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The issues that matter

By   /  July 8, 2013  /  27 Comments

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The thing that astounded me, however, was the lack of a clear communications plan around this remit. Surely someone around a big table full of people considering the proposal must have piped up and said “okay, this is going to be rather controversial, so what are our lines when the press gets hold of this?”

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Last week the National Government signed a dodgy deal with Sky City; the GCSB Bill went through the select committee process and some incredibly influential men and women expressed grave concerns about the impact on the rights of all NZers; the families of the Pike River Mine victims were told there was no money in the bank for compensation; the Maori party seems to be in its death throes – and Labour released to members a constitutional remit on gender equity to go to its Nov National Conference…

The NZ Council of the NZ Labour Party is the party’s governance body. While it has various powers, duties and responsibilities, it does not have the mandate to alter the party’s constitution. Only the members and affiliated unions have this power – and each member of the NZ Council has the same voting rights as a member from Wairoa.

Under the party’s rules, any proposed change to the constitution has to go to all the members four months before the annual conference. This allows due process to be undertaken and all members from every branch to be fully informed, the remit to be debated and everyone to arrive at the conference informed.

So the gender equity proposals are simply this: a remit that has not been passed and must go through a rather exhaustive process before its provisions are adopted and implemented. It should also be noted that a recommendation from the NZ Council certainly doesn’t assure the safe passage of any remit.

Like many members, I received the remit on Wednesday night. Apparently Whale Oil received the remit sometime on Thursday. This is fine: its what we expect and that is the way the world now works. I’m certainly not an apologist for Whale Oil at all, and have felt the sharp end of his keyboard a number of times, but we know how he operates so nothing should come as a surprise. According to the Dom, because Whale Oil had ‘leaked’ this proposed remit, Labour was ‘forced’ to bring forward a scheduled press conference.

Labour did nothing wrong in putting out this remit to all its members; in fact, constitutionally, it was required to. Actually, the remit is fine in the sense that Labour conferences are often about robust debate and passionate speeches on many different issues. There are always winners and losers because, surprise surprise, we don’t’ all agree on everything.

The thing that astounded me, however, was the lack of a clear communications plan around this remit. Surely someone around a big table full of people considering the proposal must have piped up and said “okay, this is going to be rather controversial, so what are our lines when the press gets hold of this?”

Technically, the President has no staff, and the office of the General Secretary operates on a skeleton crew, but a call from a NZ Council rep to someone in the Leaders office who perhaps could have offered some advice on how to handle this might have been appropriate. A simple line like “this is simply a proposed remit that has a long way to go before it becomes part of the plan, and will be hotly debated at our November conference”. End.

But no. Once again, Labour is fighting an unnecessary fire on an issue very few Kiwis care about, instead of concentrating on the issues that are really important to the people who will end up electing the next government. And David Shearer has been forced into a corner on an issue that he shouldn’t have to be anywhere near. In fact, he should be protected from this type of controversy. This is the result of poor political management.

My advice to Labour is somehow find the money for a PR and comms professional and a political strategist who work as a team with the mandate to operate across the party and the caucus. They should be attending NZ Council meetings and caucus gatherings with a responsibility to assess potential risk and then come up with the political, PR and comms strategies to mitigate the type of debacle that is becoming far too common during this term.

In my view, the Sky City deal is an absolute abuse of executive power; the Pike River mine debacle is a disgrace that the government actually has to front up over; the death of the Maori party presents a real opportunity for Labour to once again reconnect with an important historical support base; and the proposed GCSB legislation has the potential to erode the rights of good hard working kiwis who have done nothing wrong and never ever will.

So Labour, it really is time to concentrate on the issues that are important; and please start developing the type of professional comms and PR strategies that are vital to 21st century political success.

As for the proposed remit; well, I am more interested in discussing strategies that will create jobs, put more money in the pockets of good hard working NZ families; lift the 270,000 NZ children out of poverty and make the tax system fairer for all. End of story.!

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27 Comments

  1. Socialist Paddy says:

    Stuart two problems:

    1. You should not blame the party officers and activists for this. The commitment to gender equality is a no brainer and has full support amongst members. It has been discussed for a while and the proposals are exactly that, proposals for the party to consider in seeking a better selection system.

    2. The people who need PR training are the MPs who bought into the Cameron Slater line. Fancy accepting the right’s framing of the issue.

    I take it that you are interested in gender equality?

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Paddy, I am absolutely in favour of gender equity and have made this clear a number of times. There are a number of ways to achieve this and the current remit on the table will be debated at November’s conference. You are right in that I haven’t met a party member who isn’t committed to gender equity, but there are a number of views on how this should be achieved. This remit proposes only one of the ways, but what we all agree on it that Labour really does need to come up with a strategy to identify great women who may well want to dip their toes into the political waters.

  2. karol scribe karol scribe says:

    Stuart, I strongly agree with the main point of your post about the lack of public framing of this remit by those responsible in the Labour Party, when it first was circulated.

    However, I don’t agree with this little back-hander that you slipped into an otherwise very good argument:

    Once again, Labour is fighting an unnecessary fire on an issue very few Kiwis care about, instead of concentrating on the issues that are really important to the people who will end up electing the next government.

    *sigh* Where to start with this supposition about which parts of the electorate you consider important, and your way of separating this issue from those pressing ones you refer to?

    • Sufi Safari says:

      Stop sighing.
      To form a government after the next election Labour needs to pick votes up in the middle, rather than competing with the Greens for votes on the left.
      That doesn’t mean Labour needs to start pandering to un-evolved perspectives on gender inequality. But last week Labour was left trying to defend, or explain, or pull an about-face on (all three approaches featured) an issue that offends the baser social sensibilities of centre-swing voters. Which meant they weren’t talking about stuff that speaks to that group’s day-to-day struggle with bills, and jobs, and kids, and all those bread and butter fundamentals. Which means that last week Labour didn’t improve it’s electability with the major demographic it needs to win in order to deliver a Labour/Green government.
      The data on this is extensive and uncontroversial. The demographic that will vote Labour because of more enlightened policy towards the redress of institutional gender inequality is minute compared to the the demographic that won’t vote for them because they’re focused on faffing around with social engineering rather than dealing with more mainstream problems.
      So if you want to start dismantling the supposition about which parts of the electorate Stuart considers important go ahead, but if you accept that holding the Treasury benches is important in promoting meaningful change, you’re going to need to find many hundreds of thousands more activists across the country and within various marginal electorates. And the experience of the last few elections suggests to me that you’ll be shit out luck with that.

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Hi Karol, I suppose my point is that there are a number of extremely pressing issues that, if addressed, will have a huge impact on the lives of many Kiwis; like creating jobs, increasing wages, housing affordability, alleviating child poverty, and ensuring all pay their fair share.

      I have no doubt that gender equity may well make parliament a better place and it certainly should be an aspirational – and articulated – objective, but no one has ever said to me that they are voting a particular way due to a party’s position on gender equity, but many have said they will on a party’s economic development, housing and education policies.

      • Difficult Lemon says:

        Aspirational objective – the first word sucks all the meaning out of the second word : (

        Let me be the first to say to you then gender issues are central to how I vote, my political membership and activism.

        • Stuart Nash says:

          Well, I have now ‘met’ someone who places gender equity above all other policies that will really make a difference to Kiwis up and down this country.

  3. Kathy says:

    Agree with Karol – what makes you think that greater women’s representation won’t lead to say, a better suite of policies to address child poverty? Race and gender still have a big impact on who is poor, and who stays poor.

    • Sufi Safari says:

      I have no doubt that better representation will lead to better policies, but you’re talking about that in a vacuum, absent the realities of both the political cycle and the nature of political engagement across the nation’s electorate.
      Are you saying you’d rather Labour achieve a truer equality before focusing on being electable? Because I’m not sure the country benefits from another two terms of National.
      Or are you saying that the electorate will appreciate the substantive of this issue beyond the “ManBan” spin? In which case I think you’re over-estimating both the electorate and the media that informs them.

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Hi Kathy, I have no doubt you are right and I accept the argument that diversity brings balance across a range of important variables. I am not arguing against gender equity at all, but I do think this whole issue should have been managed in a way that allowed Labour to lead and control the debate; instead they completely lost control of the issue and ended up in massive damage control. Once again, the lack of a robust communications strategy has cost the party dearly.

  4. Keir Leslie says:

    Stuart, the idea that NZ Council needs a PR person sitting in on meetings is a travesty. It’s not the Party’s fault that caucus doesn’t have the political discipline to stick to a line and kill by a story by denying it the oxygen of controversy. The failure of political management was from Parliament, not Fraser House.

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Hi Keir, this remit was sent out by the party’s administrative body; not the caucus. Yes, a lack of discipline is an issue, however, I know there was no directive from the leaders office until after the horse had well and truly bolted. This is the 21st century and so how the idea is managed and communicated is often as important as the idea itself. To deny this, or say that messaging is not important is, I’m afraid, a little naive. This whole debacle simply proves this point: just observe how quickly the positive concept of ‘gender equity’ became the negative idea coined ‘man-ban’.

      • marc says:

        Stuart Nash –

        “I know there was no directive from the leaders office until after the horse had well and truly bolted.”

        To me that says it all about “leadership” and communication within Labour then.

        Sorry, that is not good enough. Any employed “communicator” would have to report to the leader, so ultimately the leader must still lead, and have some oversight, and managed control of the agenda of communication – and more.

        Giving the unskilled trumpeter another trumpet may not solve the problem.

      • Keir Leslie says:

        I agree that the management of the story is hugely important. What I’m saying is that if you want to point to failures of management, it’s not with NZ Council, and nor is it a problem that can be fixed by adding an extra person to the mix. There are already three well paid political operatives who sit on Council, precisely to do that liaison role you describe. They are the caucus reps on Council. If they are not doing their job, that’s not something that be fixed by throwing more resources a the problem.

        And, once the story broke, what fuelled the ongoing interest? A series of male, Labour right MPs giving very inflammatory quotes to the media. Perhaps Shearer should start by discipling Shane “gelding” “wanker” Jones, or Damien O’Connor? It would seem that the basic political skill of avoiding forming a circular firing squad is lost on those fine, meritorious gentlemen.

        It is also hard to avoid the suspicion that a group of right wing male MPs saw a chance to kill a progressive policy they didn’t like, and didn’t bother to think through the implications for the Party. That is not the membership’s fault. That is not the organisational wing’s fault. That is the specific fault of those male MPs who put self-interest first.

  5. Danyl Strype says:

    Stuart says:
    “they’re focused on faffing around with social engineering rather than dealing with more mainstream problems.”

    This totally contradicts the main point of your article, that those proposing this remit were obliged to circulate it months in advance. It also accepts Whale Oil’s framing (based on a crude black/white fallacy), that a political party can’t consider modifications its internal rules *and* dealing with “mainstream” problems at the same time, which is obviously nonsense.

    BTW In what way is making a minor tweak to internal party rules “social engineering”?!? You want to see some social engineering? Check out Health Minister Tony Ryall talking about how we plans to engineer acceptance of water fluoridation in the face of the growing grassroots movement to end the practice:

    “One of the things I’ve done is I’ve asked the authorities to look at how they can better convey both the health benefits and the social benefits of fluoridation in such a way that people can appreciate those benefits and be aware of them.”
    http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/minister-warns-misinformation-over-fluoride-debate-5497791

    Isn’t the job of public health authorities to honestly present both the pros and cons of a practice, and let people make up their own mind, rather than massaging the way the information is presented to engineer the “right” outcome?

    • Anne says:

      No the role of the ‘authorities’ in National’s eye is to reframe and put spin to any issue so as to convince Joe Public of whatever the National government wants them to believe

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Danyl – ummm. Okay. Your quote lines in no way represent what I have written. Perhaps have another read. Cheers

  6. Joe says:

    The GCSB doesn’t want to spy on anyone here like John Minto or Martyn Bradbury for subversion or treason um er well maybe I’m wrong.

  7. Difficult Lemon says:

    If you have no doubt it will lead to better policies then I am sure you will devote yourself to diffusing the ‘manban’ spin, so the remit can be implemented quickly – being dynamic and representative is what keeps labour alive. The membership are not simply free labour for the caucus to call on come campaign time. Being exclusive undermines the party.

    I also don’t buy that its working class men who are the bigots who will react strongly against this proposal – the strongest reaction comes from faux progressive men who want to protect their access to power. Labour loses when its base doesn’t show up to vote because they see no alternative. Its like the white men who seem to think that women and gay people ruined class politics in this country, when actually it was their exclusion of other social movements that left them with such a shallow base of support.

    • Tom says:

      Working class men aren’t bigots. They just won’t vote for a party that doesn’t do anything for them. Presumably rational gay people and women act the same way.

      If Labour wants the votes of working class men, then it has to earn those votes by offering them something tangible in exchange for their vote. It has not done so for a long time.

    • Stuart Nash says:

      You are a difficult lemon: a little sour and rather disagreeable. I am all for gender equity, and I have no desire to ‘protect [my] access to power’. If I am not good enough, or don’t have the skills or competencies to really make a difference, then I will gladly exit the political stage for someone else who is more able to make a difference. Am keen to know who you think Labour’s base is…

      Just because I am a white middle class male, please don’t assume that I don’t have a role to play in Labour politics, and don’t stereotype me with lines as rough as those you accuse others of. Be assured that I am going to go incredibly hard to convince Labour members in Napier, and the constituents of this electorate, that I am the best person to represent Labour in Napier, and Napier in parliament.

  8. marc says:

    “So Labour, it really is time to concentrate on the issues that are important; and please start developing the type of professional comms and PR strategies that are vital to 21st century political success.”

    So the communication needs fixing and all is well???

    I cannot believe this.

    Of course there are problems with communication, and it does not help when Shearer now refuses to talk to the media, when he thinks they will raise this idiot “man ban” topic again.

    What is a leader there for? Or will Labour have to hire a professional propagandist to front media all the time, because the leader is not quite up to it?

    I agree that this NZ Council proposal or remit is an internal matter for Labour, and it is not so much what can be described as “policy” the party presents to voters.

    Yet the party leadership failed abysmally to make this clear to the media that ran amok, ridiculing Labour for the “man ban” proposals. Bloggers with vicious ulterior motives, like “the Whale” started it, and most jumped on the bandwagon.

    A biased, idiot, unprofessional media lot spreading information on something that will affect few New Zealanders.

    Poor management by Shearer and his front and not so front benchers indeed. And again Key and NatACT get off the hook for appalling deals and non-deliverance.

    With all great communication and PR staff though, Labour also needs to have something to “report”, some real alternative policies, and sadly too little, if anything is coming forth.

    We get shocking new, punitive welfare rules coming into force soon, 57 thousand sickness beneficiaries being turned into “job seekers” from 15 July, and the government is already outsourcing job placement for mentally ill!

    Where the damn is Jacinda Ardern on this?

    I cannot believe what is happening, and I have little faith in what Stuart is recommending here. Is he self promoting himself for re-assignment in a senior role within Labour?

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Marc, no, great comms isn’t the answer to all Labour’s problems, however, poor comms is the root of a number of them. It doesn’t matter what you think of Whale or the media; this is the reality of 21st century politics so Labour has to adapt – and quickly. There is also no such thing as an ‘internal matter’ when it comes to politics: the public’s perceptions of a party will shape the way in which they vote, so to say this is nothing to do with the public is naive. For Labour to fob this off as an ‘internal matter’ is, again, naive to the ways in which they are judged.

      Agree – real policies and alternatives are what will get Labour across the line. As mentioned, the issues that are important 🙂

      • marc says:

        Thanks for engaging, Stuart!

        Re this: “It doesn’t matter what you think of Whale or the media; this is the reality of 21st century politics so Labour has to adapt – and quickly.”

        What do you mean with “adapt” to what we get from Whaleoil, Farrar perhaps and “the media”?

        Are you going to suggest Labour joins the (mostly) “mainstream media” and feeds us “one liners” and slogans?

        I thought that had been tried, for instance with “Shearer says”, as that “e newsletter” was for a while back published via The Standard. It was later pulled, and I think I can tell why.

        Short messages can lead to much misinformation, or to little of substance being said, and that is what we get from the right wing blogs and the MSM.

        That I feel is not going to solve the challenges Labour have.

        And if it is so important to use the social and other media these days, why was there at one stage such a virtual “attack” on some “left of centre” social media blog?

        I feel Labour under Shearer had their chance, but they simply either messed this up, by disappointing and riling their own supporters, or they never managed to handle it well otherwise.

        So even once good policies will have been hammered out, perhaps a bit more will be needed, than following the trend of the modern day media?!

        • Stuart Nash says:

          Hi Marc,
          What I actually meant was that Labour has to expect, and therefore be prepared, for attacks by Whale, Farrar and other elements in the media, and so it must have its key lines and responses sorted so when door-stopped by journalists the arguments are well reasoned and resonate. I don’t mean to be glib, but the 10 second sound bite is often the only chance an MP will get to communicate his or her message. That, unfortunately, is just the way it is.

          It is my view that Labour MUST start leading the debate and controlling the issues (in a way that the Greens have done reasonably successfully recently). Annette King, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins and Phil Twyford are examples of MPs who find issues and create stories, and then tell what Labour would do if in government, but this narrative must also come from the top.

          David Parker is an incredibly intelligent man with a fantastic vision, and expect some exciting policy to come from him, but it takes the whole caucus to turn public perception around and create an impression that Labour is in control, is competent enough to lead the country and has a plan. They have 18 months to do so.

  9. Danyl Strype says:

    Tom:
    >> If Labour wants the votes of working class men, then it has to earn those votes by offering them something tangible in exchange for their vote <> It has not done so for a long time. <<

    This is true, but the idea that being 'more Winston than Winston' and try to lure "swing voters" is going to win Labour the election is ridiculously old-fashioned.

    What about trying to appeal to the 30% of registered voters who couldn't see any point turning up in 2008 to choose between Tweedledum and Tweedle-even-dummer? Has anyone checked the gender composition of that cohort? Is it possible that more than half of them are women, and might be attracted by Labour making changes to address its MP gender balance? Has anyone considered that Whale Oil and co might actually be doing Labour a service, if dinosaurs like Shane Jones could just keep their traps shut, and stop giving away ammunition to shoot their own party with?

  10. peterlepaysan says:

    Once again Labour fixes something that is not broken.

    Once again disillusioned voters throng to the polling booths to vote for Labour.

    Yeah right!

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