If just changing the leader was the solution, then Labour would have solved its problems long ago. We've had three leaders since 2008.

Labour's problems can't just be fixed by a switch at the top. Change requires more than that. It must challenge the intellectual, organisational and cultural fundamentals of what it means to be Labour.

And if that change is not making us uncomfortable, then its not real change. For some in charge of the party machine it has to be accountability for failure, and the willingness to stand aside and let others have a go.

If Labour can’t confront the deep structural explanations for defeat it can’t recover.

Intellectual reform.

1. If your principles are popular but you are not, then you are not being true to your principles.

So much debate runs along the lines of ‘we are here, but the voters are over there, so we need to work out how much we compromise.’

That analysis is intellectually flabby. It is the main reason Labour is so often flat-footed, talking about trivia or seen as cynical. It's not about compromising to win the baubles of office. It's about being true to Labour principles.

Here’s an example: At the last election I made myself a heretic when I wrote a column mentioning how unpopular the policy of paying Working For Families to beneficiaries had been on the campaign trail. Labour voters on low incomes clearly didn't think it was fair to use an in-work tax credit to increase benefits.

Yet Labour, under David Cunliffe, dropped that policy. Except that he didn’t highlight the change, so Labour ended up in the worst of both worlds: Reckoned by many to have a policy that it couldn’t defend, and also setting itself up to disappoint the remaining supporters who expected the policy would be delivered.

It should have gone back to the principe of Labour’s Working For Families: that we are the party of work. That's why we're called the Labour Party. We represent the aspirations of people who work hard for a wage and want the same opportunity to get ahead as someone who was born luckier.

Only when we do that job properly do we win the trust of people to increase benefit levels; because another Labour principle is compassion. We will be there for you when you're down on your luck and lose a job. And we'll make sure you are treated with dignity by having a high enough benefit to live on.

David Cunliffe should have owned that policy change as a sign of robust intellectual strength.


2. You can’t tell a good idea from a bad one unless you are prepared to contest them.

If people can’t debate new ideas within Labour without being excluded and demonised, or suspected of treachery, then they will be incentivised to drift away because the debate will occur elsewhere. And Labour will be the victim of the contest of ideas, not the owner of it.

3. Stop barking at every passing car, trying to please every passing car. Labour's job is to make working people better off. Do that job first. Let other organisations lobby on obesity or animal testing or dead trees. Let them win support and make their case. But when it comes to dead trees versus jobs, Labour shouldn't think twice about being on the side of jobs.


Organisation

National are really, really good at organisation. Labour’s head office told us it would win with its ground game. There was some spectacular ground-game effort by Labour people out there, let down by a head office that is awful.

1. It is implausible that President Moira Coatsworth and General secretary Tim Barnett have not already resigned. If 24% is not enough to bring about their accountability, how bad would it have to be? Do they have no sense at all how heartbroken and devastated, Labour people feel?

Stuart Nash and Kelvin Davis, (plus wins in Te Tai Hauauru and Tamaki Makaurau) were the only bright spots. Both battled head office interference, when they should have been asked to run things.

I know of several people who have worked for the Labour Party in the past and now they work for corporates - not one of them has been rung and asked for a donation.

2. Democratisation and transparency

The president should be directly elected like the leader was.

When any position in the party from branch secretary to NZ Council comes up for election, everyone eligible to stand should receive an email telling them how to nominate.

The culture of patronage and rotten boroughs has to be broken. Sector groups are a sign of diversity in the party, but when your success in the party relies on your ability to get the patronage of the Unions, the Rainbow sector or others, then you are excluding people who have neither the inclination nor the time to play palace politics.

I am supportive of Labour’s affiliate membership arrangements but we haven’t got it right. It is implausible that there are people who can vote in leadership elections and selections and no one knows who they are. If you want to be part of Labour you need to indicate it to the party and candidates need to be able to lobby and influence them.

Share their names and addresses so others can contact them.


Culture

I am least confident about Labour’s ability to confront some deep-seated cultural problems.

1. There was a tone of entitlement from people who cheered the departure of Shane Jones, Many would-be Labour supporters felt that their values, language and lifestyles were being sneered at.

2. Related to this is the hostile tone of too much debate on the left. I welcome vigorous debate of ideas and policy, but the personal abuse and vilification is damaging for Labour’s support, especially among women.

Most of the aggression directed at me comes from men. Criticise my argument all you like but the personal vilification and marginalising have no place. It needs to be confronted.

Deb Mahuta-Coyle got the same torrent of invective when she dared to voice opinions on TV last week as well. There is a pattern of condemnation here.

I would personally try to change the left’s aggro at women before I brought in rule changes like all-women shortlists because the aggro is going to drive women out.

When half the country have just voted for John Key there is no future in vilifying him or persuading them he is evil. It sounds like a tantrum and a frustrated lashing out.

I think the Greens usually get this in a way that Labour does not (and the far left never will): For all the horrible attitudes exposed in Dirty Politics, the left can’t take the high ground when many on the left attack the person not the issue.

We should be known for our better way of doing politics.

Change in the party has to start from the members up, not the leader down. No more heretic seeking. Time to open the doors and welcome people, even if you don't agree with everything they say or do.

Being inclusive is part of what it is to be Labour.

 

Comments (18)

by Katharine Moody on September 21, 2014
Katharine Moody

 If 24% is not enough to bring about their accountability, how bad would it have to be?

Just worth remembering in 2002 it was actually worse for National - they got 20.93% of the vote.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Zealand_general_election,_2002

Labour's loss this year certainly isn't the biggest of losses that we've seen from the majors since MMP came in.

by Alan Johnstone on September 21, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Labour fails the "people like us" sniff test.

It has lost connection to the mainstream and become a collage of special interests like the rainbow groups.

Doomed.

by Matthew Percival on September 21, 2014
Matthew Percival

Before I start ranting can I just say that Josie's analysis on TV3 last night and Newstalk ZB was at the top level. I'll also add that you need to get a new profile photo here at Pundit!

I'm still taking in last nights vote as it was an unexpected result. Not in the fact that National won by the method of victory. I had them borderline with UF/ACT/MP, not being borderline on their own.

This defeat for Labour is different to Nationals defeat in 2002. When National was defeated the National vote was dispersed to all the parties around it on the spectrum. ACT, United Future and NZ First all benefiited. Fast forward to 2014 and I was expecting the poor Labour performance to benefit Internet/Mana, Green Party and New Zealand First. It didn't. The two parties who benefitted were NZ First and the Conservative Party.

That movement suggests to me Labour needs to reform it's policy in the folowing areas:

 - Superannuation age

 - Capital Gains Tax

I don't believe that reform in these areas is the domain of a first term government. If I was Labour I would shelve these until a second term, much like National did with it's unpopular mixed ownership model policy. I also feel that Labour may have been unfairly blamed for the passing of the Gay Marriage Bill.

The statisitcal analysis that will no doubt come out over the next few weeks will be fascinating.

by Brendon Mills on September 21, 2014
Brendon Mills

So Josie....

 

What policies should Labour drop and what should they pick up?

 

What is your position on public provision of education, health, welfare and housing? Do you think Labour should support charter schools? Do you support the governments changes to state/social housing? What do you think should happen to benefits and ACC payments? Should they be restricted?

Do you support privatisation/asset sales? Do you think irrigation schemes should be publicly owned:? Airports? Power generators and tranmission networks Data comms networks? Do you support closing down the rail network (especially the North Auckland and Napier-Gisborne lines)

 

Do you think that workers protections should be eroded? The work force casualised, like you thought should happen at Ports of Auckland? Do you think the unions should be kicked out of the Labour party? Would you ban unions?

 

Do you think environmental procections should be loosened in favour of "jobs"? Do you support mining in our National Parks? 

 

In what ways was Shane Jones reflective of Labour Party values? Because to me, he seemed to be all about pimping NZ out to the extractive industries in the hope we have a few brown faces on the payroll. The Labour party grew because the miners on the west coast were made to work long hours for little pay in horrible  conditions, and there needed to be a change?

And do you think that Labour should shit on the vulnerable?

by Lee Churchman on September 22, 2014
Lee Churchman

Related to this is the hostile tone of too much debate on the left

Well, I think that this is partly due to not wanting to accept that genuine left wing politics is an electoral non-starter in NZ. This is a tory country, and the sooner we on the left accept this, the sooner we can stop wasting our time on hopeless causes and get on with our lives. Yes, we can complain about corruption, child poverty or filthy rivers, but the electorate doesn't care enough about those things and would rather believe in National's drivel, however stupid and loopy this may seem to people like me. 

Principled left wing voters just need to accept that NZ politics has very little to offer them in the absence of compromises that fatally undermine left wing principles. All you're doing is trying to pretend that this isn't the case.

by Katharine Moody on September 22, 2014
Katharine Moody

This defeat for Labour is different to Nationals defeat in 2002.

Yep, it wasn't quite as bad.


by Anne on September 22, 2014
Anne

I'm sure your appearances on the John Key's media flunkey's political shows are a lucrative little number Josie Pagani and know doubt you enjoy the attention, but when are you going stop pretending you're an advocate for the left? 

by Wayne Mapp on September 22, 2014
Wayne Mapp

Lee,

I think the term "tory" is really unhelpful in understanding New Zealand politics, and New Zealand generally. There is no coterie of Old Etonians in the National Party.

I appreciate that you don't agree, but the centre-right is not heedless of child poverty or filthy rivers. In fact I recently posted on Pundit the convergence of the Nats, Labour and the Greens on the issue of clean rivers. 

So the abuse you heap on National and New Zealand generally (not a common feature on this site) will only stand in the way of a proper analysis. 

There two specific points I would make.

For Labour to succeed they have to stop going on about the failure of the "neo-liberal experiment". The reforms of the 1980's are now 30 years ago. The GFC did not fundamentally unsettle them. It is time to accept that New Zealand is not going to get back to a modernised form of the 1970's.

Second, connect with what actually matters to New Zealand voters. Forget about sideshows. Recognise that New Zealand politics is not riddled with corruption. Frankly the activities of a right wing blogger is not what politics is about.

So in my view the voters, or at least a substantial majority of them, have seen a moderate centre-right government in action now for 6 years. It does not scare them, and it does not look mean and heartless. 

National took on board the lesson that New Zealand is a fundamentally moderate nation after the departure of Don Brash. Labour's rsponse, abetted by the Greens, is that New Zealand wants to swing sharply left. It is a cul de sac for Labour, just as the swing to the right was for National. 

Now it has to be pretty easy to find a moderate centre-left vision for Labour just as it proved realitively easy for National to find a moderate centre-right line, when we realised that is what we had to do if we wanted to regain the Treasury benches.

Mind you we had to have John Key as Leader before we could that. But once he was installed, it was an easy and non- contentious debate within the caucus to move in that direction.

Will such a debate be so easy for Labour, or will it let passions tear it apart?

 

by Chris Eichbaum on September 22, 2014
Chris Eichbaum

And so it starts. Well it started on election night as some of the combatants - including the author of this post - decided it was time to light the fuse. There is a need for an assessment - any party having had this kind of electoral outcome visited upon them could not but do otherwise. Perhaps it is too much to ask that the assessment take place in a considered and measured manner. Leaping directly to a call for particular individuals to resign is not helpful - any more than volunteering on national television on the night of the election that 'dark forces' had prevented those gifted with the correct analysis from offering their advice. Wayne Mapp is correct when he suggests that the left has an on-going obsession with neo-liberalism, as he is in his assessment of much of National's policy mix . Our discussion should now be about articulating  a modified and civilised capitalism. If capitalism per se is the problem, then I am not convinced that a modern social democratic party is where you need to be. A combination of a long shadow cast by the Fourth Labour Government (and I was on the Labour Party Council at the time and battled along with others who chose to stay with the Party and fight for its soul) - together with the Occupy movement has produced a naive form of leftism that militates against the kind of serious discussion we need. One can only hope that it moves beyond the kind of 'either/or' 'two legs bad, four legs good kind' that some are encouraging. Labour was beaten up on Saturday night - it may have gone into the contest with an ill-conceived game plan (I simply don't know), but I do know that it came up against a very skilled opponent, and a set of policies that - either by design or reflecting where the dominant faction in the National Party is at in policy space - resonated with the median voter and many to her left on the continuum.

Unlike other sites, Pundit does provide a space to contribute to that serious, considered and measured discussion that is now required - not just by the left, but by those who view the contest of ideas as an healthy attribute of a democratic society.

And please, if you did buy a copy of Dirty Politics - read it. And having read it reflect on what right leaning bloggers are saying and why they are saying it. They do have a game plan and it is the destruction of the left as a viable force in New Zealand politics and society - let's not assist them with that plan.

by Anne on September 22, 2014
Anne

Thank-you Chris Eichbaum for your considered comments. The author of this post would do well to read it carefully.

I reiterate your plea for people to read Dirty Politics. It is the only way to fully comprehend the moral and ethical degradation currently inhabiting a prominent section of the right wing political scene.

 

 

by Katharine Moody on September 22, 2014
Katharine Moody

Recognise that New Zealand politics is not riddled with corruption.

Do you mean turn a blind eye?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11327328

Many people who have served in the ranks of the public service (myself included) would I suspect tell you that they had experienced uncomfortable pressures of a partisan/political nature, and that the predominant requirement in terms of moral approach to your work needs to adapt to the idea that the end justifies the means - just as this ex-government servant found;

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11327317

There is a simple message in this - it's not okay.

 

by Katharine Moody on September 22, 2014
Katharine Moody

And golly - fancy Jason Ede resigning the Monday post-election;

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/10528333/Jason-Ede-quits-National-PM

Coincidence or just felt it now safe to come out of the shadows? Will the media pursue him to the same degree they did Dotcom's ex-employees, I wonder.

 

by Brendon Mills on September 22, 2014
Brendon Mills

How do we know he didnt resign before the election...???

by Katharine Moody on September 22, 2014
Katharine Moody

How do we know he didnt resign before the election...???


It's all just stage management. Ask yourself, if he was working at National Party HQ throughout this whole campaign, why weren't the media waiting there every morning to get an interview?




by Lee Churchman on September 22, 2014
Lee Churchman

For Labour to succeed they have to stop going on about the failure of the "neo-liberal experiment". The reforms of the 1980's are now 30 years ago. The GFC did not fundamentally unsettle them. It is time to accept that New Zealand is not going to get back to a modernised form of the 1970's.

I don't really disagree with you. What counts as "failure" is of course relative to expectations, which are different for different people. I happen to find the increases in inequality problematic as well as finding the kind of society the reforms produced rather shallow and unimaginative. I also happen to think for a variety of reasons that the case for "neoliberalism" is very weak, but there's no room for that here other than to say that I find the current government's attitude towards welfare recipients (of which I am not one) to be both unethical and counterproductive.

But I'm well aware that mine is the view of a minority and that there is basically no prospect that the electorate is going to be persuaded otherwise or that an electable "centre left" government would be much different to the current "centre right" one. So I don't participate (except this time where I voted out of disgust at the antics of Collins and company - otherwise haven't voted for a long time). 

My point above was that the anger Josie was complaining about was caused by people who just can't accept that their cause is hopeless no matter how good their arguments might be. 

by Lee Churchman on September 22, 2014
Lee Churchman

Our discussion should now be about articulating  a modified and civilised capitalism. If capitalism per se is the problem, then I am not convinced that a modern social democratic party is where you need to be.

I guess I would class myself as a social democrat, but the NZ electorate is far to the right of me, and I don't think such a government is electable here.

by John Hurley on September 22, 2014
John Hurley

Tonight on Campbell Live the PM said he wants people to think positivelly about the potential of New Zealnd and what it can achieve in the world. That's why he wants more people to come here and invest to "increase the wealth" (and) to be "more multicultural".  All this is dubious (see Treasury Paper 14-10, The Savings Working Group, Michael Reddell) but Campbell gave him a free pass. If Labour cannot aggressively pursue this angle they will be as useless as tits on a bull. Note how the Greens decided that immigration wasn't a factor in Auckland house prices. If you can't see the problem as it is and hit the nail on the head you wont win the prize.

On the other hand if open borders is important to you no matter the cost then let's have a seperate party for seperate positions?

 

by Anne on September 22, 2014
Anne

"Many people who have served in the ranks of the public service (myself included) would I suspect tell you that they had experienced uncomfortable pressures of a partisan/political nature..."

Yes, I can attest to the above.

Twenty plus years ago, I found myself working in a sensitive area of government (a military base) at a time when the nuclear stand-off with the US/UK was at its peak. As a former Labour Party activist I found myself the target of surveillance both on and off the base, and their was also ample evidence of eavesdropping of my home phone and other activity in the vicinity of my home. That is only part of the story, but the 'closing of the public service ranks'  in order to prevent me from obtaining any information which could assist me to identify who was the responsible party was a truly remarkable experience.


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