Labour’s institutional dysfunction

Danyl McLauchlan is one of the few on the left wing that I can respect.

His observations when he isn’t being silly or writing bad satire are usually spot on.

He has taken the time to discuss the Labour party and what he sees as?their impending collapse.

I don?t know if Labour is a dying party. Looks like to to me, but there?s still time to turn things around. I do think there?s an important difference between National in 2002 and the Labour Party in 2014. After their 2002 election loss National realised that it faced an existential crisis?and took drastic action. They bought Steven Joyce in to review the party, underwent a huge reorganisation and then united behind their subsequent leaders, Brash and Key. The sense?I get from Labour is that they don?t have anything to worry about because hey, National was in big trouble a few years ago and now look at them go! Sure, Labour aren?t?doing great right now but it?s just history; it?s political cycles. You gotta?ride it out and wait until the tide washes you back into government again. There was a nice example of this from former Labour President Mike Williams on the Nine to Noon political segment last week. Williams announced that the leader of the Labour leadership contest will probably be the Prime Minister in 2017 because four term governments are?rare. Forget all that hard work of somehow beating John Key, which Labour has no idea how to do, or even reforming the party. Fate will just return them to power, somehow, because that?s what sometimes happened in the past.

I don?t think Key and National see themselves as being circumscribed by fate, and that they should just resign themselves to losing in 2017. I think they?ve built a fearsome political behemoth that dominates New Zealand?s political landscape and which they hope will endure?for?a long, long time, even after Key finally retires in his fifth term (or whenever). ?Labour dying is not a worst-case scenario for the New Zealand left. Labour hanging around, slowly dwindling, occupying the political space of the center-left but not winning an election for another twenty years is the real and highly plausible doomsday scenario. I don?t know how much of National?s strength is an accident of Labour?s current weakness, but I do know that the new Labour leaders job will be reforming their party, and not beating Key. That?s not even an option for Labour until they somehow transform themselves?into a modern professional political party, and figure out who they are and what they stand for.

At the moment it appears that Labour stands for small niche interest groups, such as the criminal classes, the indigent, and the indolent.

They certainly don’t represent workers anymore. That is the inherent problem with their brand…it says they represent Labour but the actual people they stand up for are the bludger classes that workers forcibly have to ay for through their taxes.

There is a brand disconnect from the party name on down. Danyl lists three examples to explain what he means.

What does that even mean? Let me make three points.

  • Values. I agree with people like Josie Pagani when she says Labour needs to be a ?broad church?. If it?s going to be a?major party then it needs candidates that speak to?many different groups of New Zealanders; it can?t just be a bunch of educated urban liberals shouting at everyone about what they?re allowed to think and say. But a broad church is still a, y?know, church. You need to believe in God, so to speak. Pagani endorsed Shane Jones for leader, and it was really obvious for a long time that St Jonesy?s values were basically ACT Party values. He said it himself when he left, that he wanted Labour to be more like the Lange/Douglas government. It was completely ridiculous to have a guy that openly hated the party and everything it stood for sitting on the front bench, and of course it worked out terribly for Labour. That?s not something that happens to functional political parties. New Zealand First doesn?t have an MP that hates old people. National is a ?broad church? party, but they don?t have John Minto in there talking about abolishing private property, and a whole bunch of National activists cheering him on and endorsing him for leader. Labour needs?to articulate a meaningful set of values that MPs and party members agree on. How the hell are the public supposed to know what they?re voting for if the MPs can?t agree?
  • Performance: Having said all that about values, grasp what Key grasps: that the majority of those centrist voters Stephen Mills talks about in his column aren?t morons ? as Chris Trotter alleges ??but valence voters who look for qualities like competence rather than policy or ideology. Labour?does not?present itself?as a competent, credible party. Take last election: all that phenomenal policy work in the lead-up to the 2014 election campaign was pointless: whenever the policies were launched all the MPs either went on holiday or started talking about anything other than, say, the education policy they?d invested?months developing. That?s not down to factionalism, or media bias, or any of the other problems Labour contends with (or thinks it does). That?s just a badly run political party.
  • Winning. In 2005 Labour won the party vote in Nelson with 43% of the vote. In 2008 high-ranking list MP Maryan Street became the Labour candidate, and by 2011 Labour?s?party vote in Nelson was 27.3%. That?s a huge decline but not, weirdly, a reason for Labour not to run her again in that electorate in 2014 or give her a high position on the list (albeit not high enough to return her to Parliament). Why did the party select someone with no apparent connection to Nelson as the electorate candidate and then keep running them even through their result just kept getting worse and worse? That was a really dumb thing to do. The ability to?run campaigns that win party votes is the key performance indicator for politicians in the MMP system. but half of Labour?s candidates repeatedly run electorate only campaigns and the rest keep getting re-selected and back in on the list irregardless of how they perform. (Nelson isn?t the worst decline, either. Mt Albert, Dunedin South and Auckland Central have seen?even larger?drops in party vote support). MPs and candidates need to understand that if they?re not winning party votes for Labour they need to go and do?something else with their life.

Those problems are symptoms of institutional dysfunction.

Dead right. Labour suffers from institutional dysfunction.

His last piece of advice is wise, though I suspect labour won;t be listening.

I have no idea which of the three blokes will win, or which of them?should win. But if I was a Labour voter I?d worry less about ?who I?d like to have a beer with?, or which faction they championed, or even whose policies and values I identified closely with, and more with which of them has the qualities to fix the deep, structural problems within Labour?and turn it into a modern professional party.