Chris Trotter is a wise man of the left, more’s the pity that they don’t listen to him more often.
WHY DOES LABOUR do this to itself? Yes, they have just suffered an unprecedented (post-1922) election defeat, but thatâs only because the 2014 General Election was itself unprecedented (post-1951).
And, besides, Iâm tempted to say âso what?â In 2002 the National Party suffered an even more embarrassing result when Bill English led his party to its worst defeat ever. Nationalâs Party Vote plunged from a bad 30.5 percent in 1999, to an even worse 20.9 percent in 2002. (A whopping percentage point slide of 9.6, compared to David Cunliffeâs 2.8.)
The interesting thing about that debacle, however, is not what the National Party did in response, but what it didnât do.
For a start, it didnât change its leader. National understood (as Labour apparently does not) that a debacle on the scale of 2002 has many more contributing factors than simply a poor performance by the party leader. Defeat on such a scale is clear evidence of systemic â as well as personal â failures. Which is why the first priority of Nationalâs hard-headed businessmen and farmers was to give the party organisation a very solid kick in the bum â not to sack Bill English. (He would keep.)
In the months following its 2002 defeat National thoroughly renovated itself: achieving for the Right what Jim Anderton, between 1979 and 1984, had achieved for the Left. Namely, the transformation of an ageing party into a vehicle more appropriately aligned to the economic, social and political context in which it operated.
Crucial to the success of such operations is the concentration of decision-making power in the hands of those best equipped to wield it. Under MMP, one of the most important functions toÂ streamline is the formation of the Party List. National has achieved this by means of an all-powerful board of directors; the Greens by giving the job to their party members. For Labour, however, the list formation process remains the Partyâs Achillesâ heel.
Bluntly, party list formation in the Labour Party is a colossal rort; a travesty of democratic principle on the scale of the ârotten boroughsâ that once allowed the British aristocracy to control the composition of the House of Commons. More horse-trading takes place during this dangerously opaque process than at an Irish county fair â with considerably worse outcomes.
Itâs ironic really, because Labour once boasted the most ruthless and centralised mechanism for selecting candidates of all the political parties. Seventy years ago it was the selector representatives of the all-powerful Labour Party Executive who called the shots â and they seldom missed. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then National, when renovating its structures, post-2002, paid Labour the most fulsome of compliments.