“Labour has to adapt itself to be in touch always with ordinary people to avoid becoming small cliques of isolated, doctrine-ridden fanatics, out of touch with the main stream of social life in our time”.
Who said that? Phil Goff perhaps, Shearer or Cunliffe, Andrew Little maybe? No, but the party they led at various times over the past seven years could have benefited from the advice. The quote is actually from Hugh Gaitskell, British Labour party leader in 1955 – 1963. Not a household name in New Zealand, but a man considered by many political historians as a formidable leader who tried, but ultimately failed, to modernise the British Labour party at a time when they sorely needed to adapt to the changing world. Labour paid the price by losing the 1959 election; an election many believed they should have won.
Let’s be clear about one thing: politics is about winning. There is no such thing as a ‘glorious defeat’, leaders who lose are not, as some may believe, ‘martyrs to the cause’, and ‘coming second but maintaining our principles’ is a ludicrous proposition.
Opposition is a complete waste of time as the opportunity to achieve anything meaningful simply does not exist, while the winners get to implement a political, social and fiscal agenda that is usually a million miles away from the one we would have rolled out.
In fact the week after I won Napier (the only seat won from the Nats in 2014), a friend of mine was speaking to a group of Labour supporters in Auckland; my name came up and my friend said ‘wasn’t it great Stuart won Napier back for Labour’, to which the Labour supporters replied: ‘no its dreadful. Stuart winning means that Maryan Street doesn’t make it back’. My friend was incredulous: so winning is now a sin in Labour. I would like to believe that such thinking is in the minority.
Everything Labour does from now until Election Day 2017 must contribute towards a Labour victory. For every strategic and operational initiative, the question needs to be asked “is this contributing towards a win in 2017?” If it doesn’t then drop it, don’t say it and keep clear of it.
Sound logical? Perhaps, but it is something the centre-left doesn’t do well. Finally the Labour caucus is united behind the leader and I can tell you that the fractious factions that used to exist no longer do. Not even behind closed doors. You will not see the infighting and bitching that had a bad habit of popping up in the headlines and eroded political credibility – and electability – over the past few years.
My experience is that our supporters, while just as passionate, are not so disciplined. We love to hate Whale Oil and yet we give him strength, purpose, relevance and breathe life into every pore of his existence time and time again by publicly throwing metaphorical mud at those with whom we are supposed to have a political affinity.
Labour once had a blog for MPs called Red Alert, and the rumour around at the time was that Cameron Slater wanted this closed down. Then I found out the opposite was true: it gave him some of his best material due to the occasional ill-disciplined MP.
Our supporters have the same impact when they squabble, bitch and back-stab on so-called ‘left-friendly’ sites like The Standard (a dreadful 21st century bastardisation of a once proud Labour broadsheet). Criticising your favourite Labour MP is not the route to victory, no matter what you think of their philosophies, hair or politics.
If you feel so aggrieved by something an MP has said, written or done, then email them personally and you are more likely to get a response and, just perhaps, an explanation. But ill-disciplined rants typed from an anonymous keyboard will only provide Mr Slater and Mr Farrar with a wealth of information and powerful ammunition to fire back with twice the impact.
If you want to change the government, then get behind the cause and become an advocate for the lines the leader is leading with, because there is a reason why we have taken the stance we have. 95% of the time it’s because it’s what we believe is right; but occasionally, the politics of political pragmatism must rule. That’s how you win, and that’s why we are here.
On the last day of each month TDB will ask a range of progressive voices in NZ to write a guest blog on what they think ‘the most pressing issue in NZ right now’ is. This month our guest progressives are, Labour Party MP and Marriage Equality champion Louisa Wall; Unionist and human rights activist Tali Williams; and regional champion for the Labour Party, Stuart Nash.