Doing politics

One of the most frustrating things that I’ve ever had to deal with when working with elected politicians is the excessive value that some of them put on some of the most ridiculous things. For example, how determined some of them are to put out press releases that no one will ever read, or the effort that some of them put into speeches in the House that no one (certainly not any undecided voters) will watch.

Of course, this is all part of the beltway echo-chamber, handily reinforced by people like David Farrar using number of press releases issued as a key performance indicator.

Which is why it is refreshing when you see an MP who is able to break free of what could be seen as traditional politics, and actually get out there and interact with the world like a real human being. I’ve got two recent examples I’d like to share.

The first is Gloria De Piero, a British Labour MP. From the Guardian…

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A group of workers, in green and white uniforms, have gathered shyly, but De Piero doesn’t give anyone a chance to feel intimidated, shaking hands and gabbling away about waking up at 3am after working for seven years at GMTV.

She says she knows they probably don’t think much of politicians. “I’m not here to get you to vote Labour,” she says. “I’m not here to talk politics, I’m going to try and not talk too much at all. It’s about listening.”

For the next hour or so, other than prompting a few quieter ones to have their say, she is true to her word.

It’s this attitude that has made De Piero, who has spent several weeks meeting women across the age, class and income brackets around the country, such an asset to Ed Miliband. Her findings have played a key part in influencing the Labour leader, who made a speech on Friday positioning himself as the champion of the middle classes.

The second example is from closer to home. While the New Zealand Parliament is still in recess, and little has been heard from any of the major parties yet this year, senior Labour Party MP Phil Twyford is publicising a kayak trip around the Waitamata Gulf. In his words…

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, I’m pushing the boat out. I’m heading off on a 50 km four day kayak journey around the Waitemata Harbour.

It is part-homage to this amazing stretch of water we live next to. It is a thing of beauty, an extraordinary playground where we swim, fish, sail, and paddle right in the heart of this country’s biggest city.

The trip is also an investigation into the declining ecological health of the harbour.

The Waitemata, and the wider Hauraki Gulf, are facing big challenges from urban development. Fish stocks in general have not recovered from decades of plunder. Shellfish populations are under threat. Toxic metals from run-off are contaminating estuaries. Invasive species are on the increase. And too many of our beaches are unsafe to swim after heavy rain because of sewerage and storm water overflow.

It is easy to write off actions like these as stunts or PR exercises – but with more and more people feeling disconnected from politics and their elected representatives, I think there is a great deal of value in actually getting out there and behaving like a real human being.


More on Labour’s selections

Earlier this month I posted about Labour’s upcoming selections, as Jenny Michie on the Daily Blog has pointed out, Labour has been particularly silent about them. Despite selecting some great candidates, they seem to be hesitant to tell anyone about it. Not a single mention of the process or the successful candidates can be found on the party website, Facebook page or Twitter stream. 

As well as this, I’ve found it extraordinary that as a member I haven’t even been sent an email about what is happening in terms of selection. In the latest copy of the regular magazine that the Victorian Labor Party sends to members, there were practical tips about how to get selected and get involved in the party – really simple stuff, but it makes a huge difference to members who want to get involved (okay, it would be expensive to produce a magazine, but fairly easy to pull together email updates).

Not only does it seem pretty out of touch to be selected candidates without telling the membership, it also seems to be in direct contrast to the recommendations of the organisational review, started just after David Shearer became leader. From the ‘Communication and Organising’ recommendations that came out of the review:

a) We will develop more effective two-way communication with members nationally, regionally and locally. Party and Parliamentary communications will be well integrated and planned.
b) We will use modern tools to have readily available up-to-date information for Party members, as well as guidance for activists and office-holders. This needs to include improvement of our website.

I would find it hard to justify keeping members in the dark about selections against these recommendations.

It would be interesting to see what other review recommendations the party hierarchy is choosing to ignore or forget…


Returning officers

The Australian Labor Party often gets a bad rap when it comes to internal democracy, words like “faceless men” are used so often they become meaningless. I’ve been in Australia for less than two months however, and there are some aspects of ALP internal democracy that I think we could learn from in New Zealand.

The one that has really surprised me has been the party’s returning officers. From what I can tell (and I might be wrong, their rules are just as Byzantine as those in NZ), each party branch, from an electorate level right up to the federal executive, has to have a returning officer as a special officer – separate to the rest of the executive. They tend to be long-standing esteemed and very neutral party members. This is quite unlike New Zealand where the returning officer is the relevant secretary, or in the case of national-level elections, such as the leadership, the General Secretary. Given political positions, such as the General Secretary, are inherently going to have skin in the game – removing them from this vitally important role seems like a no-brainer.

As I said, I have no idea how they go about appointing their returning officers, but from what I can tell both sides of the factional divide in Australia think that it is one of the better parts of their system.


Organisational review: don’t forget!

Just a very quick reminder that if you have any final thoughts on Labour’s organisational review, tomorrow is your very last chance to submit.

Send any submissions to office@labour.org.nz by the end of Friday the 31st.


Organisational review: delegate numbers

The Labour Party has a system for heieracrhical representation based on delegates – which will be familiar to anyone who has worked in a similar organisation, but totally alien to anyone who has not.

In effect, each branch appoints delegates to it’s Labour Electorate Committee, and to regional and national conference, based on the number of members it has. This is covered by rules 163a (Representation at Annual and Regional Conferences/Congresses) and 171 (Representation at a branch-based Labour Electorate Committee).

The rules for annual and regional congress in effect give one delegate for each 50 members, the LEC rules are somewhat more complicated.

In the organisational review, there is a proposal to change rule 171 to give delegates using the following allocation:

10-20 members  1 delegate
21-50 members  2 delegates
51-125 members  4 delegates
126-200 members  6 delegates
201-300 members  8 delegates
and one delegate for each 100 members or part thereof

It is my understanding that this change, which introduces a new delegate allocation at 21 members, is designed to encourage very small branches to grow. Which is an admirable thing. I am supportive of any efforts to grow the party.

The thing is, this solution only encourages growth of very small branches. If you have a branch with 301 members, and you want to grow your delegate entitlement, you have to find another 99 members just to get one more delegate. If you were in that situation you’d be much better off forming a new branch with the 99 members, which would be represented by 4 delegates.

So I’m going to send in a recommended amendment to this proposal, which keeps the new delegate entitlement at 21 members, but also flattens out the delegate growth so branches continue to get another delegate for every 50 members. It would look like this:

10-20 members 1 delegate
21-50 members 2 delegates
51-100 members 3 delegates
and one delegate for each 50 members or part thereof

And just to make things easier to understand, I’ve graphed what it would look like, with the current proposal in red against my new proposal in green:

I’ll be putting this idea forward, and I hope it does get some support.

However, this does not solve all the problems. I think ideally we would have rules 163 and 171 aligned so that the delegate entitlement is unified in all situations, thus making the organisation of the party much easier to understand. Perhaps that’s something I’ll work on for the next organisational review…

 


Organisational review: University of Labour?

In my post late last night, I said that the regional hubs might be a good idea, but they are a structural solution that probably won’t, in of themselves, solve our struggles with the party vote.

One of the ways that we can improve this is by training our members about how to run a better campaign. I’ve heard many times about gripes about how one campaign or other didn’t do well enough at getting party votes, part of the problem is likely to be that no one ever told them how.

An idea that I’ve seen thanks to Progress is the concept of a ‘University of Labour’. From Progress

Labour’s general secretary Iain McNicol has made clear that Labour can’t win using ‘the old playbook’. But what will replace it? An essential part of the new playbook should be the training programme Labour has for its members. A new training programme should build on the strengths of the current ‘Train to Win‘ programme and become an accredited, effective and meaningful ‘University for Labour’ that is accessible to every party member.

We know that a well-trained volunteer is far better prepared for the rough and tumble of party activism than one with minimal to no ongoing training. Therefore, the new University for Labour should make its mission the creation of well-trained volunteers at the variety of levels required to win elections. By engaging its diverse membership, Labour can drive innovative and forward thinking approaches to community organising, grassroots recruitment, fundraising, campaigning, policy analysis and speech writing.

Now, this is not a totally new idea. In early 2011 Labour held a candidate and campaign managers conference, and in a couple of weeks time Young Labour are hosting their first ever campaign leadership school. It’s probably also too late to get a University of Labour, or similar, included in the organisation review, but given that it wouldn’t take any rule changes to implement the basic concept, that certainly doesn’t have to be a show stopper.

At the end of the day, if we want to run better party vote campaigns (and electorate, and local government), the first step has to be making sure that our members have the skills to do so. And that is a project I would love to be a part of.


Organisational review: A very quick thought on regional hubs and the party vote

I’ve been to several last minute meetings about Labour’s Organisational Review recently, it’s now something I feel like I know like the back of my hand. Yesterday I was at a meeting for members of my local LEC, and heard something that I’d heard many times before: the regional hubs will be a campaigning body which will focus on the party vote (not a direct quote, but I think it will suffice).

While I do have some problems with this particular solution, which I’m not going to go into now, something struck me yesterday. Every time this party vote problem that the regional hubs are meant to address, one generic example is dragged out – local campaigns which focussed too much on the candidate at the expense of the party vote.

The more I think about it, the less I agree with the regional hub model being a proper solution to the problem. That said, I don’t think regional hubs are a terribly bad idea. I think the concept needs a bit of work, but may fix some other problems the party has.

The point I’m getting to is that if we want to campaign better for the party vote – we need to run better campaigns, and the solution is probably going to be cultural and operational rather than structural.

I think if all the effort that will be devoted to setting up 16 regional hubs was spent on training candidates, campaign mangers and activists, and building up and sharing a body of knowledge around campaigning, we would be far better off.

Of course, it’s not an either/or situation, and regional hubs may fix other problems. But if the problem we are trying to fix is to run better party vote campaigns, I think there are better ways of getting there.

 


Labour’s Organisational Review – Building Support

In my eyes, this section of the review, Building Support, is one of the most vital. In times of declining participation in politics, and declining levels of political party membership (note: I’m not privy to Labour’s membership number, but I’m noting a general trend among modern political parties which I assume is also seen in Labour), Building Support is necessary not just to make sure we win in 2014, but to make sure that we’re around in the future.

So here are the recommendations for building support, as endorsed by Labour’s New Zealand Council:

D) Building Support
a) We will review and improve our welcome processes and induction packs for new members.
b) We will reduce barriers to membership by introducing a koha-based initial membership fee for young people and for people living on low incomes so that, on entry, low paid members pay what they wish.
c) We will up-skill our activists in the key skills of campaigning, organising and fundraising, and policy development. An early priority is enhanced candidate development.
d) We will develop a ‘registered supporters’ scheme for individuals and groups. A registered supporter is a person who agrees to have their name listed as such. They will receive communications and attend party functions, except formal meetings. Registered supporters cannot be a member of another political party.
e) We will increase our focus on building both our membership base and registered supporters.
f) We will encourage affiliation of appropriate bona fide groups in the community that share Labour’s values, principles, and kaupapa.
g) As a priority we develop a specific strategy for recruiting young voters and activists which includes a focus on Maori, Pasifika and our ethnic sectors.

There is a lot to cover! Only one rule change proposed for this section, rule 11, which relates to point d. We’ll come to that soon…

a) We will review and improve our welcome processes and induction packs for new members.

Good good. I understand that this is already underway, and it can’t come fast enough. All party members have heard some terrible stories of poor introductions to the party, so I’m very glad to see it get some focus. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the outcome is like, but it’s excellent to see that here.

b) We will reduce barriers to membership by introducing a koha-based initial membership fee for young people and for people living on low incomes so that, on entry, low paid members pay what they wish.

I’m really in two minds about this one. Given the current fee for a someone who is un-waged is only $6.60, it’s not going to be a huge difference. Perhaps however the difference will be more psychological, I’m not sure. I’d be interested to hear what people think about this idea. It’s also interesting that a rule change is not required to action this point.

c) We will up-skill our activists in the key skills of campaigning, organising and fundraising, and policy development. An early priority is enhanced candidate development.

Excellent. I’ve got lots of ideas about how this could be achieved, but I’ll save those for some other time. For now I’m just glad to see it in the recommendations.

d) We will develop a ‘registered supporters’ scheme for individuals and groups. A registered supporter is a person who agrees to have their name listed as such. They will receive communications and attend party functions, except formal meetings. Registered supporters cannot be a member of another political party.

This is an interesting idea. The rule change (11) that accompanies this point changes the existing rule around supporters, which is (probably deliberately) vague. It specifies that supporters can attend party meetings except when in committee (does that include conferences?) and that they cannot be a member of any other political party. It’s not as stringent as the test for membership, which can also exclude people who are members of other groups as the New Zealand Council decides.

However, beyond that, the recommendation doesn’t go very far. Supporters are not allowed to vote for selections or the leadership and the recommendation doesn’t really suggest how they can be involved in the party. It will be interesting to see how, if at all, this is implemented.

e) We will increase our focus on building both our membership base and registered supporters.

I’m going to have to say I’m not happy with how vague this recommendation is. I believe the last time we had a major party-wide membership drive was back in 2009/10, and it was somewhat successful. I do think this needs to be something we do every year, so that recruiting new members becomes a fundamental part of our culture. I would at least like to see a measurable goal for membership growth come out of the review. I haven’t got the numbers, but off the top of my head I’d suggest that a goal of 5% growth would be a good place to start.

f) We will encourage affiliation of appropriate bona fide groups in the community that share Labour’s values, principles, and kaupapa.

Now here I have to eat a piece of humble pie and point out that my post about the affiliates section of the review was incorrect. There is a recommendation to encourage more affiliates. This is a very good thing. However, again, it is a reasonably vague recommendation and it will all come down to how much time and resource is devoted to it.

g) As a priority we develop a specific strategy for recruiting young voters and activists which includes a focus on Maori, Pasifika and our ethnic sectors.

This is a somewhat clumsily worded, but well intended recommendation. Are activists not voters? Is this saying we need to convince young people, Maori, Pasifika and “ethnic people” to vote for us, or join us? Both are worthwhile, but I’m not sure which it is suggesting.

All in all, this is a very important part of the review. My worry is that it only seems to be scratching the surface, and because it lacks any significant structural changes, ideas for implementation, or metrics to measure success, I don’t really see much changing because of it.


Labour’s Organisational Review – Affiliates

I’m going through the recommendations of the review in no particular order. I don’t have a lot of time this evening, so I’m going to focus on one of the smaller recommendations: how Labour engages with it’s affiliated organisations.

Here is the recommendation which has been endorsed by the New Zealand Council:

Strong relationships with affiliates will be enhanced at local level through LECs and industrial branches and also through the regional organising hubs and New Zealand Council.

Unlike many of the other recommendations, this one is not accompanied by any rule changes – presumably the rules as they stand are adequate to facilitate the intended stronger relationships with affiliates.

TTammany thing that stands out to me is that these recommendations are somewhat different to the recommendations that were proposed in the original May 2012 discussion document, which included:

6.  

d) We discuss with affiliated unions ways of optimising affiliation.
e) We investigate means of affiliation for groups in the community.

So it’s interesting that the endorsed recommendations have dropped the desire to see more groups affiliated to the party.

The Labour Party currently has six affiliates, all trade unions (RMTU, MWU, DWU, EPMU, MUNZ, SFWU). During the consultation phase I heard several people suggest that the Party look to bring other groups on board as affiliates, or through some other relationship. I think that would be a healthy thing. For example, in the UK the Labour Party lists amongst its affiliates a range of non-trade union affiliates such as the Fabian Society and the Christian Socialist Movement. In the Herald today, Claire Trevett suggests the Ratana Church as a potential future affiliate.

There are also some other aspects of the review (leadership elections, selections, branch membership etc which will indirectly impact on affiliates, I’ll be touching on those in future posts.

In summary, I think that the review could have been bolder regarding affiliates, and it’s a shame we don’t have any concrete recommendations to “optimise affiliation” or to encourage new affiliates, as both were suggested in the May discussion document.


Labour’s Organisational Review – Electorates and Branches

This is going to get very detailed, very fast. If the technical details of the internal mechanics of the Labour Party are not something that interests you, then I recommend you watch a video of Barack Obama singing a Justin Bieber song instead.

From the review recommendations…

Electorates and branches will have fewer formal meetings and will be freed up to engage in meaningful policy debate, tackle community issues, campaign in local and general elections, recruit members and supporters, raise funds and organise social activities. To support this, Branches will only be required to hold a minimum of three formal meetings each year; an Annual General Meeting, which also agrees branch goals, a meeting to elect delegates to Regional Conference and discuss the issues which they will be debating; and a meeting to debate policy proposals and elect delegates to Annual Conference. Other meetings can be focused on the branch goals. Similarly, LECs will only be required to hold a minimum of four formal meetings a year, and branch-based LECs are the preferred model.

See attached rule changes affecting rules 23, 35, 36, 37, 38, 48-76,171, 197 and new rules 33, 40A.

Exciting stuff.

Almost all Labour Party members will have been to a meeting that has been bogged down by over half an hour going over needless correspondence, perhaps another half hour with a line-by-line review of a financial report, and by that point, everyone has lost interest.

This part of the review is trying to address that problem, and I think it certainly solves some of the problem. I’m going to break this down into the Branch and Electorate Committee components.

Branches

The change to rule 23 gives branches an actual objective (their exact purpose used to actually be quite nebulous), and requires them to set annual goals and report to their Electorate Committee on them. I will be very interested to see how many branches will actually observe this rule, but I certainly think it is a step in the right direction.

Rules 35 and 36 are being changed so that branches are required to hold two different types of meeting – formal and informal. They will be required to hold three formal meetings: an AGM, a “regional conference meeting” where they discuss policy proposals and elect delegates for regional conference and an annual conference meeting where they elect delegates to annual conference. They can then hold informal meetings as and when required, which presumably wouldn’t be burdened with as much bureaucratic overhead.

Ironically, this actually creates more requirements than already exist. Not only does it create added complexity, but it actually adds more meetings than are currently reading. By my reading (and I may be wrong here!) branches are currently only required to meet once a year (rules 36 and 42).

My gut feeling as that the problem that is trying to be addressed here is cultural, not constitutional. As it stands, if a branch wants to spend its time having social events and talking about politics, there are very few barriers to that in the current constitution. I think the rule changes proposed are much of a muchness- they don’t really create less work for branches, but perhaps they will encourage a cultural change.

Local Electorate Committees (LEC)

The rule changes around LECs also aim to remove the meetings-for-the-sake-of-meetings phenomena. However, instead of requiring three formal meetings, LECs are required to hold four. The purpose of the fourth meeting is left undefined. Perhaps someone just couldn’t let go of that meeting to read the correspondence? The existing rules did express a preference that LECs meet monthly, but again, they were already able to resolve to meet less frequently (existing rule 62). I was under the impression that they had to meet at least six times per year, but can’t seem to find mention of that rule.

For simplicity’s sake, I think it would have been preferable if both branches and LECs had the same meeting requirements. Given I can’t seem to find any particular reason for LECs to be required to meet once more often than branches (please tell me if I’m missing something obvious!) I think I will propose an amendment to remove the requirement for the fourth formal meeting.

There has also been an attempt to require a gender balance on the LEC, though there are some problems with the way it has been drafted. Rule 50 now states that no more than 60% of the LEC can be of one gender, whereas rule 171, which deals with how delegates are selected for the LEC, now states “Where there is more than one delegate at least half of the delegates must be women.” The inconsistency is slightly sloppy, and could lead to problems should more than 60% of the total LEC delegates end up being women, or if lots of small branches with only one delegate end up selecting men. The new rule 50 is inadequate as it does not provide a mechanism for dealing with either problem, and doesn’t indicate a consequence if the 60% gender balance is not met.

In addition, there is a very minor change which adds a requirement for a Youth Liaison Officer to be co-opted onto the LEC. Nothing controversial there.

 

 

At the end of the day, I think many of the bureaucratic problems faced by branches and LECs are cultural problems of their own creation. While the proposed rule changes may provide some with a good reason to re-evaluate what they’re doing, I suspect many will be stuck in their old ways. Already around the country there are some great branches and LECs who are doing new and exciting things within the existing framework. I’d be more interested about hearing about those, and getting the message out to people that we don’t always require constitutional changes, just a willingness to be open and try new things.


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