Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The only time I’ll speak of it

Until now, I haven’t said much about the campaign for Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party. Today is the only time I’ll say anything about the result. The campaign is over, there’s a new Leader and, as the photo above shows, I’m still a member. That’s the entire situation in one sentence.

There were folks who, no matter who’d won, would have complained—and not all of them were Labour Party Members, of course. In my case, by the end of the campaign, I was frankly bored with it. After a month of constant emails from one contender or another, I stopped even bothering to read them. I began to not care very much.

That said, I backed Grant Robertson for Leader and, for me, all the other contenders were in a three-way tie for last place. One could assume from that fact that I’m disappointed by the fact that Andrew Little won. Sure, I am a bit, but it’s not so much because the guy I backed didn’t win—it was because I think the whole process was fundamentally flawed.

When we went through this process last year, David Cunliffe was the clear winner on round one. I didn’t back him, either, but the victory was definite and he won a clear majority of votes from party members.

Official Results (Source: NZ Labour Party; click to embiggen)
This time, Andrew Little won only because of the unions, and I just don’t think that’s a good or healthy thing for the party. I should make clear that I support the rights of workers and think unions need more power, not less. In the past, I was a proud union member. However, I don't think they should be able to determine—virtually all on their own—who becomes the Leader of the Labour Party.

Grant Robertson won the support of Caucus, as he did last year. He also won the support of party members. But Little’s support among his fellow unionists was so strong that it swamped the other two. It doesn’t seem fair or just that they should be able to do overrule both Caucus and the membership.

So, Andrew Little starts with a bigger problem than David Cunliffe had: Cunliffe lacked the support of caucus, but had the support of the party and the unions. Little only had the support of the unions. That suggests that the factionalism of the party could continue, and might even get worse. At least, that’s what some pundits are claiming, though somewhat dubiously, in my opinion.

There was tremendous factionalism when this leadership contest began, but it was mostly about how the candidates for Leader were, at first, all white men. But by the end of the campaign—with three white men and a Maori woman—that complaint had lessened. In fact, not even the most ardent lefties said much of anything.

Still, soon after the announcement, my Twitter timeline had people declaring they’d burn their Labour Membership card, which would be rather unwise—they’re now made of plastic. Others were clearly happy. Me—I felt indifferent. But at no time did I contemplate quitting the party.

Even so, I’m not a fan of Andrew Little. Years ago, I worked for a media company that was “reviewing” its processes with an eye toward getting rid of workers. My coworkers and I—at my insistence—decided we’d better unionise so we’d have someone to fight for us. I invited in the Advertising Guild rather than the larger EPMU—then headed by Andrew Little—because I didn’t like him. Seeing him on television, I felt he was confrontational and negative for its own sake. That feeling stayed with me in the years that followed, and I wasn’t pleased to see him become, for a time, President of the Labour Party amid talk of it as a first step to the Leadership.

But my real complaint isn't about who won the leadership, it’s about some structural issues. Apart from unions having too great a say in choosing the Party leader, I also think that this selection was done backwards, before the review of this year’s election defeat is completed. I think it should have been the other way around: Look at what went wrong, what’s needed to win, and THEN find the leader best able to achieve that victory.

During the election campaign, I didn’t feel I could, or perhaps should, make any criticisms. During the Leadership campaign, I didn't say much because I didn’t have much of anything to say. Both were problems in their own right: Having a blog means saying things, but for whatever reason, I didn’t say anything critical about Labour for many, many months.

So: Despite my personal reservations about Andrew Little, despite my unease with the obvious divisions in Labour as shown by the results, and despite feeling that the weighting of votes in leadership contests is fundamentally unfair, Andrew Little has my unqualified support. That’s why the photo at the top is of me holding my Labour Party Membership Card today: I’m not quitting. Why on earth would I? I’ve had misgivings about party leaders in the past and no doubt will again. What does that have to do with anything?

Labour is still the best vehicle for expressing my political values, and the Leadership election result doesn’t change that. The reality is, my preferred candidate didn’t win—so what? A grown up shrugs his shoulders and moves on. I’ve always been a pragmatist first and foremost because I firmly believe that achieving 50% of one’s agenda is better than NOT achieving 100%. Ideological purity is fine for people who don’t care about achieving anything, but there are far too many New Zealanders who are being left behind to wallow in the selfish luxury of ideological purity.

With the leader selected, the party can now turn to the huge task of rebuilding for the 2017 elections. I don’t know what, if anything, I’ll say about that. I don’t know if I’ll even feel like saying anything. But I do know that I’ve now said all I intend to about the selection process and the new leader.

Now, it’s time to get back to work.

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