Young Labour Elections

Young Labour hold their AGM this weekend, and specifically elections for their senior roles. Princes Street Labour has put up candidates for three of the four positions, which it seems has upset other branches at this Auckland takeover. So while details are sketchy, there could be a number of hotly contested positions.

The ‘anointed’ candidates are:

President: Meg Bates (Auckland)
Vice-President: Sonny Thomas
Secretary: David Do (Auckland)
Treasurer: Glen Riddell (Auckland)
NZ Council Rep: Unknown

I’m a huge advocate of young people getting involved in politics, regardless of party, so congratulations to everyone who is willing to stand.

In regards to the presidency, I do wonder at the conflict of interest caused by having a youth section president who is employed directly by the Prime Minister. I’m not picking on Ms Bates who I have never met. In fact if she has managed to get employed by the PM in her electorate, she is probably highly intelligent, politically astute and very well organised – all good qualities for a youth leader in politics.

But if Young Labour wants to take a different view on an issue to the Government, it will be pretty hard to do so, when your President works for the PM. That’s potentially a huge loss of independence. And youth sections should have some independence.

Now I’m not just saying that because this is Young Labour, and I want them to attack the Government. My comments equally apply to Young Nationals. In fact over the years I have berated various YN Chairs that they are too compliant to the senior party and the caucus. Yes, even when I worked in the PM’s Office, I still encouraged the Young Nats to take an independent policy line. When Don Brash ordered the YNs take the Darth Vader joke of Helen off their website, I told the YN Chair they should have refused (in fact I suggested they put up a second cartoon of Don as Han Solo kissing Princess Leia) as the party leader is not an officer of the young nationals.

When I talk about youth sections being independent, I don’t mean that they should attack their own party, MPs or Govt (if in power) in inflammatory terms. That is just stupid and a cheap easy headline. I mean they should push policies their party has not yet signed up to. They should campaign for things they believe in, even if not the same as the rest of the party.

I recall two such instances from when I was YN National Secretary. The YN Exec, led by Shane Frith, signed off on a policy paper called six steps to freedom. it advocated 1) VSM, 2) Repeal Shop Trading Hours, 3) Voluntary Euthanasia, 4) Legalise Prostitution, 5) Decriminalise Cannabis, 6) Lower Drinking Age to 18. Now Mr Bolger was the PM, and as a good Catholic was not exactly rushing to implement our agenda. In fact his office banned us from having it included in the conference pack for national conference. So what did we do? We just went in before breakfast and stuck a copy on all 800 chairs! Caused a great stink.

Now if one of us was working for the PM, I doubt we could have done that act of defiance.

Another instance was when the YN Conference voted to sell off all public hospitals (the rationale being that the state would still fund public health services, but who owns the hospitals didn’t matter). Now this pissed off the entire health sector. We got condemned by the Opposition (who accused us of being a front for the Government’s secret plans to do this), by the doctors, the nurses, the unions, the assn of public hospitals and even the assn of private hospitals (they didn’t want the competition) and of course the Minister (Shipley) and the Under-Secretary (English) – both whom ironically I went on to work for. It’s fair to say the MPs were not that happy with us, but we have a genuine belief this would be a good policy, so we advocated it.

So my genuine advice to Young Labour, regardless of who is elected, is not to be poodles. Again I don’t mean attack the Government. I mean advocate things they may not want to do. If you think benefit rates should be lifted, then say so. If you think NZ should be non-aligned, then say so. If you think there should be no business tax cuts, then say so.

At the end of the day, if a youth section doesn’t have different views on issues to the main party, then they lose much of the rationale for being a separate section.

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