democrats and Labour, From and Blair’s strategy was the same: change the rules under which the party operated in a way that weakened the ability of opposing groups to organise against them, by promoting the idea that less organised forms of participation were more “democratic”. The effect of depowering organised groups within the party was always the same: it increased the power of elites and centralised control of the party apparatus and platform in the hands of an elite few. This led to less membership, less organisation and parties governed in an increasingly “top down” way.
The first in a series of guest posts from Hayden Munro based on his presentation to Labour’s Summer School.
I promised Patrick I’d write a rundown of the presentation I gave to Labour’s Summer School this year and what I think the implications are for Labour’s ongoing project of party reform. Not just the organisational review, but also any leadership, candidate selection, or constitutional changes. The broad theme is that way in which progressive political parties themselves have become neo-liberalised in the last few decades, and the way in which this has meant they have increasingly been unable to bring about real change when in power.
The presentation was a recap of the way Al From and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) took over the Democratic Party in the USA in the late 80′s and early 90′s and how this takeover inspired and informed much of Tony Blair’s New Labour project in the UK. From was the director of the DLC, the centrist group that eventually elected Bill Clinton. The presentation then linked this takeover to both parties’ inability to effectively respond to the major economic challenges we are facing at the moment, such as wide and growing income inequality, stagnating middle class incomes and an increasing sense that, as Grant Robertson has noted in a few public speeches, a public that increasing feels like politics is not something they do but something done to them.
This is a fairly lengthy subject, so I’ve broken it up into three posts which will be going up over the next few days.
A guest post from Jacob Quinn, first posted on his blog, Life and Politics.
What is the point of having a media unit if they cannot filter and influence what messaging makes its way into the public from your organisation? This is a question that political parties need to ask themselves when deciding on how to manage their MP’s media releases, blog posts and media interviews.
It is common practice for media staff, most of whom are ex-journalists or at least have developed understandings of how media works and how issues will likely play out, to coordinate interviews and press releases. So why would you leave them out of having input to (and more importantly, oversight of) a party political blog, that you’ve set up to communicate political messages and to engage with interested voters and journalists.
Today’s blog post by Labour MP Raymond Huo, and a couple of other noteworthy examples from 2011, are examples of well-meaning but ultimately counterproductive pieces of political communication, that, had they been put under the nose of a press secretary, would have stayed in the drafts column, never to see the light of day.
This is why you pay press secretaries. Even if you are an award-winning writer or a former journalist yourself, you cannot keep your political antennae on 24/7 – especially in the wake of a personal attack or when reacting to something that you feel particularly emotionally charged about.
In the heat of the moment you lose your cool and write something that turns out sounding silly. It hits the press, you are embarrassed, your colleagues are embarrassed, and then your leader has to have a quite stern word with you. Now you wish you’d run it past someone in the media unit.
I am of the view that to minimize the risk of embarrassing or counter-productive communications working their way into the public domain political parties must include their communications staffers in all external political communications, including blog posts. Press officers tend to be available (almost) 24 hours a day, they have smart phones, and the sign-off processes needn’t be overly cumbersome or bureaucratic.
Political party blogs like what Labour and the Greens have are incredible useful communications tools. Conversely, blogs which consists of newsletter links and rehashed press releases are not worth the $25 a year it costs to register the domain name. Labour and the Greens should be commended for running real blogs, with real opinions on current issues, but they are foolish if they don’t bring these tools within their broader communications strategies and oversight mechanisms.