Smith on Labour

June 10th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Former Labour Party general secretary Mike Smith writes:

David Cunliffe badly needs a new stump speech. On Thursday in Whanganui I heard him depress a large and sympathetic audience for ten minutes with tales of national woe, then promise a positive campaign but give no details. It is good to know that a positive campaign is proposed. Labour has promised an economic upgrade; it also needs a communications upgrade, and besides being positive it must be relevant. 

Preaching woe and doom when 65% of New Zealanders think NZ is heading in the right direction is not the smartest strategy,

I hate to give free advice, but look at what John Key did in 2008. He was relentlessly positive about NZ, but said we could be doing even better. Telling people their country sucks only appeals to people who, well think the country sucks.

Too much of Labour’s communication has been relentlessly negative, coming from what appears to be a pervasive view that “the purpose of opposition is opposition.” That’s fine if your purpose is to stay in opposition; my view is that the purpose of opposition is to get into government as soon as possible. To do that people have to know what is on offer, have a sense of hope and purpose, and that can’t be done with a negative approach.

I have two simple tests for people.  Can anyone name:

  • A significant education policy from Labour, apart from repealing national standards and charter schools?
  • A significant health policy from Labour

Even groups in those sectors complain that they have no idea what Labour stands for, or will do. It’s 103 days until the election, and their likely policies should have been spelt out a year or so ago.

Finally if Labour is going to run a positive campaign, the its media unit needs to get with the programme. We’ve been getting their feed for several years, and endless series of negative or critical straplines is very off-putting. They also all follow a similar pattern; gripe followed (sometimes) by alternative. I suspect many of them by now don’t even get opened.

It’s easy to oppose in opposition. It is harder to create a narrative that people want to listen to.

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Hooton on Labour

January 27th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Matthew Hooton at NBR writes:

The wreckers of Labour’s November conference are again destabilising David Shearer’s leadership. They are likely to keep doing so all the way to the election.

Ahead of the conference, Mr Shearer was subject to an either controlled or spontaneous avalanche of criticism from across the left establishment, including Labour-connected press galley journalists, the Herald’s Tapu Misa, Helen Clark’s hagiographer Brian Edwards, the left’s poet laureate Chris Trotter and the anonymous and semi-anonymous writers and commentators atThe Standard

As might be expected from New Zealand’s most-read and most influential left-wing blog, The Standard is a more collective effort than its right-wing rivals.

And what has he been reading there:

For some time, blogs have ceased to merely report grass-roots political activity: they are now where much grass-roots political activity actually occurs, with hundreds of different perspectives being put forward on various topics.

A generation ago, political reporters hung around dire regional conferences to get a sense of what the grassroots were feeling.

With little happening at today’s stage-managed conferences, it makes sense that they now observe the postings and comments on blogs such as Whaleoil, Kiwiblog and The Standard to get a sense of grass-roots opinion (noting, as always, that conference delegates and blog writers tend to be further to the extremes of the parties to which they purport allegiance).

Even with that proviso, the extreme language at The Standard about Mr Shearer is unprecedented, and it is again being ramped up.

A nickname for Mr Shearer has emerged: Captain Mumblefuck. His intelligence and admittedly poor diction are derided.

We are told he is a bully and coward for demoting Mr Cunliffe, and a puppet of Trevor Mallard and Annette King. He is accused of appeasing the middle class, his 100,000-house KiwiBuild policy is criticised as a veneer for public private partnerships and he is widely suspected of having a secret neoliberal agenda. 

Elsewhere, based on research by Mr Trotter, some even hint he may be some sort of agent for foreign intelligence services.

I think it is fair to say that far nicer thing are said about David Shearer on Kiwiblog, than at The Standard.

To pressure him, a false rumour was spread in recent days that Mr Shearer planned to announce this weekend a membership and union vote. The motivation is because most Standardistas are confident he would lose.

In anticipation, people are being encouraged to join the party for the very purpose of voting against its leader and for the candidate, Mr Cunliffe, bizarrely seen as far left.

Internal fanaticism
This sort of internal fanaticism has been seen before, including when Don Brash’s supporters were undermining Bill English and when Paul Keating took out Bob Hawke. The strategy can work because, as Mr Hawke observed, it has a terrifying logic. 

If I recall correctly, Matthew was one of those internal fanatics he is citing, so he knows what he is talking about :-)

If a challenger’s faction, even a minority, is utterly determined to make life impossible for the incumbent, then eventually the leadership or even prime ministership ceases to be worth holding.

Labour’s new rules make the strategy even more likely to succeed and have created a risk of chronic instability. With members and unions now having the power to choose the leader, whichever faction happens to be in the minority will spend its time not taking the fight to the dreaded Tories, but signing up new members and manipulating union personnel.

The new rules put Labour at constant risk of old-fashioned Leninist entrism. Already, party bosses report infiltration by former members of the Alliance who have no interest in being part of a modern social democratic party but want to recreate Labour as a replica of their old far-left ideal.

Mr Shearer has a big speech this weekend. He would be well advised to throw some red meat to his far left to settle them down a bit. But the subversion by Mr Cunliffe’s supporters will continue all year. There is another meltdown ahead.

Interestingly, Mike Smith (who works in Shearer’s Office, and is a trustee of The Standard) did a relatively mild post chiding another Standard author for telling porkies about the Labour leadership.

The response has been a virtual lynching of Mr Smith for daring to criticise another author.

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How many will be sacked?

November 20th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Vernon Small at Stuff reports:

David Cunliffe will be stripped of his portfolios and banished to the back benches for disloyalty today after a leadership vote in which Labour leader David Shearer is set to win unanimous backing.

As expected, yesterday Mr Shearer summoned his MPs to Wellington for an urgent vote today in an attempt to force Mr Cunliffe to “put up or shut up”. …

Party sources said once he received the expected unanimous backing from MPs he would dump Mr Cunliffe from the top 20 and send him to the “unranked” back benches.

Some in the caucus are calling for his close supporters to also be demoted, which could mean bad news for shadow attorney-general Charles Chauvel and energy spokeswoman Moana Mackey.

MP Sue Moroney, seen as in the Cunliffe camp, said she would back Mr Shearer.

But no-one would say what they would do in February’s vote.

“I don’t think there has been any challenge issued, actually.”

Before Mr Shearer had sought her backing, no-one had asked for her support for a leadership bid.

She had seen no evidence of disloyalty by Mr Cunliffe.

“I’m quite surprised at the level of the attack on David Cunliffe . . . in the last 24 hours,” she said.

There’s a fair few in Labour arguing that it is unreasonable to expect any MP to state how they will vote in a secret ballot in three month’s time. Having said that, I think Cunliffe could have chosen words that would not have been so destabilising, yet left him wriggle room.

Former Labour Party General Secretary Mike Smith says there was clearly a coup planned:

My first indication that something was up was the rising temperature of comments on the Standard, culminating with anonymous posts days before the conference calling for Shearer to stand down. I don’t know if the posters are Labour members or not, but it now looks like an attempt to destabilise Shearer days before his first conference speech. …

The next intimation I had that something more was afoot was when I turned up at the Conference on Friday night to be told that the affiliates meeting had ignored the Party Council’s recommendation for what may trigger a leadership vote across the Party, and supported a motion from Northland and Te Tai Tokerau to turn the long-standing majority confidence vote, held at the start of each year, to an endorsement vote with a 60% threshold. 

This was quite unexpected by the Party leadership but as became clear in the debate the following day, not unexpected by some in the unions, a few caucus members and some of the electorates. …

Cunliffe refused to rule out a February challenge. If it walks like a duck…

I was the first to say that the three posts (and one column) calling for Shearer to go were orchestrated. Quite a few doubted that. I’m pleased to see Mike Smith saying that he also saw it as part of a destabilization attempt.

A pro-Cunliffe view comes from “Blue” at The Standard:

The ABC club would have us believe that David Cunliffe has ‘openly undermined’ both David Shearer’s leadership and Phil Goff’s before him.

They appeal to the need for a ‘unified team’ and want David Cunliffe shot at dawn for supposedly threatening it.

These attempts to rewrite history are amusing but factually inaccurate. We all know who undermined Phil Goff’s leadership and it wasn’t David Cunliffe.

It was Grant Robertson and Trevor Mallard who made the decision to keep Phil Goff off the Labour billboards at the last election, openly admitting during an election campaign that they considered their leader a liability. Phil Goff’s stumble in the ‘show me the money’ debate was no one’s fault but his own – he got caught out not having done his homework on a flagship policy and only the most determined denier of reality could try to pin that one on anyone else.

We also know who has been undermining party unity during David Shearer’s leadership, and again, it isn’t David Cunliffe. It’s the ABC club who ring up Duncan Garner for a giggle about how much they hate their own colleague.

I think the great winner from all this has been Grant Robertson. He has kept entirely out of this, allowing the two Camp Davids to go to war against each other. If Shearer’s leadership becomes unviable at some stage then Robertson is poised to take over.

Grant has huge sway within the party. His supporters are in all the influential positions on the NZ Council and the like. If he had taken a call in the debate and argued against the 60% threshold for a vote in February, then I believe that would have made the difference in what was a very close vote. But he was smart and has kept his name away from all the infighting – making him the unifying choice in future.

UPDATE: NZ Herald editorial says:

A more experienced leader would have dismissed any suggestion he should try to “call out” a challenge with an early vote. When a leader wins – as usually happens the first time – the question does not go away. It merely leaves the party divided and ensures the discontented faction will choose its moment to make another bid.

The damage is long lasting. The Cunliffe faction will be seething at the fact that Chris Hipkins so publicly slammed David Cunliffe and accused him of undermining both Goff and Shearer. They understand that such a public denunciation means that Cunliffe can never have a meaningful role again under Shearer. You can’t say someone has been backstabbing leaders for the last four years and then rehabilitate them.

But if at some stage Cunliffe did become Leader, then MPs such as Hipkins would be unable to continue in a senior role also. Having called Cunliffe a backstabbing fink, he could never serve under him. This is why it is so very rare for MPs to openly denounce each other. They have to work together day in day out – sometimes for years to come.

What will be fascinating to watch next year is what new rules get agreed to for selections and list ranking.

UPDATE2: Zetetic at The Standard names names:

For the past four years, Labour has been controlled by a clique of 3 has-beens and 2 beltway hacks: Goff, King, Mallard, Robertson, and Hipkins.

This old guard clique led Labour to its worst defeat.

Trevor and Grant ran the campaign. Goff and King fronted. Not sure what Chippie did!

A year later, with their second choice frontman as leader after they ignored the members’ will, Labour’s still below its 2008 result and on track for another defeat. (Funny story, since the start of the year, Hipkins has been telling all and sundry in all seriousness that ‘if these trends continue’ Labour will win in a landslide in 2014 – I parodied him here – now, take a look at the real trend)

Oh Chippie is the polling guru!

The Douglas clique at least had an ideology they were working for. This clique what do they stand for? What are their values other than power for themselves? The failure of Labour to define a value set over the past four years is a reflection of this clique’s lack of values.

The membership voted no confidence in the old guard on Saturday. In retaliation, they’ve gone nuclear on the membership. The response of the old guard has been to unleash a nasty side that many who watch Labour politics have known about for some time, but never thought we’d see expressed quite this openly.

Next year’s conference could be fascinating.

The attacks on Cunliffe usually take the form of what we’re seeing right now, with unnamed ‘senior Labour MPs’ telling media Cunliffe is a ‘fink’ and an ‘egotist’ and calling for him to be ‘cut down’. This talking campaign has been going on since beore the last election and I know because I’ve heard it from the old guard’s proxies more times than I care to count. Mostly this doesn’t surface publicly, except for the odd stuff up like when Goff and King went to Garner to shop a story that Cunliffe was despised by the caucus in an effort to undermine his position. It’s been relentless.

Most people assume it was Trevor. Interesting speculation that it was Goff.

They’ll try to take him down today with an open ballot leadership vote – a Stalinist tactic that will hurt them next year and will be fruitless today because Cunliffe has launched no challenge and today’s vote will be unanimous. Their goal is to get Cunliffe and the membership out of the way so that when Shearer is replaced – it will be an open field for Robertson

While I doubt there is a lot I agree with Zetetic on, I agree with him that the real end goal is Robertson succeeding unopposed. Not so sure it will work.

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Shock horror – no law broken

February 2nd, 2012 at 12:23 pm by David Farrar

Former Labour Party General Secretary Mike Smith blogs:

Donations over $30,000 from the same source must be declared to the Electoral Commission within 10 working days. National overstepped the mark in declaring a total donation of $86,005 from Gallagher Industries outside the limit. I can sympathise as I missed a connection once when I was Labour’s Secretary. These days  the Electoral Commission doesn’t get involved – the penalty is a fine of up to $40,000 on summary conviction.

That’s a very serious accusation. As Mike Smith says, a late return can result in a $40,000 fine. So let’s see if National were late.

The Electoral Commission says that National received $66,705 on 20 December 2001 from the Gallagher Group Ltd. This was on top of an earlier $19,300 so exceeded the $30,000 threshold for reporting within 10 working days.

It was declared on 10 January 2012, 21 days later.

But the Electoral Act refers to working days, as quoted by Mike Smith. S210C(6) says:

A return must be filed under subsection (1) or (2) within 10 working days of the donation being received by the party secretary

Now what is a working day? Well the Electoral Act specifies that in S3:

working day means any day of the week other than—

  • (a) Saturday, Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Labour Day, the Sovereign’s birthday, and Waitangi Day; and

  • (b) a day in the period commencing with 25 December in any year and ending with 15 January in the following year

The 20th of December was a Tuesday. Friday 23rd December was the third working day and Mon Jan 16th the 4th working day. Tuesday 24 January 2012 is in fact the 10th working day after the 20th of December 2011.

So National made the deadline with a fortnight to spare.

Mike may wish to amend his post.

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Mike Smith endorses Robertson to replace Goff

November 25th, 2011 at 6:34 pm by David Farrar

Mike Smith is the former General Secretary of the Labour Party. He has just blogged:

Grant Robertson – good electorate MP, got a strategic brain, good communicator. It’s time for a new generation leading Labour in my view.

That is significant for such a senior former official to say Goff should go on the eve of the election.

I think Grant will be Labour Leader and Prime Minister one day. If I was Grant though I would not stand next Tuesday, but instead wait until after the 2014 election.

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Now that’s a loyal secretary

May 27th, 2010 at 6:00 am by David Farrar

I just noticed on the Elections website that Labour have just declared a donation of $25,000 under the continous disclosure regime.

What is a bit interesting is that it comes from Mike Smith, who stood down last year as their long serving general secretary.

Normally when you retire from a job, the employer gives you a golden handshake. Not often the retiring employee donates $25,000 to their former employer.

It is possible the donation is on behalf of others. The law has a bit of a flaw in it, with a donation over $20,000 having to be declared immediately, but any contributors to the donation only get declared annually. We’ll find out by 30 April 2011 when the 2010 returns are due.

Note I am not suggesting any impropriety on anyone’s part. I’m all in favour of people donating to parties they support.

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