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.

Labour’s Organisational Review

Labour’s President, Moira Coatsworth, yesterday issued an update on the progress of the organisational review. The party’s New Zealand Council have endorsed a raft of changes, some of which seem to take the form of little more than policy or ideas, and some which have become potential amendments to the party constitution. I’ve spent a few hours so far going through the documents, there certainly is a lot to take in.

Almost all of the coverage of the review, and the discussion I’ve heard in the party has focussed on the change in the way the party selects its leader. I’m going to do something a bit different and take a closer look at the other aspects of the review, which may go under the radar.

The documents are all available on Labour’s review webpage. In short, they are:

A one page summary document.

The full review recommendations.

The proposed constitutional amendments. (and for good measure, you can also download the constitution as it stands now).

The deadline for any substantive feedback on the proposed rule changes is August 31st.

Also, if there are any readers out there who want to have a say publicly, I’m willing to host any well thought out responses to the review recommendations in the form of guest posts. Just contact me.

“Community campaigning is a model for the future”

An Australian friend was kind enough to send me a link to an excellent new progressive blog from over the ditch, Chifley’s Hill. I’ve skim read the articles that are there, and there is lots of great material to sink your teeth into.

One article in particular grabbed, my attention, “Community Campaigning is a model for the future“. This is a position I’ve also been advocating, and I’m surprised that there isn’t more mention of it in New Zealand Labour’s Organisational Review – I intend to make a submission to that effect.

Take a read of the full article, but here is the main point…

The recommendations of the National Review, the centrepiece of this period of collective introspection, appeared to disappear into the ether on the floor of National Conference. Regardless, it’s worth thinking about some of the practical things that party units and rank-and-file members can do to help improve our party.

One thing we as progressive party members should at least consider is community campaigning and providing our membership with the tools to push Labor causes in their own neighbourhoods, networks and workplaces.

The primary benefit of community campaigning is the most mundane, and one of the most persuasive. Community campaigning works. Recent political history demonstrates that those political organizations that are able to mobilize their membership and supporters to engage with the community in a direct and practical way are some of the most electorally successful. This is true of the unions campaign in 2007, the Obama campaign in 2008 and the Tea Party’s 2010 push in the US midterm elections.

The success is more than anecdotal. Marketing experts have known for years that a recommendation from a friend or acquaintance is a powerful factor that can have an impact on an individual’s choices that rivals the traditional media.

Labour’s review – have your say

Labour’s organisational review is on-going. I went to the Wellington City meeting a few weeks ago, and it was an interesting affair. There were a lot of thoughts flying around the room. Some really good ideas. One or two that I didn’t personally agree with as well, but I think it’s really important with a process like this to get as many points of view as possible.

The current phase of consultation closes first thing on Monday morning. If you haven’t already done so, I’d highly recommend you take five minutes to make a quick submission on the review website. I’ve just made my submission – I didn’t answer all the questions, but I did have one or two points that I emphasised.

Regardless of if you’re a member, or just interested or concerned about the future of the Labour Party, I’d urge you all to take a few minutes to make a submission. It’s painless!

ALP moves to democratise it’s leadership selection

From the SMH

ALP branch leaders from across the state have called for the party’s rank and file to be involved in the direct election of the next parliamentary leader of the NSW Labor Party.

A statement signed by branch secretaries, presidents and councillors calls on the state Labor conference, to be held in July, to investigate the benefits of opening up ballots for the NSW parliamentary leadership to rank-and-file members.

It represents a groundswell of support from Labor’s grassroots for a more democratic process of electing party leaders. It is also a bid to rebuild flagging membership numbers.

The statement says social democratic parties overseas have demonstrated that giving party members a role in deciding the parliamentary leader can drive significant membership growth. The New Democratic Party of Canada has reportedly boosted its membership by 50 per cent.

Sounds like the NDP delegation to last year’s ALP conference made a strong impact! They shouldn’t forget however, that many of the NDP’s new members come from newly established branches in Quebec, where they previously had virtually no presence, but still managed to win 59 of the 75 seats at the 2011 election.

Labour Review – consultation

Labour’s President, Moira Coatsworth, has just announced a schedule of 18 meetings for party members to have their input into the consultation process as part of the party’s organisational review. As well as the meetings, you can submit online. I’d say that it’s just as important to get the feedback from members who have never been to a meeting as it is from those who have chaired hundreds of meetings.

There is a review website live now, where you can learn more about the process and have your say. Get involved. I’m happy for guest posts on The Progress Report if you have any particular view points you’d like to get a wider audience.

 

Labour needs to change

Jordan Carter has pointed me to a letter written by a UK Labour Party member, Melanie Haslam, to her local party.

I feel her expereinces would be echoed in many parts of the New Zealand Labour Party (for what it’s worth, from the Tories I’ve spoken to about this, it sounds like their party has many of the same problems).

This coming Monday there are going to be a big announcement about Labour’s Review. We need to keep experiences like Melanie’s front and centre when we make our submissions and conduct the review.

To the Chair of, and all delegates to, Greenwich and Woolwich GC,

Tonight I attended your GC for the first time. I have been a member of the Labour Party for six years and have been a member of six different CLPs. In that time, I have never experienced such an unwelcoming meeting as I did tonight.

I have been a member of Greenwich and Woolwich CLP for nine months. I receive your newsletters and campaign bulletins, and find them informative and refreshing. I haven’t had the opportunity to attend a meeting until tonight, as I study at college in the evenings.

Unfortunately, I do not think I will be returning and I am writing you this letter to outline the reasons why, in the hope that if new members attend your meetings in the future, they do not have the same experiences that I have.

At tonight’s meeting, I was one of only three young members in the room. Two of us had never been to a meeting before. Attendants at the meeting included elected representatives at all levels. Despite this, nobody welcomed us or introduced themselves.

Instead, I felt ostracised to the point of tears. I spent the first five minutes of the meeting trying to find a seat, because they had all been reserved. I ended up sitting in a corner.

I understand that tonight was your annual meeting to elect delegates to National Conference, and make nominations for national positions. Greenwich and Woolwich GC operates on a branch delegate system, which is something that I had hoped Refounding

Labour would change. Still, I expected that this would be the case. I did not need to be shouted at every time an election was held, that “if you’re not a delegate, you can’t vote!” or “only delegates can vote!”. This procedure was explained by the Chair at the beginning of the meeting, I did not need reminding. I saw that the only non-delegates in the room were the other two young people and I. At no point did I try and vote.

The Membership Secretary, in his report, noted that the CLP had seven new members that month. One of those could have quite easily been me. Throughout the meeting no procedures, acronyms or “inside jokes” were explained to me. If I hadn’t been a member for six years, the whole culture would feel alien to me. Unfortunately, it is all too common for young members across the country.

At the end of the meeting, you held a raffle. You asked a young member (who was not a delegate) to draw the raffle, as he was a “visitor”. I hope you understand that no member is a visitor in their own CLP. You then went on to give him a copy of John Prescott’s book, to educate him on “Old Labour”, which I found patronising at best. You then went on to invite the room to the pub. I assume this was for delegates only, as no explanation of which pub you were going to, or where it was, was made. I am not from the area. Nobody came up to me to ask me to go along.

I hope you will take my comments on tonight’s meeting on board. I did not write this letter to shame Greenwich and Woolwich CLP, but do I believe it is important that you understand how the actions of some can make new members feel. It was clear from the meeting that the CLP is an active campaigning force, but I’m afraid that in order to encourage members to get involved in your activities you must be welcoming to them when you first meet them.

I trust you will read my letter out at your next meeting. I have CCd in Iain McNichol (General Secretary) as I understand he will be attending your April meeting), Susan Nash (Chair of Young Labour) and Dean Carlin (National Youth Officer for the Labour Party).

Kind regards,

Melanie Haslam
L0088262

Colin James – Labour’s task: out of the margins, into the middle

From his ODT column. Well worth a read…

Thus the bulk of what should be Labour’s logical support base is outside the meritocracy but most of its activists are inside it. Those activists have to reach across a class divide — and over the beleaguered middle.

Reaching that middle requires a deep rethink of policy and organisation. Shearer’s real task is less to scratch together a win in 2014 than to start that rethink. Applying 1930s or 1970s thinking to the 2010s will leave Labour offside.

It will, of course, win office from time to time. But in 2014 or 2017 that will be highly likely to require the Greens. There is now a short, tight hyphen between the two parties. Whether they like it or not they are now a coalition — in effect if not in fact.

On the Green side that means a sophisticated and realpolitik approach to policy and government, as Metiria Turei almost indicated on Sunday: less democracy, more leadership, tough choices.

On Labour’s side it requires a determined effort to make Labour-Green look like a government in waiting that can work term after term — and gather in a large chunk of the middle. That is Shearer’s and environment spokesman and deputy leader Grant Robertson’s job.