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.
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.