Jordan Carter blogs:
Here’s my short list for starters, of a few problems we really need to face.
- a record low vote, lowest since the 1920s
- low and static membership in the past three years
- over centralisation of control over policy and strategy, with too little power for members
- an inward focused ‘divide the pie’ approach by too many party units
- a cultural acceptance of low to no organisation in too many places, and a related culture of federalism divided between electorates rather than a sense of a nation-wide, cooperating organisation
- too much belief that our connections with a wide range of Kiwis are strong, when they are weak
- a sense that we ‘own’ the voters that went to the greens and nzf, and that they are bound to return to us
- a perception among some parts of the electorate that we are out of touch with their hopes and dreams
- a structure that incentivises our inward focus
It’s a long list to which I am sure you can add things, friend or foe.
The main thing I would add is killing off the culture of the ends justify the means. Some will say there is no such culture, but it has been shown time after time again. There is the belief that they are inherently good, and that those from the centre-right are inherently bad, so hence anything which helps deliver Labour to victory is culturally acceptable.
Danyl at Dim Post has his own key thing to change:
I’d narrow almost all of this down to the problem of candidate selection. The primary goal of a candidate is to win votes for themselves and the party, but Labour doesn’t seem to value this quality in any of their candidates or MPs. They’re chosen for attributes that seem mysterious to the rest of the country, usually from a small pool of parliamentary staffers, unionists and activists and then farmed out to electorates to which they pretend some spurious connection (‘whanau in the region’).
I’ve just been doing an analysis of which Labour candidates did best at getting people who party vote National to vote for them – ie those who can attract support from across the spectrum. The three best are Ross Robertson, Lianne Dalziel and Clayton Cosgrove who attracted 27%, 24% and 21% of National voters respectively.
The three worse were Jeremy Greenbrook-Held (he was against John Key) who got 0.3%, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle who got 0.4% and the Taupo candidates whose name I can’t even recall who got 0.5% – ie less than 1 in 200 National party voters gave their candidate vote to the candidate from the second largest party. The average was 5.4%, or around 1 in 20.
Take Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, a Labour communications advisor who was given a high list position (although not high enough) and ran as a candidate in Tauranga, explaining that she grew up ‘further along State Highway One’ (SH1 does not run through, or near Tauranga). With Mahuta Coyle as a candidate Labour’s party vote in Tauranga was one of the worst in the entire country, declining by 33% (Labour’s nationwide decline was 20%).
And as I mentioned failed to attract even 1 in 200 of those who did vote National on the party vote. This is not to say that Mahuta-Coyle would not be a very good MP, but different qualities can be needed to also be a good candidate who can attract both party and electorate votes.
Nationals’ backbench electorate MPs drive the party’s Wellington based political staffers crazy, because they’re always running off to the Prime Minister and complaining about ‘some trivial little rural issue that no one in Wellington cares about’. Labour’s MPs are, increasingly, former political staffers who share the same elite background and Wellington-centric focus.
This is basically true, and it is important to have this tension. I’ve been a Wellington based staffer and certain MPs did drive you batty over issues you just knew were of no importance to the press gallery, the leadership etc. However those backbench MPs would go on to win massive majorities as they were in touch with their communities and helping stop their party from getting too out of touch with life outside Wellington. Parties need those backbench electorate MPs to keep raising those local issues.
Jordan endorses getting in touch with the voters, and Shearer’s said the same thing. Great. But Phil Goff spent a year ‘getting in touch with voters’ after the loss in 2008. The Labour team drove around the country in a bus singing songs and meeting with ‘real New Zealanders’ like, uh, Darren Hughes’ uncle. Goff then went back to Wellington and cheerfully went about promoting his own office staffers as electorate candidates, including Mahuta-Coyle.
The number of former political staff in the Labour caucus is large – Shearer himself, Robertson, Ardern, Hipkins for a start – three of the top four plus the Chief Whip. Then you also have Cosgrove, Faafoi, Mallard and David Clark. That’s almost a quarter of the caucus.
If Labour decided to operate selections on a one member one vote basis, it would solve Danyl’s problem, but also help solve Jordan’s problem of low and static membership, over-centralisation, low to no organisation in some places.
National’s electorate selection process is incredibly democratic. So democratic there are regular occasions when I groan at whom the locals have voted for, and I wish myself and a few mates could decide all the selections. But the reality is I would never want to give up a system where the grass-roots members decide whom their local candidate is – the benefits of having them do so are significant.
One person, one vote, is a pretty good basis for voting personally. Labour should try it some time.