Labour’s unequivocal opposition to the TPPA will please the rank-and-file of the party whose desire for autonomy and authenticity was so clearly evident at its conference last year.
Leading the charge at the Conference were the combined forces of Young Labour branches from around the country who made it clear that their agenda, terrifying though it was for some, had groundswell from within the Party.
But first some background. Many of us who’d battled in the List selection or in ‘take-one-for-the-team’ electorates, there had been a lot of frustration with sticking to the “Vote Positive” script we were required to follow. What was Labour’s stand on deep sea oil drilling? Never mind that, let’s sing Kum Ba Yah for Warm Dry Homes really loudly. All together now….On election day, it was clear that few wanted to hold hands and sing along.
Labour’s policy on deep sea oil drilling, as just one example, requiring complete safety before they’d support it was interpreted by many as lacking authenticity. Behind the scenes it was said that such drilling could never be proven to be safe, so, effectively, the answer was that Labour opposed it. The equivocating vagueness no doubt reflected a desire to tread carefully given the clear competing interests of, say, miners and drillers and those who think we’ve got enough our planet’s blue eyes brown. But there comes a point where treading carefully becomes insincere pussyfooting; a most unattractive look.
Looking at the electorally battered attendees a year later at the Conference in Palmerston North there were notable absences, but the faithful returned, some minus an eye, some with a limp, some with their tails up and others desperately looking for a reason to go on. Or perhaps just go.
There was less hype with this conference. The new leader mixed easily with his charges in sharp contrast to the sycophantic selfie-seeking swarms that buzzed around the previous papa bear. It seemed the earthy goodness had returned and from it flourished a speech which one observer said represented the very best and worst of the party.
“We built state houses and we banned nuclear ships,” she said from the podium, her clenched fists raised in front of her. Bosoms swelled with pride as they remembered the best and, then, the worst, as they were reminded that the speaker had effectively lost her seat in Parliament during the list selection process.
And yet, despite the hurt that many felt about this, the grace and humour with which the speech was delivered reminded all that this was a tough game and that the show must go on.
One did not have to look far to see signs of vigorous new growth within the party. Earlier in the day sector meeting had been well covered by well-organised younger party members. Despite opposition from the more conservative, by the end of the day, they had remits which had to go to the conference floor.
They’d already been in trouble after getting a controversial remit for transgender health care through at regional level. Now it was going to the floor at the National Conference which would vote on whether it went forward to the policy committee.
Not content with that, they pushed through similar remits to decriminalise cannabis, decriminalise abortion and to partially decriminalise all drugs adopt a Portuguese-style model of drug harm reduction.
Indeed some were very concerned about these bold remits. It would be better to get into power, get a Law Commission report and then blame it when the new law was made. The youngsters were unconvinced. They wanted to nail their authentic colours unmistakably to their mast.
They saw straight answers on straight issues as having more political benefit than the evident obfuscation their seniors think they’re so slick at.
The youngsters needed to pull their silly little heads in and get real said one. Another noted that these issues were important because the young people said so. That was reason enough, given that these folk would, she hoped, be there to look after the aged. What do we want our bums wiped with, she asked, three-ply or sandpaper?
Meanwhile, some were concerned about how the conference or the press would handle the remits if they were voted in or, worse, voted down. A portable defibrillator on standby wasn’t needed, but some seemed short of breath.
One said to the other, “Yes, I know. We’re in imminent danger of appearing like a dynamic, progressive party where the voices of young people are heard. Imagine if we had a policy to decriminalise pot. All those dirty hippies who decamped to the Greens might come back and stink up our tent with their dreadlocks and goatswool socks. No, we couldn’t have that.”
They needn’t have worried. With the controversial remits wrapped up in a euphemistic “catch all” remit going to up, the words decriminalise were never uttered on the conference floor and the catch all remit was voted up. It went off for consideration at the policy committee which some have likened to something like a cross between the Tardis and the Bermuda Triangle.
With 140 policies advanced at the last election, there’s no doubt that it’s able to produce more than its outside dimensions would seem to indicate. And while rumours about it being the final resting place of Jimmy Hoffer are said to have no foundation, there’s no doubt that a lot of things have gone there and never been seen again.
There will no doubt be attempts to dilute or slow the significant social agenda pushed by the young, but the reality is there is a tide against prohibition within the party based not just on pragmatism but body autonomy.
The evident goodwill at the conference showed as delegates raced through the adoption of various remits. Although time was allowed for people to speak for and against them, a growing chorus began calling “aye” the moment a remit was read out. Undeterred, some speakers still queued to speak on no-brainer remits and met again with a chorus of “ayes” wrapped around the clear cry of “Jesus, just take me now.”
And then in a flash it was over, early, and there was left to do was drink to the success of the conference and the secure knowledge for many that their kids wouldn’t be shipping them off to an old folks home on the South side of Enderby Island. And for those who wondered if they would ever get anywhere within Labour the knowing looks among them indicated they now knew the Party was going somewhere with them.
This feeling was evident at Young Labour’s summer school in the Waitakeres last weekend. They’re still flushed with pride at not only getting these remits through, but gaining unanimous support when it went to the floor at the Conference.
Astonishingly the press hasn’t picked up on these bold policy initiatives. When just one of these controversial remits made it through at regional level (transgender healthcare), it must have been a slow time for news for it reverberated around the media for weeks. When it was adopted at national level, there wasn’t a peep.
But the influence of Young Labour is perhaps evident in other and more important ways from an electoral perspective. Taking a clear, unequivocal, authentic stand is admired by those who are attracted to principles. Autonomy and freedom from interference by others are almost universal values within this country. It’s nice to see Labour representing them.