Not all publicity is good publicity

As has now been widely reported on the internet, Rick Perry now holds the honour of having the most disliked video on the internet. Via The Daily What

Important Internet Milestone of the Day: It’s official: Rick Perry’s homophobic campaign ad has more dislikes than Rebecca Black’s “Friday” (embiggen), making it the most hated video in YouTube history.

Congrats, Rick. No one has ever deserved anything more than you deserve this.

Labour and the environment

I missed this at the time, but Bruce Hawker has helpfully done a decent write up.

In the lead up to the ALP conference two weeks ago, a group of titans of the ALP from the 90s and 00s have released a public statement in support of Labor’s efforts on sustainability and combating climate change. Here it is…

We the undersigned:

1. Acknowledge that effective climate policy must be informed by science and global carbon pollution must peak and begin to decline rapidly within the next 10 years.

2. Congratulate the Prime Minister and her government on achieving a price on carbon: a vital first step towards achieving this goal and, with it, a secure, strong and prosperous low carbon economy.

3. Believe this vital national reform stands in the great Labor tradition of bold change in the national interest.

4. Regret the toxic and crude nature of the recent Australian debate and believe there is work for the Labor movement to help re-build consensus with government, civil society, workers and business on climate change.

5. Consider that tackling climate change, building resilient communities and achieving more sustainable ways of achieving economic growth and human betterment will be a key task of any Labor Party or social democratic party in the world in this century.

6. See enormous opportunity for our country in many of the technologies required to reduce emissions.

7. Assert we must maintain the Labor movement’s determination to continue to develop and implement the policies necessary to drive public and private capital towards a low-carbon future.

Bob Carr
Premier of New South Wales 1995-2005

Steve Bracks
Premier of Victoria 1999-2007

Peter Beattie
Premier of Queensland 1998-2007

Geoff Gallop
Premier of Western Australia 2001-2006

Mike Rann
Premier of South Australia 2002-2011

Clare Martin
Chief Minister, Northern Territory 2001-2007

Jon Stanhope
Chief Minister, Australian Capital Territory 2001 – 2011

Hawker discusses how important the signal that this statement sends is, particularly for the ALP…

At times, some modern Labor administrations have de-emphasised environment protection as a priority. ‘Brown’ influences, hostile to the natural environment have unintelligently taken hold.

The consequences have always followed this pattern – environment protection was set aside, Labor’s popular support declined and the Green political party grew in strength.

This is obviously in relation to Gillard’s back-down on aspects of their new carbon tax towards industry. It’s a very valid point. I think the problem in New Zealand is quite different, but it is still a very relevant issue.

The New Zealand Labour Party has a very strong tradition in the area…

  • One of Norman Kirk’s major policies that got the 3rd Labour government elected was a strong endorsement of the Save Manapouri ideas, followed by the establishment of the Guardians of Manapouri.
  • In 1987 the 4th Labour government established the Department of Conservation (which might I add the current National government is threatening major cuts).
  • The 5th Labour government introduced New Zealand’s first ETS, and continued the fight in areas of conservation and environmental innovation.
  • In 2011 Phil Goff’s Labour opposition campaigned strongly on bringing the agricultural sector into the ETS on time, and using the extra revenue that would generate to fund extensive spending in research tax credits.

These are just off the top of my head. There is a heck of a lot more.

My point is that in New Zealand, Labour has a long, proud history of protecting the environment. However just like in Australia, that is not how our party is seen, and because of that we are losing votes to the Greens.

Is this a problem of policy or communication? Do we not have a clear enough idea about what we want to do in this space, or do we not communicate it well enough with the public?

The value of the leadership road show…

Stephen Franks, a man who has never placed a particularly high value on democracy, has some criticisms of Labour’s leadership road show. I know many on the left will dismiss his opinion out of hand due to his political stripes, but he does make some well reasoned arguments that are at least worth having a quick think about…

Internal candidate debating competitions are deeply flawed exercises in democracy. They cannot perform the main function of an election campaign. They cannot explore and expose the critical weaknesses of the candidates. If they did tease them out they would wound the party privately and publicly. Little damage is more long-lasting than the damage from publicised frank assessments of weakness by close colleagues.  So intraparty primaries become competitions in public self praise, with little risk of contradiction. Sure there may be cunning allusion, comparison by emphasis. But formally the candidates can only highlight their own attributes, and stay away from the dangerous territory of exploring their competitors’ weaknesses.

John Pagani (who initially posted this article on Twitter, thanks for the heads up John!) is starting to agree with Franks on this matter….

There is a lot of truth in this criticism. After being initially joyful about the open contest, I’m having my doubts. It’s true that a genuinely open mutual scrutiny, as democratic elections require, is not really possible because of the potential for lasting damage.

I certainly see where they’re both coming from. We must remember that the caucus knows the four candidates much better than the party membership do. To send the candidates around the country campaigning against each other does introduce a large element of risk. Given that the media  and party members they’re meeting don’t have a direct say in the leadership contest, one could argue that it is needless risk.

That said, I think there are two important points to note.

Firstly, it’s likely that the different camps would have snipped at at each other, via leaks, even if it had been a totally closed campaign. During the last three years Phil Goff was constantly on the back foot, fighting off internal leaks. It’s not helpful in the slightest. Perhaps at least by having an open campaign and getting these things out in the open, we would be able to counter act some of the back room skullduggery.

Secondly, I see the current road show as a stepping stone.

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.

My contribution on the scope of Labour’s review

To the Labour Party’s New Zealand Council,

I am writing in response to Moira’s email asking for feedback on the potential scope and format for the upcoming Labour review.
Rather than lay out any particular plan, which I have every confidence the council will be able to do for themselves, I felt it would be best if I highlighted some particular things I would like the council to consider.
  • The review must have as wide a scope as possible. Every aspect of what we do must be up for examination.
  • The review needs to be totally inclusive. Every member of the party needs to be able to provide feedback, and be listened to. From the leader and party president, to members who haven’t been to a branch meeting in a decade, to members who have joined in the last year but never been engaged in the party.
  • We must also seek out feedback and assistance from outside the party. We must look to our sister parties overseas, many of whom have very recently completed similar reviews, and also to other organisations and specialists in this field.
  • Set out a clear process and timeline. We may very well be able to chalk up some quick wins, but I have no doubt that this review will address some far deeper issues that will take time and debate to work through. We need to embrace this challenge.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide ideas around the review process – I really look forward to contributing more in the near future.
With regards
Patrick Leyland

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 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.