Saturday’s local government results have had many lefties celebrating. We now have Labour-aligned mayors in Auckland, Christchurch, Porirua, Rotorua, Wanganui and Masterton. In many areas, particularly in Christchurch and Auckland, Labour candidates have done really well in picking up council and local board seats.
I was particularly pleased to see a good number of young Labour members stand, and get elected. I’m sure I’ll forget someone, so I’m not going to attempt to name them all, but Young Labour really stepped up to the plate with some fantastic candidates, many of whom got excellent results. I really hope this is something that continues.
[Update: Phil Twyford’s Red Alert post is well worth a read for a good summary of how the left did on Saturday]
But it wasn’t all sun shine and rainbows. Here in Wellington, we lost a long standing and dedicated councillor in Leonie Gill, and hard working Labour member, Daran Ponter from the regional council. In Auckland, the chair of Labour’s local government sector council, Richard Northey, lost his council seat. And I’ve heard some unsettling things about Labour’s results in the east of Christchurch.
So that brings us to the question of where does Labour go from here in local government?
On Saturday we saw the success of many strong Labour candidates, running smart, locally informed, data-driven campaigns. The benefits of these to the wider Labour movement are huge. Not only is it an excellent training ground for candidates, campaign managers and activists, but it ensures that Labour is deeply connected with the communities that it hopes to represent.
I’ve had this blog post from the New Statesman saved in my bookmarks for sometime – Labour must embrace localism. I’d strongly encourage any Labour member considering local government to take a read.
Fundamentally, the party needs to decide if it’s going to take local government seriously. This Saturday activists and candidates have shown that it can be done. But if we are going to really connect with our communities, we need to do better. I’d suggest that this would involve seriously reforming the local government sector council, so that it becomes a campaign engine room, which is able to assist local branches to resource and implement decent campaigns. It would mean drawing upon the resources and expertise of our MPs (Phil Twyford’s work with the Labour Henderson-Massey team is an excellent example) and sharing best practice.
But first, I think there needs to be a strong decision to take local government seriously, rather than treating it as a poor cousin.