How the capital was won

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Yesterday’s New Zealand local government elections were great for Labour right around the country.

As well as many council and local board successes, the mayors of Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Whanganui and Rotorua are now all Labour members. This means that 49% of the New Zealand population has a Labour mayor – which is very impressive.

In Wellington, Labour did particularly well. Not only did they retain the Lambton Ward council seat vacated by Mark Peck’s retirement, but they gained a seat in the Northern Ward with Peter Gilberd. And of course, Wellington has it’s first Labour mayor in 24 years in Justin Lester.

Lester’s campaign defied expectations and won with an impressive majority of almost 7,000 votes.

How did Labour get over the line? Highly targeted field work, and a lot of it. It’s not a new concept, but one that has just seen it’s best ever New Zealand execution. It’s a model that has seen extensive use in Australia in recent years (Victoria 2014, Federal 2016 and NT 2016 in particular) and has now proven it’s worth many times over. Sydney University’s Stephen Mills has written an excellent summary of the use of field campaigning in Australia in 2016 – check it out.

Firstly, Wellington Labour recruited an army of over 250 volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. Around 40% of the volunteers weren’t party members – they were regular Wellingtonians that were mobalised into action instead of rusted on branch members who would prefer to spend their time debating policy remits. From what I’m told almost all of the campaign’s regular canvassers had never taken political action like this before.

This small army, plus Labour’s candidates themselves, had over 60,000 personal conversations with voters during the campaign (these are phone calls or door knocks, just meeting someone at a street stall at a market doesn’t count)

Justin Lester personally spoke to 14% of the people who voted (the campaigns are given lists of people who have and haven’t voted, very useful to try and encourage people to vote who haven’t yet done so). Think about that for a second. If you voted in the Wellington City Council election, there was a 14% chance that the Labour candidate spoke to you – either over the phone or on your door step – that’s impressive.

And while the campaign went on for months, 10,000 of Labour’s 60,000 voter contacts were made in the last two weeks – when undecided voters were making up their minds and people finally got around to voting.

No doubt more analysis will be done of the results (particularly once the special votes are counted and included), but from the result one thing is clear: people power made a huge difference in the Wellington City Council election.

Labour’s newly created Community Action Network has 250 trained recruits who know how to talk to voters and make persuasive conversations.

This is how you win.

6 Reasons Why Nicola Is Wrong

This is a guest post by Reed Fleming.

Following the announcement by Justin Lester of sensible policy to tackle the housing crisis in Wellington, and to make swimming free for under 5s, mayoral hopeful Nicola Young attempted to join the contest of ideas this week, but perhaps shouldn’t have bothered.

In a Facebook essay, Young bemoaned the impact of street beggars on Wellington’s ‘look’, in a disappointing dogwhistle to the right. Here’s 6 reasons why she should’ve held fire on writing it:

1) It won’t work

It shouldn’t need saying that bans like this don’t work. Just like liquor ban zones drive drinkers to the Botanical Gardens, a ban on begging in the CBD would send beggars to Brooklyn shops, J’Ville shops, Island Bay shops, Kilbirnie shops. Will Nicola ban them there too? Will she call police to enforce the ban? What about when she’s not looking? While she’s making sure that anyone employed by Council to enforce the ban won’t be on a living wage, because she hates that too, what would the cost of enforcement be?

And where would Nicola draw the line between street performer and beggar? In the unlikely event Nicola won and brought the ban into effect, what’s to stop beggars from becoming legal street performers by beating on an upturned bucket? Case in point: weird gorilla costume guy. Beggar or sidewalk Beyonce? Who decides?

 

2) It doesn’t solve the problem

“Hard on beggars, hard on the causes of beggars”, except, Young has no plan to be hard on the causes of beggars. Out of sight, out of mind isn’t a solution. It’s just a dogwhistle to her well-off base and donors who’d rather not be pestered by the urban peasants. As Lambton Candidate Rev Brian Dawson and Local MP Grant Robertson pointed out, (both of whom get an earful from CBD constituents on the issue) a compassionate approach which invests in social services and housing will solve the problem, not criminalising being poor.

 

3) It won’t win votes

Of course, like any candidate in an election, Young made the announcement to win votes, –specifically right wing votes. Young is a former National Party candidate, and she’s in an ugly battle with at least one other candidate from the right: Bill English’s sister-in-law Jo Coughlan. It’s an STV election so preferences are all important. Every round a candidate needs enough votes to stay in as others get eliminated. Young needs right wing votes in order to scoop up Couglan’s preferences and make into the final rounds of voting.

Except, once Young’s picked up all the conservative poor-hating votes, she faces the uphill battle of meeting a Labour candidate in the final round. Justin Lester can expect to pick up many rusted-on Labour voters that continue to elect Labour MPs at the central government level with and where Labour candidates have substantial margins in three of the five wards.

Party vote stats from 2014 reveals that Rongotai and Wellington Central, electorates which make up 2/3rds of the WCC area, are among the top 10 seats in the country for combined Labour and Green party vote. Over 58% of the Rongotai electorate voted Labour or Green, and similar is true in Wellington Central. Appealing to the far right isn’t a winning strategy, because 42% of the vote does not a Mayor make.

Either Young knows this and she’s actually throwing the mayoral election in order to raise her profile for the local ward, as some speculated in 2013, or: she’s got a losing strategy. Time will tell.

4) It’s a bad strategy against Lester

Following on from why it won’t win right wing votes, it’s also not a good strategy to take votes from Lester. Lester, who potentially has to beat Celia to his left, and Young (and maybe Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett) to his right, is positioning himself as a centre-left nice guy. He’s communicating his business cred, and presenting market solutions to fix the housing problem. Not only has he got many of the cities mostly-left voters in the bag, he’ll be hoovering up moderate voters who’d typically think twice about giving their first preference to a Labour-endorsed candidate. Veering hard right does nothing to win back these voters from Lester.

5) It’s hypocrisy

Young hates street beggars because they’re annoying, confronting and slow us down on the narrow footpaths of Wellington. But cast your mind back a little and you’ll remember: she’s guilty of it herself. As pointed out by At The Drivethru Podcast, it was only a few months ago that she was begging for signatures under a false pretense that traffic signals depicting Kate Sheppard would be replaced. Young had no problem then with strangers asking for things, or loitering around ATMs. But that was her. And that was then. And this is now – in her latest crusade to cleanse the streets of the great unwashed.

6) She admits that she is ineffective

Nicola Young was elected in 2013. Since then, she has been at the top table of decision-making for New Zealand’s third largest local government body. Not only is Young a Councillor, but is the lead of Central City Projects and sits on the Urban Development Committee – she is among the best placed to implement this type of policy, but has instead remained silent for 3 years.

In many other instances, such as the Island Bay Cycle Way, she’s taken a stand, done the numbers and changed Council policy. All of sudden, she’s all but admitted she was an ineffective “backbencher” sitting around the Council table. Besides the fact the Council table has no benches, and no back row of seats, Young has it wrong by thinking we’re going to believe all of a sudden that this is an important issue to her.

And of course it raises the question – if all Nicola Young can do after three years on a $90,000 salary and a powerful seat on Council, is point fingers at others, come up with a dud policy that won’t work, won’t solve the root cause and won’t win votes – then maybe it’s time she stood down? The contrast between her and Lester, who last month got a motion through council to save the local night shelter, is as clear as day now. Wellington can have someone who gets things done, or who sits on the sidelines.


Nicola, Wellington’s embarrassed for you.

Labour Is Talking About The TPP Heaps.

I am not a trade economist, and all I know about international trade law owes to having spent a rainy weekend in a bach with some under-stimulated lawyers. So there’s no attempt to evaluate the TPP on the merits here. I’m not qualified to do so, and even if I were everyone’s made their minds up already. So here’s an inside-baseball, horse-race classic.

Little has clearly formed a strong view on the merits of the deal and he doesn’t think it’s good for New Zealand. That’s an improvement on the previous vacillation, which had the effect of alienating both supporters and opponents of the deal. However there remain issues with the articulation of this view, some owing to the previous attempts at compromise.

Noticeably, Labour has not articulated an economic argument against the TPP. Instead, Labour has committed to the sovereignty argument. This leaves Labour open to attack from the National party for adopting impractical, ideologically driven position instead of accepting trade-offs in the national interest, a line of attack that echoes pre-existing voter concerns and reinforces Labour’s perceived weakness on economic issues. It also ignores the fact that for many voters concrete issues of economic security trump even emotive issues of sovereignty.

The failure to ensure that Shearer and Goff were on board with the new policy was a major failure of political management. Shearer and Goff are senior figures in the party with past, present and future responsibilities for implementing foreign and trade policies. They are major stakeholders who should at least be able to accept party policy if not agree with it. Their dissension was predictable and deeply undercuts both the credibility and the effectiveness of Labour’s stand.

It is unreasonable to expect a spokesperson to front a policy they see as deeply irresponsible, unprincipled, and unrealistic. However, by the same token, if Shearer wished to disagree with party policy he should have resigned from the shadow cabinet and done so from the back benches and he can hardly be surprised about the inevitable consequences. Goff is running for the Auckland mayoralty as an independent. At this point, he will feel both a principled duty to back a policy he believes is in Auckland and New Zealand’s best interest, and a pragmatic wish to make it clear he is his own man and not beholden to party bosses. It is frustrating this wasn’t better handled, and the choice of Shearer and Goff to break with the party is disappointing.

But more importantly than the details of the positioning on this issue, is this issue one which will propel Labour closer to victory in 2017? Should Labour be talking about the TPP so much?

A Herald Digi-Poll from September 2015 indicates that 31% of New Zealanders disliked the TPP, while 23% support it, but in December 2015 that same poll had shifted to put support on 27% and opposition down to 26%. But that leaves a substantial 46% in both polls who either don’t know or don’t care. In reality, a bare majority of the public have an opinion about the TPP, and the vast majority of them will be ideological votes who have already have made their minds up how they will vote in the next general election. These are not even voters who have arrived at a view but are unlikely to allow it to change their votes — as might be the case about the flag — but are voters who simply don’t care enough to arrive at a view. They are deeply uninterested.

The chunk of voters who are uninterested in the TPP will tend to be the non-ideological voters that Labour needs to win over, and they are the voters who will be most turned-off by displays of division and poor management. Further, the political conversation is finite. Every time Andrew Little talks about the TPP, or caucus indiscipline, he is not talking about another issue. Given that the TPP does not appear to be a significant issue for near to a majority of voters it does not seem to be a particularly good use of a limited resource.

If you look at Key over the last fortnight, he has successfully negotiated two tricky issues in a way which has probably increased his popularity – the signalling of his likely departure in the latter part of his fourth term, and his backdown on the Auckland city rail link. Both these issues had the potential to become difficult for him, but he has either neutralised or exploited them in a manner that will have appealed to centrist voters as pragmatic and effective. Labour, by contrast, has devoted huge time and energy to an issue primarily of interest to ideologically driven voters who are by and large already committed to supporting or opposing the party, has highlighted internal division in so doing, and passed up opportunities to talk about issues of broader relevance to voters.

Māori representation in local government and Pākehā liberals.

Submissions on the mixed-model Canterbury Regional Council Bill were heard yesterday, and there was a lot of pākehā liberal surprise that Ngāi Tahu back a mixed-model council, even beyond the next term. In many ways this follows on from earlier liberal surprise that the Māori Party would be backing the Bill, which lead to the surprise that Ngāi Tahu supported the Bill. (Ngāi Tahu’s views being particularly important in the context that the Māori Party will be the swing votes for this legislation, and the party’s kaupapa suggests that Ngāi Tahu’s views, as the iwi most directly affected, will play a substantial role in their voting behaviour.)

In all honesty, it’s not really a big surprise that Ngāi Tahu weren’t huge fans of the elected Regional Council, and nor is it a big surprise that they would advocate a model which places them on an equal footing with central government.

There is, however, some interesting friction here in that traditional liberal thought flinches at any allocation of voting rights on anything other than a one-person one-vote basis, while liberal pākehā are also (ostensibly) committed to the Treaty relationship and iwi governance partnership. While the Māori/General Roll system for House elections is an unusual system, within each Roll voters remain allocated to geographically defined constituencies of equal size using the same voting system as each other. Similarly, the Māori ward system preserves those features at a council level, where it is used (Bay of Plenty Regional and Waikato Regional Councils). Māori wards are also a very difficult structure to implement: only one Council, Waikato Regional, has used the Local Electoral Act provisions to introduce them.

As Ngāi Tahu’s lobbyist James Caygill points out, Māori wards are not iwi representation. Iwi representation will generally have the characteristics that it is non-geographic (i.e iwi membership is not determined by the physical location of voters) and non-proportional (i.e it is unlikely iwi representation will directly reflect the number of iwi members as a proportion of the population of the authority.)

In the Te Arawa Partnership model, Te Arawa elects an independent Board which then nominate members to council committees, including voting members for the Strategy & Finance and Operations & Monitoring committees. The Te Arawa Partnership is therefore non-geographic and non-proportional. The nominees are appointed by the elected members, and the Council is not bound by committee recommendations.

There are precedents for non-geographic constituencies. They were a feature of the British Commons until 1950, in the form of the University constituencies. There is also a great deal of precedent for disproportionate representation of communities of interest at the local government level in New Zealand. The Banks Peninsula ward of the Christchurch City Council is half the size of the other wards in order to better represent isolated rural communities, as is the Stewart Island – Rakiura ward of the Southland District Council. From a liberal perspective these appear anomalous, and personally I have my doubts about them, especially given the tendency to over-represent whiter, richer rural areas — a sort of country quota for our local government. Nonetheless, they are a feature of our local democracy and do ensure that certain kinds of community are represented when they otherwise would not.

Ngāi Tahu argue that as they hold mana whenua in the Canterbury region, the Treaty relationship indicates they should have a direct voice at the Council table. But, as Ngāi Tahu also observe, iwi representation is not Māori representation. Does the Treaty partnership call for non mana whenua Māori to be represented at the local government level? How can this be accomplished alongside mana whenua representation? In Auckland, the Independent Māori Statutory Board represents mana whenua and other Māori (mātāwaka) with specific positions tied to mana whenua and mātāwaka, while in the future Te Arawa will look to build mātāwaka representation into their structures for the purposes of the Partnership. The IMSB has had difficulties implementing urban Māori representation, and Willie Jackson is challenging certain decisions in the courts, while Te Arawa have not yet revealed how they will achieve this.

These are hard questions, particularly when put alongside dominant pākehā traditions that value geographic constituencies of equal size. Liberal pākehā need to be more aware of the complexity of these issues: “Māori wards” are not the answer to every question of representation, and may in fact be actively unwanted by iwi. At the same time, iwi representation does raise difficult legal and political questions. Canterbury Regional Council will only have full members appointed on an iwi basis as a result of an ad hoc Act, and it is unlikely that other councils would be able to act in a similar manner. There are also real questions about how the legitimacy and authority of members appointed on such a basis will be managed within the context of a political system that presumes legitimacy derives primarily from direct election by the residents of a district.

As Māori seek to take on an active partnership role in more aspects of government, these questions will keep coming up in relation to major urban authorities, with significant political responsibilities. In order for representation and governance models to be sustainable, they will need to enjoy broad based support. Resolving these questions proactively and effectively will be an important part of successfully transforming rhetorics of Treaty partnership into governance realities at the local authority level.

The author is the chair of the People’s Choice in Christchurch, but the views expressed are entirely personal.

A golden opportunity for Andrew Little

Firstly, congratulations and all the best to Phil Goff, who has officially announced he will stand for Mayor of Auckland. It’s a massive job, and a massive campaign will be needed to get him over the line. But Goff is a machine and will throw 150% into it.

The problem this now creates for NZ Labour is that it opens the door on a potentially difficult by-election.

Here are the results from Mt Roskill (Goff’s seat) at the 2014 general election:

Party Vote Candidate Vote
Labour 12,086 Phil Goff 18,637
National 14,275 Parmjeet Parmar 10,546

In 2014 at least, Phil Goff was a hell of a lot more popular than the Labour Party.

A victory for National in Mt Roskill would significantly help them regain the legislative advantage they lost when Winston Peters picked Northland at the by-election earlier this year, so they will no doubt be taking it seriously.

That said, recent history has shown that Labour can perform when on the back foot in a difficult by-election. In the 2013 Christchurch East by-eleciton, (ironically also caused by a Labour MP leaving to stand for mayor) Labour went in over 4,000 votes behind on paper (from the 2011 general election result, party vote Christchurch East Labour vs National) but newcomer Labour candidate Poto Williams managed to secure the seat with a majority of almost 5,000 votes.

On those numbers at least (and I’ll admit it’s a very basic analysis) Mt Roskill would seem a much easier prospect than Christchurch East.

So we get to the opportunity for Andrew Little. Standing in Mt Roskill would secure the list MP in an electorate seat, something he will almost certainly be after. Not only that, but it will give him huge, and Labour, momentum going forward. It will be a great way of getting the Little and the party excellent headlines and media coverage that it so desperately needs.

Of course, there will be other contenders for the Labour nomination. Expect both Michael Wood and Sunny Kaushal to put their hats into the ring.

With the prospect of a fascinating by-election and mayoral election, Labour’s conference this weekend just became a hell of a lot more interesting!

How Many Members Does The Labour Party Have?

Jim Anderton, in his short response to Corbyn’s election as UK Labour leader, talked about the 100,000 members the Labour Party had back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I have my doubts about the veracity of that figure, I will be honest.

But it got me thinking: how many members does the Labour Party have at present? This is a more complicated question than it seems at first sight, because there are different ways to be “a member”, both formally and informally. Formally, every member of an affiliated union is a member of the party, which (depending on how reliable you think the public membership figures of the unions are) gives you an affiliated membership in the range of 70-80,000.

However, putting the affiliates aside, various officials will give figures somewhat north of 10,000 for the current membership. Apparently around 6,000 people voted in the leadership election in 2013 which is consistent with a membership then of 8,000 and some solid growth since then. So I think we can say reasonably safely that the party has around 10,000 direct members on paper.

Of course, the party’s membership figures are always going to be an approximation, because the internal databases are archaic and slow-moving (membership processing times are measured in weeks if not months) and are dependent on the data fed to them by constituent organisations. This data is likely to have errors, be they unintentional (duplicating a member’s application under a slightly different name) or intentional (fabricating members in order to increase voting allocations), and the party doesn’t have the resources to rigorously check for irregularities.

Further, people will move into and out of the formal membership without, perhaps, changing their view of the party as such. Rather, at some points being a member will be more important: they wish to vote in a leadership election, a preselection, or a branch needs more members to boost their voting allocation. Under Clark, these formal membership-based processes tended to be less important, and they have monotonically become more important since then. Therefore, even if people’s views on and enthusiasm for the party haven’t changed, we should expect to see an increase in the membership.

There are some other figures we can work out more roughly. No one will hold this information centrally, because the party doesn’t have the reporting structures to allow it to do so.

There are, supposedly, some 300-500 constituent organisations (branches, electorates, sectors, regions, local government committees, etc etc) within the party. In my experience, it is difficult to find someone to chair every organisation that exists on paper. There is, I suspect, about one person willing to take organisational responsibility for any given constituent body. (On average, and across the party: there will be much local variation.) This means that I think we can say there are at most some 500 people actively involved in the administration of the party. This aligns with the supposed size of Fraser House’s office-holder mail outs.

Another figure that is perhaps interesting to think about is the number of people who will volunteer for the party. This is a much more fluid category, which people will move into and out of rapidly, and there is no paperwork associated, or any effort made at centrally tracking this figure. So a lot of this calculation is supposition, and should be thought of as a rough estimate.

We’ll use election day volunteer numbers as a rough guide, as they represent a peak effort. We’ll break it down by electorate. First, let’s assume that electorates with a Labour MP involved have somewhere in the vicinity of 150-250 people available on election day. This figure is based on my experience across several electorates on several election days. Then let’s think about non-Labour electorates. I would suggest that such an electorate will be doing well to have 50 people involved on election day, and many would have far fewer — perhaps as low as 20. If we take a rough average on those figures, and say that a seat with a Labour MP associated will have 200 volunteers, and a seat without 30, and we then say there’s 30 seats with a Labour MP associated, and 40 without, we have (30 * 200) + (40 * 30) = 7,200. Somewhere around 7,000 sounds like a plausible figure for peak mobilisation of volunteers, although it should be taken with extreme caution.

Must Labour Lose?

The Labour Party is in a bad way: it has lost three general elections in a row, it lacks unity at the top, its traditional support base is eroding under the pressure of rapid societal transformations, and it is seen as a party for the poor and old that does not provide space for aspiration.

The year is 1960 and we are in Britain.

Must Labour Lose? is an analysis of the British Labour Party in the late fifties, based on a detailed social survey carried out in the aftermath of the 1959 election. The loss in the 1959 election was the third straight loss for the party, following defeats in ’51 and ’55. Must Labour Lose? is in three parts: the first – by Mark Abrams, a market researcher – discusses the survey data, the second – by Richard Rose, a social scientist – discusses voter behaviour in more general terms, while the third part is a brief commentary by Rita Hinden, a Fabian and then-editor of Socialist Commentary.

Large chunks of the book are eerily familiar, both in detail and in overall thrust. It is interesting to note that the debates about the use of empirical analysis of voter attitudes do not appear to have moved on in the half-century since 1960. The oppositions of poll-driven cynicism against unworldly quixotism remain the terms of our own debates.

The details are sometimes painful in their similarities: ‘The Party concentrated upon an expensive policy document […] The producers of this pamphlet apparently assumed that all their potential supporters were utilitarian or ideological thinkers, carefully checking up on dozens of Labour policies to make sure that they were suitable. Transport House could hardly have reflected upon how many Labour voters would understand a pledge such as: “the next Labour Government will help to stabilise commodity prices which determine the livelihood of many undeveloped peoples, by negotiating long-term bulk purchase agreements”.’ Only 18% of Labour supporters thought it had a “united team of top leaders”. “Often the Labour party has followed the difficult task of hewing the stones to fit a preconceived plan, a task further complicated because some of the masons are inclined to use their mallets on each other instead of on the stones”. A Labour Party effort to win the votes of “non-voters” has failed to show great success.

But merely trawling the book for obvious echoes is superficial. There is a more profound similarity. Abrams argues that the Labour party is identified with values that are not the values of contemporary Britain. Previous assumptions about the working classes’ identification with the Party are breaking down as society changes. Within this changing social system, the party is unable to formulate and articulate a compelling set of values that align with the values of voters. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have marked out a space as an aspirational party aligned with British values.

Looking forward, Hinden answers the question “Must Labour Lose?” with a curt “Yes, it must – at least in the near future”. We now know, of course, that the 1964 general election brought a victory for Harold Wilson’s Labour—in some measure due to Wilson’s adoption of a progressive focus, arguing for the need to look at the future of work, particularly automation, and the Party’s need to adapt to the society that – famously – would be “forged in the white heat of the technological revolution”. This is a useful caution against the tendency to histrionic pronouncements of the “death of Labour”.

But against this optimism, Abrams’ Part I finishes with a worrying suggestion: “there is among young people today a complex of barely conscious Conservative sympathies which still have not fully expressed themselves in overt party affiliations.” One aspect of this is that young people felt that if Labour was the party of the working class, the Conservatives were the party of scientists. In the 1959 election, a young middle class research chemist was elected to Parliament. If the British public saw the Conservatives as the party of those who got ahead, of scientists, and of British traditions, Thatcher would be the leader that welded those Conservative sympathies into two decades of Conservative hegemony, as that cohort aged through the population.

Must Labour Lose?, Mark Abrams and Richard Rose with commentary by Rita Hinden, 1960, Penguin, Harmondsworth. Quotations from, in order, pages 92, 17, 67, 96, 119, 58.

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).