On the Labour leadership

The elephant in the room that I’ve so far avoided blogging about is the ongoing Labour leadership contest; due to be resolved in five days time at the caucus meeting on Tuesday.

I have decided who my preferred candidate is, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But for the time being at least, I don’t think I will be publicly declaring that. If you want to engage in a debate on the merits of the various candidates, I’d recommend you comment on their candidate blogs at Red Alert.

As you’ll probably know, it’s a process that is decided by a secret ballot of the caucus – the 34 MPs.

In a pretty bold break with tradition the caucus have decided to do things slightly differently this time. While the vote will still rest with the MPs, the candidates have been engaging in a more open campaign than we’ve ever seen. They have been on TV debates, spoken about their merits, blogged, and they have also begun a series of meetings with party members around the country. In my opinion this is the biggest step forward. The idea being that the candidates speak, the members are then afforded an opportunity to ask questions, and then the members are welcome to provide other caucus members with feedback.

Some have quietly complained that they do not get a direct vote in the leadership. This is a valid criticism and one that must be taken seriously by the new leadership team, and the party, during its upcoming review.

I went to the Palmerston North meeting on Tuesday and the Wellington meeting last night. They both went very well. They’ve attracted large crowds of members, many of whom have renewed their memberships just to gain entry and others who haven’t been to a party meeting in many years. It goes to show that an open process can really inspire people to get involved.

Imagine how many more members we would have at the door if they were allowed a vote on the leadership?

I congratulate the caucus and the party for the way they have conducted this process, but I hope they see it as a stepping-stone on the way to something bigger and better. I’ll be having more of a think about what the process could look like in the future. I look forward to hearing any thoughts you have.

As an aside – on the whole this contest has been positive. This is exactly what we need. The National Party will spend the next three years trying to cut our new leader down, we don’t need to give them a head start. Because of this I was pretty disappointed to see one of the candidates attacking another in the Herald this morning.

Liam Byrne on why Labour lost

A friend recently pointed me in the direction of this rather interesting pamphlet, written by the former UK Labour cabinet minister Liam Byrne, on why Labour lost in 2010.

The parallels with New Zealand are stark.

Byrne discusses that Labour’s loss in 2010 was due to a mass desertion away from Labour, mainly amongst working middle-Britain…

But today, too many families – working in retail, manufacturing, the service sector and construction – feel they’re working as hard as ever and just not getting on. They’re not wrong. My research shows workers on between £20-30,000 a year have now faced huge forces in our economy squeezing pay packets and the cost of living for at least five years. That’s why so many are so frustrated with welfare reform and immigration.

These voters are the bedrock of our coalition. But their support for Labour has fallen off a cliff. In 2005, 43 per cent of C2s were Labour. Now MORI says it’s down 20 per cent – to just 23 per cent. This loss cost us seats. The group marketeers call ‘Blue Collar Enterprise’ makes up one in six of the residents in half the seats we lost.

We could debate for hours how relevant this is to New Zealand, but without any proper research at hand (as a side note – Byrne and UK Labour’s extensive use of proper segmentation is very impressive, and something I’d like to see the NZLP look at, resources permitting), we would simply devolve into a spiral of anecdotes.

This is not to say that people were up in arms against Labour’s platform – as we’ve seen in both New Zealand and the UK, conservative erosion of Labour’s achievements is slow – they know how unpopular it would be to remove the British minimum wage, or to sell off KiwiBank.

Every MP I’ve spoken to found no love for the Tories on the doorstep. Lots of people knew what Labour had done for them: low interest rates, tax credits, better pensions, decent schools and a transformed NHS. But voters want to know what’s next.

Did Labour’s values become stale? I doubt it. The bedrock of our social democratic parties is strong and our roots are deep. The problem wasn’t that people didn’t like what Labour had done, they, and us, needed a better idea of what we were going to do.

Liam also has some very good ideas about where Labour needs to go next. In my mind these are even more relevant to New Zealand. I will do a follow-up post regarding the way forward in the next day or two.

Labour perspectives on the election result

My main motivation for starting this blog was to get some thoughts that have been bouncing around my head, particularly about the election result, Labour’s leadership contest, and party reform, down on paper. I figured a useful way to start this off would be a quick re-cap about what others on the blogosphere are saying.

I’m not sure if I’m going to find enough material to do a full spectrum of material, but there has already been plenty written by some of my fellow Labour supporters. We have a lot to think about…

Jordan Carter – Just Left

In the wake of Labour’s most serious election defeat since the 1920s, a comprehensive and critical re-examination of almost all of what Labour’s politics is about is an absolute necessity for our party.

On the table must be our policy, our campaigning, our organisation from branch to national level, our candidate selection, our structure, our communications, our tone, the way the parliamentary party works, what the staff do in the party and in parliament, and on it goes.

There was a bit of reflexive back patting after election day.  I’m not too worried about that, but the time for that is now past.

Carter calls for a long hard rethink of what we’re doing. Amen. He acknowledges that we have some serious organisational short-falls, and failed at the basics. When push comes to shove – the voters simply didn’t connect with Labour. He calls the election as he saw it –

Jordan acknowledges that leadership was an important part of the election result – but takes a strong stance that a new leader will not be a silver bullet.

We have to say it clearly: NO leader can do what needs to be done on their own.

It requires every single one of us in the Labour Party to stand up, to do things differently.

He’s dead right – we all have to lift our game. We have identify and work towards fixing our shortcomings, and understand why voters felt so disconnected from Labour.

Phil Quin – The New Tasman

Phil for the most part observed the 2011 general election from overseas. Which makes his views particularly interesting. He is somewhat less pessimistic:

Okay, it was a shitful result for Labour; no two ways about it. 27 percent is a meagre return for 95 years’ worth of mostly honest toil, especially when a charming huckster like Winston Peters can score a lazy seven for a fortnight’s work. (Notwithstanding, that is, the contribution of the hitherto well-hidden youth wing of NZ First Party who Peters credited for their stellar effort on “the social pages”).

But, in the scheme of things, last night’s result was well short of the worst imaginable scenario for Labour.

“WTF?” quoth the doomsayers. Allow myself to explain myself.

  • Well, 27 is not twenty, which is what National scored in an analogous scenario in 2002. From which the Nats recovered sufficiently in a single term to come within a bee’s floppy of beating Helen Clark in 2005. With Don Flipping Brash as leader.

I have to say I agree. Despite the many obvious problems Labour faced going into, and during, the 2011 campaign, we managed to win back two electorate seats, increase our margins in many more including holding two that the National Party expected to win on the night (Rimutaka and Palmerston North). The massive drop in the party vote is of course the biggest problem we face. I’m looking to explore this in depth in future posts.

Rob Carr – Political Dumpground

Disclaimer: Rob was a member of my campaign team in Wellington Central, and did a very impressive job managing our GOTV effort.

Rob has done a reasonably in-depth analysis of the election result, and there is lots to comment on. His entire post is well worth a read.

One very salient point he makes is that while it was certainly a bad result for Labour, it was also a very unsatisfactory result for National…

Less than a quarter of the New Zealand population voted for the Government when you combine those not able to vote, those who voted for the left and those who did not which is a bit alarming. It is a result neither side is happy with because National does not have a stable Government with the centre-right share of the seats decreasing by 4-5 and Labour obviously doesn’t get to be Government. The centre-left probably couldn’t have had a much better result other than that 2 extra seats to form Government with the Maori Party being possible but it was a bad result for Labour with their vote being eaten up by the Greens and New Zealand First.

All three agree that it was a very bad result for Labour, but all with slightly different views.

From my own perspective – I’m very pleased that Labour bloggers are already looking towards the future, and thinking about the sort of changes we need to make as a party to ensure that we never see a repeat of the 2011 result.