GUEST BLOG: Anjum Rahman – Loyalty, Leadership and the Labour Party

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Shearer-Robertson

My first after the election and I can only say I’m feeling pretty sad.  It was a terrible result, and feels even more so knowing the number of volunteers hours, hard work & sacrifice made by so many people who wanted to bring change to government and therefore to policy. I feed sadder still for the people who will continue to suffer in a world where there is pressure for increasing the casualisation of work, reduction of workers rights, reduction in the ability to take part in collective bargaining, more privatisation and no serious attempts to reduce inequality.

We all have our thoughts on the reasons for these results, and I will certainly be giving mine during the Labour Party review.  Unlike some Labour MPs, I don’t intend to use public forums to air internal party issues, in a way that is destructive to the Party.

For the present, there is the leadership primary set to be played out in the coming months in a very public way.  While it will cost a lot of money, and will be happening at a time when Party members are exhausted and still processing the election result, I think it’s the best option.  For David Cunliffe to stay on as leader is clearly untenable when caucus members are so clearly willing to publicly undermine him through the media.  For him to resign and allow a new leader to take his place at this point might have made sense if there was a clear contender who had the support of the caucus and the membership.  I don’t believe there is such a person at present, but the leadership primary will be a chance for contenders to show they have both.

I was an open supporter of David Cunliffe in last year’s leadership election and certainly don’t regret that decision at all.  For me, the decision was not about personality but one about values and policy.  Who was the person who best recognised the changing demographics of New Zealand, who had the clearest left-wing, progressive views and who could articulate those views clearly to the electorate?  For me, that person was Mr Cunliffe.

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I’m not going to say he ran a perfect campaign.  There were flaws and there definitely need to be improvements made in those areas, and those will be things I’ll raise in the internal review.  But he was always going to struggle with a caucus he hadn’t won over, and who weren’t prepared to accept the wishes of the membership.  And more than that, there are divisions in the Party that run a lot deeper than the Caucus leadership issue.

The thing with the leadership race is that the Party may end up in the same place it is now ie with a leader supported by the membership but not by caucus.  The opposite will never be possible, because the members and the affiliates have a higher percentage of the vote than caucus does, and besides, it’s unlikely that 100% of caucus members will vote the same way.

So, when there is a disconnect between caucus and membership, there really is only one solution.  Caucus must abide by the wishes of the membership in good faith.  That’s a pretty reasonable request, especially given the membership are the ones who put in so much work on the ground to run campaigns and to keep the Party machinery going, as well as providing significant financial support through fundraising and personal donations.

Caucus members who are unwilling to respect the vote of the membership should seriously reconsider their positions within the Party and as MPs.  For those who are electorate MPs, if they think their electorates voted them in regardless of their being a Labour candidate, let them test that theory by running as an independent in a by-election.  Because frankly, if they are not willing to work positively with the elected leader, then they are a liability to the Party.

The same applies to those in elected positions within the Party hierarchy.  If they aren’t prepared to support the elected leader, then it’s time to step aside.  The Party needs a governing council that is prepared to back its leader and to discipline MPs who have failed to act in the best interests of the Party, particularly those who openly or through leaks, use the media to damage the leadership.

The leadership contest is another chance for the Party to debate its core values and policy direction. It’s a tough debate, and one that is hampered by external commentators who would prefer the Party moves to the right.  But that’s not their decision to make, it’s up to the members who certainly have the skills and abilities to discuss the issues and make a considered decision about the type of leader and the type of Party they want.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I agree, they should stand aside if they don’t agree with the party membership. But a lot of by-elections are going to cost Labour a helluva lot of ground in public opinion, not to mention the ribbing from our reelected National govt.

    What are the party rules exactly? Can the defectors form their own faction in parliament?

    • Byelections would be a chance for Labour to show its true colours, like the leadership election last year which saw a bump in the polls, and throw out the trash.

  2. Labour needs to stop infighting and get it together. If they don’t trust each other why should voters trust them? Not only do they not trust each other but also don’t trust the Greens, NZ First and Internet Mana. Going after Internet Mana in the election instead of standing up to those in power looked like bullying.

    Normal voters are trying to get messages across what they did wrong. In particular the constant infighting is destructive. It seems Labour are more interested in fighting internally than being the opposition. Another leadership show down is going down the wrong path (again) and sending all the wrong messages to the public and giving more ammunition to MSM.

    They may have to do it because of internal politics but it is not a good look for voters. In my case I gave my electorate vote to Labour because individuals are ok – they just seemed toxic as a party by their behavior to each other and other parties.

    • I agree with this.

      Exactly why labour didn’t get my part vote even though I liked the policies I dont like the neo liberal element within the party.

      The greens got my party vote.

  3. SAVE NZ, couldn’t have said it better myself.

    “Labour needs to stop infighting and get it together. If they don’t trust each other why should voters trust them? Not only do they not trust each other but also don’t trust the Greens, NZ First and Internet Mana. Going after Internet Mana in the election instead of standing up to those in power looked like bullying.”

    Labour must learn not to think of themselves and think of their electorate voters wants needs and opinions.

    As they are elected by us, they need to reconnect with us all, so we feel some ownership with the Party again.

    Until the Labour hierarchy switch to serving instead of naval gazing we are never going to win.

    They must begin a series of serious forums with all opposition parties and work our a set of strategies as a cohesive group to take on the NatZ.

    They also need to combat the toxic media who are trying to influence what Labour intends to do, so seeking to setup an independent TV/Radio network public service voice for our left centre opposition parties to get the message across.

  4. I have indirectly supported the Labour movement as a health service worker for 30 years, and have tremendous pride in having a decent state run health service to support.
    As a movement of people who have united to create a force for cooperation, cohesion and collectivism, we have now been divided and ruled by a tribal, united force for competition and self serving for those who win.
    We have become tribal ourselves now, endless contests, searching in vain for the great “Our leader” who will save us, it’s never going to happen, but crikey, if I were a National party strategist, I would be whooping from the sidelines right now.

  5. “For David Cunliffe to stay on as leader is clearly untenable when caucus members are so clearly willing to publicly undermine him through the media.”

    I am increasingly hearing the message in the above sentence in commentaries by lefties.

    I do not ‘get’ this logic at all.

    It seems deplorable to me some members of caucus are ‘allowed’ to publicly undermine the current leader (and therefore party) in the first place. It seems unbelievable that, the party wouldn’t reprimand them severely, and even worse, would then discard the current leader on the basis of such unprofessionalism by some members within caucus.

    This is a recipe for encouraging totally unacceptable, extremely damaging and unprofessional behaviour.

    I also don’t ‘get’ the logic in making the above quoted statement while stating the following in the same article:

    “So, when there is a disconnect between caucus and membership, there really is only one solution. Caucus must abide by the wishes of the membership in good faith….”

    And

    “Caucus members who are unwilling to respect the vote of the membership should seriously reconsider their positions within the Party and as MPs. “

    If not now, then when? Is my response.

    Some members of caucus have already displayed an unwillingness to respect the vote of the wider membership, and have done so in a manner that is extremely unprofessional and damaging to the Labour party.

    Based on recent conduct by certain MPs in Labour, I have been left with the uneasy feeling that certain members of caucus may have been perfectly happy to jeopardize a win for the left, by talking to the media and fueling rumours, in order to pursue their internecine internal war regardless of the effect that might have on Labour’s popularity.

    The notion that there should be a new leader based on such behaviour is an extremely faulty one. Those conducting infighting by going to the media and making public statements that damage Labour’s credibility need to be responded to severely, and not pandered to, otherwise you are simply fueling more of the same.

  6. Nice. And great to hear from one of the Labour Party stalwarts. I agree with you 100%. Everyone is having their 10 cents worth about where Labour went wrong. I think that this loss was as a result of many things they had and will have no control over. Once Labour works out what really happened they may be able to find solutions. However, the cause of Labour’s failing is without the party not within. Labour is where it is, as a result of the havoc Douglas et al rained upon the party. That split the party into different factions. Those who are not loyal to Labour’s core values need to move on. Start their own party or join ACT. That might be a better fit.

    A most astute and perceptive blog Anjum. Well done.

  7. Judith Tizard said no one has full support of caucus, not even national have that, and that Helen Clark won by 1 vote in 1993 when she rolled Mike Moore. Helen Clark lost the 1996 election, was not hounded out of the leadership by a frenzied hysterical media with a lynch mob mentality aided by 2 labour members in particular, like what is happening to David Cunliffe, and she went on to win 3 elections in a row.

  8. Grant Robertson and David Shearer are working in tandem, they wasted no time in putting the boot in so Robertson could get his shot at the leadership. I hope David Cunliffe trounces him for a second time.

  9. Well said Anjum. We party members need to be challenging MPs who are publicly discussing the leadership in the media. They are there as our agents to implement Labour policy.

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