When reviews go wrong

About this time last week the ALP broke out into yet another internal conflict. You could argue about the cause of the conflict until the cows come home, but the weapon used was Labor’s Review 2010. As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald

A SECRET Labor Party report has criticised the government led by Kevin Rudd as lacking purpose and being driven by spin and implies that the former prime minister or his supporters were behind the leaks that almost destroyed Julia Gillard’s election campaign.

It says the leakers ”should be condemned by the party”.

The report is the so-called sealed section of the 2010 election review conducted by party elders John Faulkner, Steve Bracks and Bob Carr and was never meant to be made public.

Obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald, the report’s findings will inflame tensions between Mr Rudd and Julia Gillard, which were on display throughout the three-day ALP national conference in Sydney which finished yesterday.

Mr Rudd was upset that his role as prime minister was clinically deleted from Ms Gillard’s opening speech on Friday and from a tribute to Labor’s handling of the global financial crisis.

The confidential report cites a period of drift and complacency for the Rudd government which began in mid-2009 after the opposition under Malcolm Turnbull was crippled by the Godwin Grech-utegate affair.

Internal research began to show public doubts about the government’s economic credentials, direction and priorities, despite its strong poll figures.

”Throughout this period there were 1900 press releases, however unlike with the earlier periods of government, there were no iconic issues for the public to latch on to,” it says.

”Ministers would make announcements and then move on to something different very quickly. In this context, the government was beginning to be seen by a portion of the population as lacking a core purpose and being driven by spin.”

The report accuses the Rudd government of being rich on themes, announcements and talking up a narrative but short on substance and follow-through.

This is damning stuff. But it was foolish, naive even, of the ALP and the Review’s authors to not expect this to happen.

New Zealand Labour’s review must be open, honest and far-reaching, but it cannot turn into a blame game. Leaks can and will happen, and I can just imagine exactly the scenario playing our over here. It’s not pretty.

Jobs and targeted tax cuts as economic stimulus

President Obama’s weekly address focuses on growing private sector jobs and the use of strategic tax cuts aimed at the middle class, and small business, to grow the economy. It’s working, and the Republicans aren’t happy.

Firstly, on jobs…

We need to keep this growth going and strengthen it. That’s why we’ve been fighting to pass a series of jobs bills through Congress – bills that independent economists say will create more jobs and grow the economy even faster. Because now is the time to step on the gas, not slam on the brakes.

One of the most insulting aspects of conservative attacks on welfare is that they see it in isolation. New Zealand’s economy contracted and hasn’t recovered. The unemployment rate has continued to rise. This isn’t because the Nats have made welfare more appealing – far from it. The issue is they are not creating enough private sector jobs.

You see, last year, both parties came together to cut payroll taxes for the typical middle-class family by about $1,000. But that tax cut is set to expire at the end of this month. If that happens, that same family will see its taxes go up by $1,000. We can’t let that happen. In fact, I think we should cut taxes on working families and small business owners even more.

Tell them not to vote to raise taxes on working Americans during the holidays. Tell them to put country before party. Put money back in the pockets of working Americans. Pass these tax cuts.

This sort of counter-cyclical economic stimulus works. The Rudd Government in Australia were even less targeted, with a massive cash injection into the economy by giving $800 to every Australian. Tax cuts targeted at the lower end gives money directly to people who will spend 100% of it. It’s not going to go overseas in investments, and it’s unlikely to be used on luxury products. It will go straight back into the local economy.

The answer to welfare problems is not to mess around the edges trying to look tough on the issue. The answer is to create jobs for these people to go to.

Liam Byrne on how Labour can win

On Monday I briefly covered the first half of an article from Liam Byrne concerning why Labour lost power in the UK in 2010. The article isn’t all doom and gloom.

Byrne identifies three lessons the he feels Labour needs to learn in order to return to being a party of government. I think the same lessons are largely applicable to the New Zealand situation…

First, we have to transform the politics of aspiration once again. If we want to revitalise the coalition that took us to power in 1997, we have to set out with a new crispness how the power of government is going to help modern families get on in life in 21st-century Britain.

In 2005, Labour was 18 per cent ahead of the Tories amongst 25-34 year-olds. At this election, we were five per cent behind. It was the age group where our vote fell sharpest. Aspiration and opportunity have always been the uniting idea that bonds our coalition together – and education has always been its symbol. At the last budget, we boosted education spending, even amidst the budget challenges we confronted. We were the only party that did. But we couldn’t find a way to punch this through a hostile media. We should redouble our efforts.

Aspiration through education? Check.

I’d say that this is an even bigger problem for New Zealand Labour – we have National’s vacuous “build a brighter future” message on the right, and a very future focussed platform from the Greens on our left.

Second, let’s agree that now is no time for a modest renewal. A wide sweep of policy needs to change.

That is why we need a plan that renews our approach to jobs, tax and benefits, the minimum wage, welfare reform, skills and higher education, university funding, child care, social care, social housing and pensions. Otherwise, we will be left without an offer for aspirational families.

The key is not to take a narrow focus. If the worst paid third of British workers are to keep up, we need a fundamental change in the productivity of the industries they work in, a change in the pace of wage rises, a new look at the tax and benefit system, and new kinds of help from child care to social care to let people work the hours they might like to for a better standard of living.

To be fair, in 2011 the New Zealand Labour Party went to the electorate with the biggest sea change in policy in at least a generation. We weren’t afraid to tackle the old taboos. We normalised the idea of a capital gains tax (it had been seen as a very fringe idea before 2011), suggested raising the retirement age and looked at other radical changes in the areas of taxation and monetary policy.

Was the problem that the package was not enough to spark the interest of middle New Zealand? Was the problem that we didn’t communicate it effectively enough? Time will tell, but we certainly need to take a long hard look at what went wrong.

And finally, the big ‘how’. I don’t really have a lot to add to this. I think it sums up where we need to be looking. I am sure that these themes will feature strongly in the upcoming Labour Review, and just as importantly, I hope that the new leadership team is willing to take an active role in fostering an active role for Labour in our communities.

Third, we must put community politics at the centre of our party work. In Birmingham, we did well fending off a Tory attack. Gisela Stuart’s extraordinary triumph in Edgbaston will be one of the great memories of election night. In my own seat, we managed to put up the Labour majority.

These results were not delivered by direct mail from on high – but by community campaigning on the ground. Not many of Gisela’s – or my – volunteers were paid-up Labour members. But they delivered a Labour victory.

So, we urgently need a style of campaigning-led politics in our communities led by local Labour politicians.

Learning the lessons from the US, Edgbaston tripled the size of its activist base by adopting a philosophy that ‘organisation [is] built on the belief of the power of the individual to bring about change in their community’. This is not about CLPs discussing the minutes of the last meeting. This is about political leadership building a community coalition focused on changing things locally.

Success will demand reaching out to the civic activists and social entrepreneurs who share our appetite to make a difference on the ground. Canvassing is not enough any more. Community campaigning means bringing progressive people together to battle for local change. But this is about more than the renewal of the party’s ability to win elections. This ethos should become part of re-asserting Labour as the party of responsibility and community.

It demands the Labour party as a party does more in local communities to support, mentor and inspire the change-makers who want to make a difference to what is going on outside their front door, but do not know where to start. In other words it demands a constant exercise in imagination in every aspect of our work in government and out on the streets of our communities, to put community life first. That means going back to the organising traditions that gave birth to the Labour party over a century ago, where the ballot box was only one of the ways we made change happen. But the reality is that today’s Labour party is hardly set-up, or indeed, resourced to help.

Reminder: feedback on the scope of Labour’s review

Please remember that if you have any feedback on what you think the scope of Labour’s review should be, and what format it will take, please send it in to office@labour.org.nz before 10am this Friday.

I have begun writing my thoughts on the scope, and will post them here once I’m done (probably tomorrow). Also, if any other party members would like their submissions published here, I’m more than happy to accommodate – please email them to me (happy to put them up with or without your own name, though I doubt the party will give you that luxury).

A fiscal ‘satan-sandwich’

Yesterday the National Party released the details of their confidence & supply arrangements with United Future and ACT, which give them the numbers to form a Government.

As well as bringing in charter schools, the arrangement with ACT also looks to impose a spending cap on the Government.

Commentator and analyst Keith Ng has done a very useful breakdown of the numbers. It’s well worth a read.

Check my numbers by all means, but with a budget that is explicitly fixed and exploding NZ Super costs, there’s not much room for ambiguity. This is not a cap. It’s not even a slow withering of the state. This is a substantive and perpetual cut.

How is it that Key can casually commit to this? Who the hell would swallow this satan-sandwich just to get John Banks in return?

This is the cynical part. He’s doesn’t actually have to swallow it. The law change will take place in two years, probably choosing the 2014 budget as the baseline, so there won’t be any actual cuts till 2015, after the election. It probably won’t be Key’s problem by then, and possibly not National’s. He even points out that future governments can abolish it if they want to. So, he’s basically setting a completely unreasonable promise in place to force future governments to renege on it.

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’s review – first steps

All New Zealand Labour Party members will have received an email this morning from Party President , Moira Coatsworth, about the first stage of Labour’s internal review (click to see the email).

At Congress I promised to lead an organisational review of the Party after the election. That review is now urgent to contribute to revitalising our Party to win government in 2014. The next steps for the review are these.

This Friday a committee of New Zealand Council will work further on the review scope.

If you have comments about what the review needs to include and how it should be done please have your say.

Send your comments to office@labour.org.nz by Friday at 10am.

It’s a very short time frame, and I have mixed feelings about this. No branches will have an opportunity to meet to discuss how they may choose to approach the review. That said, it does show that Coatsworth is very committed to getting this going, and not leaving the review on the back burner.

If you are a member, I would strongly encourage you to submit your views. The leadership of the party at the very least need to understand that this is a process that the grassroots want to engage with. Later in the week I’ll be sending my thoughts in, and I’ll share them here.

To get you started, it might pay to look at what our sister parties have done in this space, very recently. Both the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the British Labour Party (UKLP) have undergone or are in the process of completing reviews.

The ALP’s Review 2010 was wide-ranging in scope, and executed by party giants Steve Bracks, John Faulkner and Bob Carr. My understanding is the final stages of it were taken to the ALP conference this past weekend. I know several people who were there will be reading this – if anyone wants to write something about the process they would be more than welcome!

The terms of reference the ALP used were:

  • The need to review and modernise Labor’s vision and purpose in the 21st century.
  • The need to broaden participation in the Party to ensure a greater say for members, supporters and stakeholders.
  • The need to improve dialogue and engagement between progressive Australians and the Party, including progressive third party organisations.

Review 2010 had a vast consultation process…

2 Consultations

2.1 The Review Committee visited every state and territory capital and parts of regional Queensland in developing this Review Report and its recommendations. The committee held membership forums in Cairns, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Hobart. The forums were attended by hundreds of Party members.

2.2 The Review also received written submissions from Party members, organisations and supporters from right around the country. Submissions were primarily received through the specially created Review 2010 website (www.Review2010.alp.org.au).Many members and supporters also lodged written submissions with the Review. All submissions were read and acknowledged by the Review Committee. Over 800 submissions were received through this process, all of a very high quality. The Review Committee believes this is the highest number of submissions received by a national review in the Party’s history, demonstrating the deep interest and  concern our members and supporters have in the Party’s future.

2.3 For the first time, the Review also made use of online consultation forums through www.alp.org.au. The Review created a ‘Think Tank’ area for members and supporters to put forward their brief suggestions for Party reform. An extraordinary 3500 members and supporters chose to participate in the Review in this way. These short submissions were then compiled into one document, with views highlighted and aggregated. A number of recommendations for this report are directly drawn from this consultative process.

2.4 The Review conducted a series of interviews with leaders and prominent members of our Party, at parliamentary, industrial and organisational levels.

2.5 The Review Committee has also examined the recommendations of previous review reports commissioned by the Party. In particular, the 2010 National Review is indebted to the work done by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former Premier Neville Wran in 2001, the so-called ‘Hawke–Wran Review’, which generated the last serious reform process in the Australian Labor Party

The UKLP’s Refounding Labour project seems to have concluded, and there are plenty of resources available here (click download campaign resources to get to the goodies). I can’t seem to find much about how they conducted the process itself, but I do believe I may have one of the early consultation documents saved somewhere – I’ll try to dig it out. The one piece of relevant information that a quick Google reveals is that not all were happy with the process – a cautionary tale for us here in New Zealand.

In my mind, there is no reason that the New Zealand Labour Party could not do something similar. To be blunt, our future depends on it. I’d urge you all to get involved, and to send your views in.

Repackaging is not winning

Campaigns have always been a war of words as well as ideas. The belief that Republican mastery of that game was key to their success in 1994 spurred Democrats into a search for their own sleight of tongue that goes on to this day. The architecture of a message matters; but this exercise has been carried to the point where it can become a substitute for thought and persuasion. One expert, George Lakoff, who regularly instructs Democratic senators and members of Congress at their retreats, has urged progressives to make income taxes more palatable by calling them “membership fees” and trial lawyers less controversial by labelling them “public protection attorneys.” The national debt piled up by Bush, he says, should be re-branded the “baby tax.” Most of this hasn’t been tested rigorously; some of it is transparent and needless. Isn’t “debt,” as in “national debt,” a negative enough phrase? But 1994 left some Democrats thinking that they didn’t really have to prosecute the battle of ideas, just find the nomenclature to repackage them…

– Robert Shrum, No Excuses

An interesting example of a failed attempt at repacking a message is National’s “mixed ownership model”. Labour’s success in getting their “asset sale” line to stick was one of the great triumphs of messaging in the 2011 campaign. I noticed almost constantly throughout the last few months of the campaign (when I did manage to catch the news) that the media were referring to nothing but asset sales. Labour won that battle, and the long term impact of this minor victory will be much larger than a simple battle of words.

Some initial thoughts on New Zealand First

For the past three years many pundits broke one of the cardinal rules of New Zealand pundits: never write off Winston.

And he’s back. With seven other MPs. There is much that could be said about some of them, but I’m going to leave that for others. One thing we do know is that Cameron Slater’s unhealthy obsession with former North Shore City mayor Andrew Williams is about to go up a notch.

Firstly: what happened? NZ First had been hovering on about 2-4% for months. Without more in depth research it’s hard to say what that was, but my gut instinct was this is Winston’s base. His fan club. He didn’t run a particularly strong campaign (they only launched their website three days before the election), but that’s not surprising given the state of the party. But then Winston got lucky. As the Key/Banks teapot scandal got legs, it gave Winston oxygen. Suddenly he was on the front page of the paper sticking up for himself and his supporters – and it worked.

6.8% is a brilliant result for NZ First, and I’m sure they are very proud.

They now have eight MPs, six of which are totally new to Parliament. It has left the party in a somewhat awkward position, they do have a number of issues they need to get to grips with, and fast…

  • Their caucus. There are a number of highly unknowns in their caucus, and it’s screaming out for scandal. They need to nail these people down, and quickly. That said, it’s also vital that they move beyond being the Winston Show and let the caucus develop as Parliamentarians in their own right. It’s going to be a tough balancing act.
  • Renewal. Winston is not getting any younger. From what we’re hearing in the media, it sounds like Ron Mark is the front runner in the race to replace him – the big problem being he isn’t in Parliament any more. They need to continue to attract new talent, had build a solid succession strategy. I think they can do it.
  • Staffing. From what I’ve heard, Winston had a pretty good team around him until 2008. It’s yet to be seen if any of them will return, or what new talent he can attract.
  • Establishing their message. I actually think they’ve found a sweet spot. Sitting on the cross-benches sniping at a vulnerable PM and leader of the opposition will give him media time and recognition. But it’s hard to see them growing their support unless they are able to articulate their own vision for New Zealand. I’m sure this will be grounded in economic nationalism – it’s going to be interesting to see how that develops.

S0 there are some initial thoughts on where New Zealand First are at, and what they need to do. Nothing particularly ground breaking, but I’m sure they’re going to spend the summer celebrating anyway.

Labour’s electorate vote

One of the most paradoxical things to come out of the 2011 general election was that while Labour’s share of the party vote was decimated (down to 27.1%  – or a 6.9% swing against), a reasonable number of their electorate candidates managed to substantially increase their majorities.

Electorate Candidate Percentage swing to Labour
Mangare Sua William Sio 20.7
Rimutaka Chris Hipkins 11.3
Wellington Central Grant Robertson 7.1
Tamaki Makaurau Shane Jones 6.8
Manukau East Ross Robertson 6.7
Te Tai Tokerau Kelvin Davis 6.5
Napier Stuart Nash 6.4
Ikaroa-Rawhiti Parekura Horomia 6.4
Manurewa Louisa Wall 5.5
Auckland Central Jacinda Ardern 4.7

Firstly, congratulations to all those candidates who managed to hold their seats (if Brendon Burns holds Christchurch Central on specials, then Labour have only lost one electorate – Waimakariri –  despite a massive swing against them).

Also, before we go any further, it is worth noting that there are lots of variables at play. For example, the Te Tai Tokerau swing is against the 2008 general election result, not the very close 2011 by-election. So please take things with a grain of salt.

For me there are some pretty obvious insights that jump out of the raw numbers.

If you look at the three “M” seats, Mangare, Manukau East and Manurewa, Labour managed to significantly increase their share of the vote, despite the turnout being in line with the nation-wide trend. This has to be due to a combination of factors working in Labour’s favour:

  • The absence of Taito Phillip Field. In 2008, despite being booted out of Labour and facing corruption charges, he stood against Sua William Sio, and his Pacific Party stood candidates in the other “M” seats. They never had a chance of beating Labour, but they took a noticeable amount of the votes.
  • It’s possible that elements of Labour’s policy platform – $15 minimum wage and GST off fruit and veges – struck a chord in these electorates which have high levels of social deprivation. That said, if we’re going to make untested, sweeping generalisations we have to admit that the people at the bottom of the heap are also the ones most likely to be disconnected from the political process.

Another point to note is that three of the top 10 seats in terms of swing are Maori electorates. One of the two new seats Labour picked up was Te Tai Tonga. Their candidate, Rino Tirikatene, pushed hard on the line that Maori Party voters were dissatisfied with the deal with National. So hard, that on election night, even Tariana Turia was admitting it

“And it may well be … that they haven’t liked the relationship with National.”

The final point that jumps out is the fact that Labour obviously has some decent campaigners. Everyone on this list has done well (and to be fair, there are also another dozen or so candidates who have pulled in very respectable results). Robertson, Hipkins, Nash and Ardern all ran excellent campaigns. It really shows that one of Labour’s greatest losses on election night was Stuart Nash. I personally hope he sticks with it – victory in Napier is well within his grasp for 2014.

There are of course massive issues with the party vote, and turnout generally. I’ll save those for another day!