Politics just went up a gear in New Zealand.
David Cunliffe’s appointment as leader of the Labour Party has not only reinvigorated that party, but has also given a significant and much needed jolt of energy to the political discourse in this country.
In case you hadn’t noticed, fellow voters, Election 2014 is now categorically and undeniably ON!
In previous posts, I have pursued the issue of accountability. Or, more accurately, the lack of accountability and this government’s cavalier attitude to our representative democracy. To strengthen accountability systems, I am a firm believer in participatory processes following an organic “bottom up” rather than an autocratic, and patronising, “top down” delivery.
Well, how good was that Labour leadership race? QED, methinks! Although lacking in gender diversity, and no doubt other flaws that will be reviewed given the debut of this new system, the race represented a wonderful bottom up realisation of who Labour Party members actually want to lead their party. This new process was in and of itself a clear rejection by the membership of the Labour caucus’s previously tyrannical control on power. This revolution from the membership led to the right result.
Described by some as a US style “Primary” race, the leadership contest re-engaged many New Zealanders with Labour and politics in general. We often complain of apathy, so engaging more of our citizens in the political process has to be a good thing.
Of course, John Key’s dismissive reaction to Cunliffe’s victory was as predictable as it was lacking in substance. The National Party, and the Act Teapot Party (brought to you by Dilmah), will be worried. They can see an opponent who will actually be able to articulate policies that the voting public can understand and contrast with those espoused by this government serving narrow interest groups. Already, we are seeing the strategy of labelling Cunliffe as an extreme leftist, something that is not borne out by his political history, his recent public statements nor, critically, by the Labour Party policy platform itself.
So, Cunliffe & Co need to get to work. Others more experienced and smarter than me have written about Cunliffe’s strategy in the weeks and months ahead. I agree with Stuart Nash’s TDB piece this week illustrating his own parliament experience. Isolating weak government ministers will place pressure on the PM and we have seen that he does not respond well when things do not go his way.
Already, too, we are seeing a smart pluralist communications strategy starting with the launch of Cunliffe’s tilt at the leadership in his New Lynn electorate office. The leadership race brought Cunliffe increased media visibility and we have seen that continue as he has been on our TV and computer screens including appearing on this Blog as Cunliffe reaches out to the wider socially progressive audience. As Bomber has argued, social media will be an important plank in any successful communications platform especially in reaching out to and mobilising younger voters.
But, and going back to my bias for participatory approaches, a critical aspect in this campaign will be Labour listening to New Zealanders. Rather than presume, the researchers and pollsters need to be out there to clue in to the issues that people want to see resolved. This also needs to include a very frank review of what happened at the disastrous last election: how did Labour get it so wrong? Who are the 800,000 registered voters who didn’t vote? Why didn’t they vote? Again, you can probably guess the answers, but to get the right answers, Labour needs to actually listen to the people across the entire country.
As for me, I’ll be listening as David Cunliffe continues to outline his vision for a socially progressive Aotearoa. I want to hear how he will make this country better for more people.
We cannot continue to be a country with such a stark and growing rate of inequality – so stark that this is one of the few things we seem to be world leaders on these days. Our government should be pursuing long term policies that reduce inequality, target the 270,000 children living in poverty, prioritise and stimulate a diverse economy less reliant on (but still supportive of) our primary industries with job creation at its core, and focus on helping more New Zealanders achieve upward economic mobility. Instead, and as I have said before, we have a government implementing short term fixes caused by an addiction to an economic ideology proven fundamentally flawed following the Global Financial Crisis (and the rescue of Merrill Lynch, by the way).
This is an amazing and bountiful country. Throughout our history we have proudly punched above our weight. Well, recently, we’ve left the gym behind as we have accepted mediocrity and a lack of accountability from our political elite. No more. It’s time to get back into training. A better country and future awaits.