The only thing worse than electing the wrong person as leader of Labour is electing him by the narrowest of margins, by virtue of the influence of a handful of individuals acting under instructions. 

Labour just made the wrong choice, in the worst possible way.

Obviously, I think that the decision to choose Andrew Little over Grant Robertson was the wrong one however it came about … that's because Grant is a good friend whom I think will one day make a fantastic Prime Minister of New Zealand. So Andrew Little could be the reincarnation of Jack Kennedy mixed with Bob Hawke by way of Michael Joseph Savage (which he most certainly isn't) and I'd still be lamenting the Labour Party's decision to appoint him leader ahead of Grant.

So let's put aside my personal disappointment at the actual decision that Labour has made and instead look at how it has done so. Because it looks to me like it's created an almighty cluster&*k.

Here is the breakdown of the various rounds of the vote (courtesy of the NZ Herald).

Notice two things about these results.

First, Little beat Grant by just over 1% of the weighted votes cast. That's about as close a margin of victory as you can get, achieved on the third round. So the overall mandate for Little's leadership is  fragile, at best.

Second, Little lost heavily to Grant in both the Caucus and the Membership vote in every successive round of voting. Little was the first choice to be leader of only four of his colleagues (assuming he voted for himself, that is). Only 14 of 32 backed him as leader over Grant by their third choice - meaning 18 of 32 think Grant is a better person to lead them. And in respect of the membership vote, Little was consistently 10% behind Grant at each stage of the vote.

The thing that gave Little the edge, of course, was his support amongst "affiliates" - which means those unions that still retain membership ties with Labour.

Now, I'm not a knee-jerk anti-union person. I am, and always have been, a member of AUS and then the TEU. I served on the local branch committee for a while. I believe strongly in the need for collective organisation and action to protect the rights and interests of working people.

I also accept that the Labour Party has been (and to a degree remains) the political expression of that need. So I don't have any sort of problem in principle with the union movement having some sort of guaranteed input into the process of selecting the leader of the Party. Plus, of course, its really only the Labour Party's business how they do things.

But for all that, as a "concerned observer", I think that the sight of the Labour Party leader being chosen almost purely because of lopsided support amongst the union organisations is a terrible, terrible one for it. Especially when you break down what that "support" actually means in practice. It's not that 75% of the individual members of all the affiliated unions think Little is a better leader than Grant. It's instead that 75% of those people that each union allowed to decide the issue plumped for Little ahead of Grant. People who, in the case of (say) the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, basically were told by their leaders that they should vote for the guy who used to be their boss. 

And so Little is going to come into this role without the backing of a majority of either the MPs he has to lead, or the individual party members who are meant to do the work for the party, but rather because of the union hierarchies' blessing.

Now, I may be completely wrong here (as I have been so often in the past), but this strikes me as a pretty weak foundation from which to rebuild the party in the public's eye. If you thought Grant's perceived urban-liberal-career-politician persona was a millstone, wait until you see what happens with Little's union-boss-put-there-by-his-cronies.

So - I'm sorry for Grant. But I'm almost sorrier for Labour. Because this result has settled who will lead it, in the worst way possible. 

Update: In my haste to post, I forgot that I meant to draw readers' attention to this analogy. In 2010, Ed Miliband won the leadership of the UK Labour Party in almost exactly the same way that Little did (losing both the caucus and the membership vote, but winning the union vote handily).

How is that working out for Labour and Miliband in the UK?

Comments (26)

by Tom Semmens on November 18, 2014
Tom Semmens

Between the title of the post and

Obviously, I think that the decision to choose Andrew Little over Grant Robertson was the wrong one however it came about … that's because Grant is a good friend whom I think will one day make a fantastic Prime Minister of New Zealand.

there isn't much point in reading the rest of your piece, it is pretty much sour grapes.

by John Egan on November 18, 2014
John Egan

My thoughts exactly. But Little’s not Cunliffe and he does have an opportunity now to prove himself as Leader—first to the caucus, then the Beehive, then the NZ people. 

by Andrew Geddis on November 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Tom,

See - by being upfront about my biases, I saved you having to think about what I actually said! Disclosure works!! 

by Nick Gibbs on November 18, 2014
Nick Gibbs

Mind you the Unions pretty much bankroll Labour (as is my understanding) and therefore deserve a large say in who should lead the party. You'd also think that they'd give quite a lot of thought to the leadership question. Bang for buck and all that sort of thing. No point in paying for 3 more years in opposition. Surely they must see something in Andrew Little rather than him just being  a union man.

by Rae on November 18, 2014
Rae

Labour are using the wrong method to choose their leader. Caucus only should choose as it is caucus who will follow so it HAS to be someone THEY respect.

 

by Raymond A Francis on November 18, 2014
Raymond A Francis

Is there a source of the actual numbers as distinct from the percentage points

by Andrew Geddis on November 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@Raymond,

Not across the board. We can work out the caucus votes:

Round 1 – Robertson 14, Parker 7, Mahuta 6, Little 5
Round 2 – Robertson 14, Parker 7, Little 11
Round 3 – Robertson 18, Little 14

But we're told only that "The turnout in the Party section was just under 70% (7% more than in 2013)…", not how many members actually voted. 

by Anne on November 18, 2014
Anne

Will you eat your hat if time proves you wrong Andrew Geddis?

 

by Andrew Geddis on November 18, 2014
Andrew Geddis

Will you eat your hat if time proves you wrong Andrew Geddis?

And waste a perfectly good hat? I think not!

But if it turns out that my reckon is faulty, then I'll cop to that ... just as I did here.

by Alan Johnstone on November 18, 2014
Alan Johnstone

Can we not just give the fella a chance before we write him off ? Sometimes the grey man wins, like President Hollande. It may well be that just not being John Key will be enough one day.

All political careers end in failure, Key is very popular with preternatural political skills, but so was Helen Clark, until suddenly one day she wasn't. It just goes.   

Worst case scenario, he's not David Cunliffe, not being a narcissistic sociopath has got to be worth 5 pts in the polls. He can have an authentic working class conversation and he'll bring organisation skills. He's less in thrall to the Greens than Grant Robertson.

If he stops the rot and builds a platform for a Nash / Arden ticket in 2017 that's good enough.

As for Miliband, he's heading for Downing St. On a very low vote share, but the UK electoral system is a strange beast and the Labour vote is exceptionally efficient in its distribution .

 

by Lee Churchman on November 19, 2014
Lee Churchman

It's a zombie party. Someone find the BFG9000.

by Andrew P Nichols on November 19, 2014
Andrew P Nichols

Sometimes the grey man wins, like President Hollande.

Gee that's not a nice picture. Hollande, on paper a Socialist but in reality a highly unpopular corporate numptie clobbering working conditions and suckering up to US geopolitical shenanigans like no  french leader in 200 years. He's even making people long for Sarkozy (the French Berlusconi) to return!

by SDCLFC on November 19, 2014
SDCLFC

Feleings similar to yours Andrew.

Can we figure out who the 3 caucus members that voted for Parker first but then Little before Robertson were. Hope they're feeling strong in their convictions - only needed one of them to have it round the other way.

by Marian Hobbs on November 19, 2014
Marian Hobbs

I spent part of today reading Appendix B of the Labour Party Constitution, and I came out rather concerned about the various vote values.

From my reading a Union National Conference made up of ?? delegates can exercise multiple votes each. This does not apply to all unions. One affiliate gives each of its members a vote.

I have asked for some clarity on this, as I feel very uncomfortable about this old-style of smoke-filled rooms exercising a  multiple vote based on their judgement.

Now this may have been agreed to by Party Council or Gen Sec....but I have not found any evidence of this as yet. I may be wrong. But I do feel that if so, then it might be worth raising again for an open discussion.

I do realise that caucus has a weighted vote, compared to mine. But I accept that, because as members of that team, you do know how hard working, how effective different members of the same team are. You live and work along the same corridors.

And yes, I did support Grant, as I strongly believe in a new political way, in order to stretch out and involve those who are so turned off by the celebrity "game", politics are now shown as by our mainstream media.

by Jane Beezle on November 19, 2014
Jane Beezle

Why on earth do they disclose the voting statistics?

Crazy. 

by BeShakey on November 19, 2014
BeShakey

Last time round they didn't release the breakdown and it was strategically leaked. I suspect they figure it will come out one way or another and it's for the best that they get it out of the way sooner rather than later.

by Ross on November 19, 2014
Ross

there isn't much point in reading the rest of your piece, it is pretty much sour grapes.

I don't always agree with Andrew, but that comment doesn't add to the debate.

by James Green on November 20, 2014
James Green

Andrew - I'm not sure if this point has been made elsewhere, but I think there is a fascinating trend in those figures that you've overlooked. Robertson had strong first preference in both the caucus and the party, but was very slow to gain anything much from subsequent preferences. You'll have to forgive me for making this comparison, but as a keen watcher of preference voting trends, the Dunedin councillor who exhibits this voting pattern is Lee Vandervis. This is not an obvious comparison to make, but suggests that Robertson has the voters quite polarised (though that may not necessarily be because he is as personally polarising as Cr Vandervis).

by Andrew Geddis on November 20, 2014
Andrew Geddis

@James,

Well, that's not true with regards the membership vote, of course. Grant picked up 17% on 2nd/3rd preferences, while Andrew Little picked up 19%. Hardly a big gap?

But quibbles aside, the big difference with Vandervis is that Grant is the majority preferred candidate of two of the three voting blocs. Not a position he's ever been in!

by Jenny Kirk on November 20, 2014
Jenny Kirk


You say Andrew -  "The only thing worse than electing the wrong person as leader of Labour is electing him by the narrowest of margins, by virtue of the influence of a handful of individuals acting under instructions ".

Please get real.  Many Labour members - not just unionists - voted "under instructions" via their LECs following intense lobbying particularly by Robertson fans.  And as for the lopsidedness of the union vote that you appear to think is so dreadful, many ordinary members of the Labour Party have been concerned for a long time about the "lopsideness" of the caucus vote and influence and worked hard to get this evened out. The division in the caucus is replicated by the same division in the Party and until this is sorted out properly then Labour has no future.  Hopefully, Andrew Little will be the person (with support and help from others) able to sort out these divisions and really get Labour moving again - because this country needs us !

 

 

 

by Tom Semmens on November 20, 2014
Tom Semmens

"...And yes, I did support Grant, as I strongly believe in a new political way, in order to stretch out and involve those who are so turned off by the celebrity "game", politics are now shown as by our mainstream media..."

Hello Marrian,

First of all, poring over the constitution in order to try and find some way of overturning a result on a technicality is the very definition of a sore loser and is unhelpful to say the least.

I am curious as to now you think Grant Robertson represents anything "new" to anyone under forty-five or even fifty, for whom the Labour party has ALWAYS been one of a party of out-of-touch neo-liberal managerialists with an excessive(?) focus on "Rainbow" issues. If anything, Robertson represents a failed vision of the Labour party, a 30 year experiment characterised by the economic cowardice of managerialism and an obsession with identity politics as a fig-leaf for failing to come up with a plan to meaningfully confront financialised global capitalism. Surely in the now in the light of the six year old failure of capitalism that is the ongoing consequences of the GFC it is time for the institutional left to forget about the  diversion into the politics of middle class liberalism it took in the 1990s and 2000s and grow some balls and again start talking about taming capitalism?

Finally, I think it highly unlikely that any fruit can born from an attempt to get all Canute like with the MSM and seek a "new" way that tries to run a countervailing narrative to the current media reality. The modern media and modern politics is presidential/celebrity. Connecting with those "turned off" will only come from developing policies that appeal to them whilst working within the current media environment, not arguing with Paddy Gower about the quality of his editorialising. Sure, reform the media ownership laws once in power. But blaming the media is an excuse for losers.

by Tze Ming Mok on November 20, 2014
Tze Ming Mok

As someone outside the party, and even outside its usual voter base, I had no particular stake in this leadership race - and personally don't have a problem with the unions 'stealing' a Labour leadership election. It was only a disaster for the UK because the result happened to be Ed Milliband, who is unable to speak words, move his face, or eat a sandwich in public, without becoming a laughing stock. Union support for Milliband was not because he had tremendous experience leading major unions and spearheading hard-headed negotiations with captains of industry. He just happened to be a policy wonk with the most left-wing ideas of anyone running (subsequently abandoned once installed as leader), with pretty much zero skills in leadership, consistency, or, you know, general human face-using.  So compared to the situation out here in the Olde Worlde, Little is ahead. In fact, in his dour way, he kind of reminds me of Aunty Helen.

by Stephen on November 20, 2014
Stephen

I have been re-reading my favourite histories on the failure of the 1918 German revolution, and the related story of the capture of the Russian revolution by the Bolsheviks. The failure was in part due to a plethora of teutonic Geddis's, lurching lefties who were happier arguing and fighting each other than fighting those we would have supposed to be the greater enemy.  The second, the result of a "disciplined" group of vanguard fighters impatient with the very notion of debate.  Partly.  So I'm left confused; is Andrew Geddis the greatest enemy of the working class, or is he saving us from a dictatorship of the proletariat?

by Andrew Geddis on November 21, 2014
Andrew Geddis

So I'm left confused; is Andrew Geddis the greatest enemy of the working class, or is he saving us from a dictatorship of the proletariat?

I am all these things and more.

by Stephen on November 21, 2014
Stephen

Thank God for our Enemy Saviour; Saviour of our Enemies; Enemy of our Saviour.  But mostly thank god for you, for still making us giggle at ourselves even in these dark days at the end of westeren civilization. Your talent for puncturing the pomposity of those who pretend to have "favourite histories"  (as if they had read more than the one fifth form text) keeps us sane. Come the revolution, we will have a laugh together as we put you up against the wall

by MJ on November 23, 2014
MJ

That post from Tze Ming Mok is just about the nicest slap-down I've ever read. Could it be called a 'Mokking'?

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