Morning reads

Today is of course the day the Labour Party select their new leadership team. It’s going to be interesting no matter what happens, and I promise to write properly about the results!

In the mean time, while we wait for the smoke to come out from the conclave, here are some bits and pieces to keep you busy…

The Secret Diaries of David Cunliffe and David Shearer (Steve Braunias)

Brilliance. You have to read them.

Labour leadership primary (Lewis Holden)

Lewis, chair of the NZ Republican Movement, and (former?) National Party member, blogs about the Labour leadership process. His suggestion is that we adopt a process similar to that used by the UK Conservative Party. It’s not as silly as it sounds. Have a read and see what you think.

Winners and losers in Gillard’s reshuffle (Tim Lester, Sydney Morning Herald)

John Key and the Labour caucus aren’t the only people doing a pre-Christmas shuffle. Australian PM Julia Gillard has just announced a fairly major cabinet reshuffle. This article is a pretty good summary of the changes, but there is plenty of other material out there.

In defence of Peter Dunne

Okay, it really, really pains me to do this.

One of the things that I really dislike in politics are bold faced lies. By claiming that Dunne has no mandate to sell assets, that’s exactly what Russel Norman is engaging in. This sort of politics is never pretty.

The Greens are calling on United Future leader and MP for Ohariu, Peter Dunne, to ask voters in his Wellington electorate whether they want asset sales.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said National and ACT had campaigned on asset sales but Dunne had not, and he now had the power to stop them.

The thing is, Peter Dunne did campaign on his stance on asset sales. And it just so happens that his policy is compatible with National’s. What a surprise.

I am glad that the Greens are fighting hard against the sale of state assets, and I’m sure that Labour and Mana will also be fighting them at every step of the way. But by claiming that Peter Dunne never campaigned on asset sales, Russel Norman is simply wrong.

Let’s be clear – the only reason Peter Dunne is in this mess in the first place isn’t because of Russel Norman, it’s because his policy platform was as wet as the water resources he doesn’t want to see sold. He campaigned against sales of assets that were never going to be sold. It’s infuriating having someone as limp as Peter Dunne in Parliament – but he should be criticised for his lack of spine, not a lack of truthfulness.

How the NDP select their leader

Following yesterday’s post from Dorothy on the UK Labour Party, I thought we’d look at how Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) select their leader, given they are also in the middle of a leadership race.

At it’s core, it’s a reasonably straight forward system. They use a preferential vote, with a one-member-one-vote (except affiliate members, who’s votes are worth a quarter of a full member). Candidates must pay a $15,000 registration fee, and their campaign spending limit is a massive $500,000. So far there are nine candidates, it’s pretty full on. You can view the full set of rules and regulations here.

To me, the most remarkable thing about the NDP’s leadership contest is that they’re taking over seven months to do it. That’s seven months without a leader of the opposition. One of the reasons given for this is that over half of their MPs are now from Quebec, where they went from one MP to 59. They need time to build membership and organisations to support these new MPs, and feel it would be wrong to select a new leader in the midst of this growth.

Say what you will about the NDP, but from my outsider’s perspective, they seem very mature for such a young party.

Update: Thanks to @redrabbleroz for pointing out that the NDP have moved their leadership selection to a pure one-member-one-vote model – removing the affiliate vote. The Candian Conservatives and Liberals also select their leader by membership vote, but have it weighted across all the ridings (electorates).

Morning reads

There is a lot going on in politics at the moment. We have an election to digest, a new Cabinet will be announced today, a new Labour leader will be selected tomorrow. Despite this, there seems to be a bit of a vacuum when it comes to quality political commentary.

Here’s a quick round-up of some quality pieces that caught my eye today…

Election #11 – Notings (Graeme Edgeler, Public Address)

Graeme looks at the special votes and pulls some interesting facts out of the election result.

We won’t get the full details for a couple of months (split vote analysis which show various oddities, like the 1039 voters at the last election who party voted National in Helensville but wouldn’t vote for John Key personally, or the 262 Epsom voters who wanted ACT, but not Rodney Hide) but there are some things to note.

Yep – there’s your problem: your party’s full of hysterical simpletons (Danyl McLauchlan, Dim Post)

Danyl is the master of New Zealand political satire, and it’s often very difficult to tell it from his factual posts. Here is his reflecting on the Herald’s pieces on the weekend on the Labour leadership…

The stakes here are pretty low. Cunliffe will probably be an adequate leader. Shearer might not turn out so well, but might also be an exceptional leader. So that’s a risk the party needs to assess in light of its recent loss, not a Manichean battle of good against evil.

Dear Labour Caucus (Keith Ng, Public Address)

A day out from the leadership vote, Keith has written an open letter to the Labour caucus to look beyond their own personal interests, and any jobs that have been promised to them.

And this is the punchline, dear Labour Caucus. If Labour is led by someone who has been tirelessly campaigning for himself at the expense of the party – if its frontbench is stacked with people who earned their positions purely as payment for someone else’s political ambitions, in order to advance their own political ambitions – you can’t expect it to be a party of talent, you can’t expect it to be a party of values or integrity, and you can’t expect anyone to believe in it.


Guest post: How the UK Labour Party select their leader

Guest post: With Tuesday’s leadership vote and the NZLP’s upcoming organisational review, I thought it would be an interesting idea to look at how our sister parties do things. Dorothy Macedo kindly offered to share her view on how the UK Labour Party select their leader.

The UK Labour Party leadership process reflects the balance of forces in the party. The unions bankroll the party to a great extent, much more so than in New Zealand, so they (along with affiliated socialist societies, eg Fabians) get a third of the electoral college, with a third for the membership and the final third for the Parliamentary Labour Party (MPs, MEPs, Peers). have a rather good run down of the process.

It is a delicate balance; the MPs obviously want someone they have confidence in as a parliamentary performer while the grassroots want someone who best reflects their values. The antipathy of much of the PLP to Ed Miliband is less a reflection on his abilities than the hangover from the Blair era when you were more likely to be selected as a Labour candidate if you were a TV personality or a dinner party guest of the Blairs and their pals than if you had the support of the local party. In some cases, parties were suspended if they looked likely to select the “wrong” candidate.

The unions have been remarkably restrained in their demands – since the vast majority of Blair’s tame millionaires ran a mile, the unions could dictate terms but they choose not to. Most British union leaders are much more interested in preserving their own power base than in Labour Party policy unless it directly affects them. Traditionally the job of liaising with the Labour Party is often given to someone who might otherwise be a nuisance (eg challenge the general secretary) or who is simply not up to any important role inside the union. The big unions expect to have at least one person on the Labour Party NEC and to have the ear of the relevant (shadow) minister when they have concerns to raise. They prefer closed door negotiations to open confrontation. It is a common complaint of union activists that the unions do not use their muscle to pressure the Labour Party into supporting the unions’ democratically agreed policies. When I was on the Unison delegation a few years ago, I asked why we were not supporting an anti-war motion at conference as the union had a clear policy of opposition to the war in Iraq; I was told the motion (being a lengthy composite of motions from several bodies) contained specific references that were not covered by our policy! The truth was that Blair had charmed/leant on the union leadership and as the war did not directly affect their work, they preferred to stay in his good books.

Interestingly enough, at the 2010 leadership contest, the General Secretary used constitutionally provided “emergency powers” to alter the rules so that people who had been a member less than a year were able to vote in this. It was not seen as a controversial move, and over 32,000 people joined the party during the contest.

Anyway I would welcome an opening up of the leadership election as part of a reform of the NZLP’s democratic structures. The exact format would be a matter for discussion, but we always found that giving people a say in these important decisions greatly increased members’ participation. Conversely in the Blair era when all decision-making was centralised, membership and participation levels fell sharply.

Looking at turnout

I’ve had the pleasure of spending a sunny Sunday afternoon looking at the turnout numbers of the 2011 general election. The total turnout was only 74.21% (down from 79.46% in 2008). In raw numbers, that’s 2,257,336 votes cast, as opposed to 2,356,536 – despite the growing population.

2011 turnout. Click to enlarge

Wellington Central has this time taken out the title of highest turnout, beating the 2008 champion, Otaki (I am expecting a call from Mrs Keall). At a guess I would assume this has a lot to do with both Labour and the Greens running strong get out the vote (GOTV) strategies – perhaps the only place in the country where two parties manage this.

At the other end of the spectrum, we again have all seven of the Maori seats, followed by the three South Auckland Labour strongholds (Manukau East, Manurewa and Mangare). The continuation of this trend is particularly disappointing. Some may find it surprising given that this year there were four parties running strong campaigns in the Maori seats (Labour, Maori, Mana and Greens) – the simple fact of the matter is that Maori are far more disassociated from the political process than perhaps any other group in society.

I’ve also analysed the swing in turnout…

Turnout swing. Click to enlarge.

The dramatic dip in the vote in Botany stands out. Perhaps this is due to them having a by-election so soon, and local body elections (and a council by-election) last year. Are the good people of Botany simply suffering from election fatigue?

Before I pulled these numbers I had a theory that there would be a dramatic drop in turnout in the Christchurch electorates due to the earthquake. We certainly saw that to some extent (particularly Christchurch East, Christchurch Central and Wigram), but not as much as I expected. The other factor to take into account is that a lot of people have simply fallen off the electoral roll as they’ve moved away from Christchurch (the total number of people enrolled in these electorates has dropped significantly). There is more work to be done to see if they have since gone and enrolled elsewhere (and thus will have some pretty big impacts on the next boundary change), or if there are many earthquake refugees who are not even enrolled.

The big question is why did so few people vote?

All sorts of theories are being rolled out: flow on impact from the Rugby World Cup, lack of online voting, simple voter apathy. One thing that I think really did have an impact was having the National Party above 50% in the polls for so long – I’d hazard a guess that a lot of people didn’t cast their vote because it looked so certain that it would be a cakewalk to victory.

The Maori and Green parties are calling for an inquiry into the low turnout (a good idea, but it really does remind me of Saramago’s novel Seeing).

Radio New Zealand had a particularly interesting interview with Thomas Patterson, a professor of government and press at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He looks at our low turnout and points out that it’s in line with global trends. Take a listen here.

I’d be very interested to hear what you think about our low-level of turnout, and what can be done to slow or stop the trend.

(Almost) Final results released

With the exception of judicial recounts in Waitakere and Christchurch Central, the final results of the 2011 general election have been released. Congratulations to Carmel Sepuloni in particular – knocking off a popular cabinet minister in a year when the tide is out against Labour is no mean feat. Commiseration to those who have lost their seats.

Turnout was only 74.21% (down from 79.46% in 2008). This is very disappointing. The pundits will be discussing this until the cows come home, and from the conversations I’ve had with others already, there are some interesting theories emerging. I’ll be looking at some of these issues in the coming weeks.

I’ll also be updating my Labour candidate vote statistics in the next day or two. I also plan to investigate the variance in party vote and turnout , electorate by electorate. I have some theories already I intend to test.

But for now, I’m off to celebrate with the good folks from the Campaign for MMP. They can be particularly proud of their 57.77% result.