Sunday, 28 September 2014

Labour Leadership - Here We Go Again...

Labour, the other Saturday, plunged to its lowest place in the polls in its nearly 100 year history.  Some polls had warned that Labour was slipping in the polls in the weeks leading up to the election, but internal polling had indicated higher numbers, and the door knocking and phone calling had also indicated positive responses to people supporting and voting Labour. 
Combined with National slipping bit by bit in the polls following the Dirty Politics book release and Judith Collins' inappropriate behaviour being fully exposed, how buoyant the Greens had been in the polls and the fact that New Zealand First's policies and people seemed to lean more towards the left than the right, I was confident that the election would be on a knife edge.  I honestly thought a clear winning team would not be evident on the night.
Oh how wrong I was, and many others.
With National winning 41 electorate seats and 48% of the party vote to get an extra 20 List MPs, it meant they had 61 MPs out of 120.  John Key also moved in the next few days to make doubly sure he had the House in his grasp by opening discussions with his "friends" from the last six years: the Mäori Party, United Future and ACT (who shouldn't be there - but that is another discussion).
Meanwhile, predictably, Labour was tearing itself apart.  Just like in November 2011, the leader was blamed.  David Cunliffe was vilified for his speech at the end of election night (the one where he celebrated the work of all the party volunteers and supporters - and right that he did, because we worked bloody hard) and his lack of resignation on the spot.  As someone pointed out on Twitter recently, did Helen Clark's election night resignation set the benchmark for the losing leader?
In the days that followed, Cunliffe was continually criticised for his blaming Kim Dotcom for the failure of the left to thrive, for blaming the Dirty Politics book for sucking up tv air time, for not taking responsibility for his role in Labour plunging to a new low, for not resigning, for gagging his MPs....
Then there was the various Labour MPs speaking to the media about why they thought Labour had gone down in the polls and what they think should happen next.  Followed by the 7.5 hour horror caucus meeting on Tuesday and the angst and hair pulling since then, the membership of Labour became even more concerned and, just like within the caucus, people have started aligning themselves with their preferred leader, including several Facebook pages that support David Cunliffe in continuing his leadership of Labour.

And then there were the bloggers, journalists and media commentators who weighed in with accurate comments and the crazy off the mark comments too.
On Saturday, David Cunliffe resigned his leadership, taking responsibility for the election loss, and then nominated himself for the leadership vote.  Grant Robertson also put his name back into the hat.  David Shearer had indicated that early last week that he was considering a bid, but as he has been in New York at the UN with Murray McCully the last few days, this has yet to materialise at the time of writing this blog. 
Other names that have been thrown about include Kelvin Davis (who ruled himself out - including to me in a tweet), Jacinda Ardern and Andrew Little (who are playing that coolly, particularly as Little has to wait for the confirmed election results on October 4th to know he really is the 5th list MP for Labour) and, strangely, Stuart Nash (who, while he has run a great campaign to win Napier back, was helped by the fact that Garth McVicar split the vote on the right when he ran for the Conservatives and a new National candidate).
I note that the commentators and journalists have not aimed similar vitriol at the Greens or NZ First for their performance on Election Day.  Neither of those parties reached their predicted percentage of the votes, in fact the Greens have one less MP than they had in the last parliament.  And I'm not the only one to notice....
After David Cunliffe announced his intentions on Saturday, Sue Moroney posted this on Facebook:
I had been wondering Sue's point of view since Tuesday's caucus meeting where she resigned as Chief Whip (which she explained in another post she had done so to concentrate on her portfolio areas).  Consequently I was very pleased to see the above post.  I believe that people become MPs because, apart from their desire to enter politics and serve the country, it is the people behind them, the party members, who do the hard yakka to get that MP into parliament. If you do not recognise those who help you and feed back to them then the relationships you develop during the campaign will not exist for the following campaign.
Below is my response to Sue on Facebook:
I personally think that DC will have learnt a lot over the last year and that experience of learning on the job is irreplaceable.

It took Helen Clark & co 6 years to win the Treasury Benches after she became leader and she had some big hurdles and an election loss. It took her time to build her relationships as leader and with NZ.

This stuff doesn't happen overnight.

One of the reasons I joined Labour was the ability of the membership to have a say in who leads the party. So I'm pleased that DC and Grant are honouring the process set down by the party rules.

But after that process is over, the factions need to dissolve and the backstabbing needs to end. And not just in caucus.  I've been appalled to see it in the organisation/backroom side of the party too. And what is worse is that it is incredibly obvious, so obvious that people like Patrick Gower and Mike Hosking and Duncan Garner and Paul Henry have had a feeding frenzy on it.

The caustic culture of factions and backstabbing throughout the party must cease. That's why we lost.
I then re-posted this to my own Facebook status, because I am tired of the factions destabilising Labour and undermining the hard work put in by the party members and supporters.
In August last year I wrote a post called Leadership.... a tale of two leaders: Helen Clark & David Shearer.  In that post I wrote the following:
Whoever does have the X-Factor to win the race to being the Labour leader will need to have and do the following in my opinion:
  • unite the party - Labour doesn't need to be squabbling amongst themselves for the next year; we need them to show that they can beat John Key and National at their own game.
  • be able to do a sound bite with confidence for the 6 o'clock news - it's all about looks in this game.
  • be a good debater in the house - put John Key, Steven Joyce, Judith Collins and the rest back in their box please!!
  • keep your friends close and your enemies closer - keep your enemies very busy in key jobs so they don't have time to mischief make.  It worked for Helen Clark, and maybe that's why Steven Joyce has so many ministerial responsibilities (just throwing that out there in case JK and Joyce aren't as close as everyone says).
  • keep close tabs on what everyone is doing - Helen did, that way she minimised surprises and everyone kept on top of things.
  • put out good policy (especially dumping National Standards and getting rid of Charter Schools) and back it throughout the party - you need to show that you can be the next government.
  • connect to the New Zealand public at many levels - get out there and meet the people and be involved in as many events as possible.  Shearer did do this, but it has to also mesh with how people see you on the tv fronting issues.
  • everytime National does something dumb, use it - honestly, National has had some right regular stuff ups in the last year, but no hay has been made while the sun shines for Labour when these stuff ups happen.  You should be all over those stuff ups like shit on a blanket (to be blunt).
  • watch that doco about Helen and learn from her example of how to stick to it, unite the party, and get the public onside.  Pay particular attention to the part about when there was almost a coup against her before the 1999 election.
  • meet the standard of being a leader - we need you to do your job because this is a democracy.
Now I believe that David Cunliffe did some of the above (did he read my blog per chance?) such as doing some great sound bites for the 6 o'çlock news, keeping his enemies close (he kept all the leading stirrers in his top 10), getting manygreat policies out there (especially in education, health, housing and the economy), there was better targeting of National stuff ups and some stern debate in the House by David and others (some delegated to various members of caucus, like Hipkins going after Parata and Robertson on Collins), David and been very visible in the public eye at many events of great variety in the last year.... and I saw David take command in the pre-election debates with John Key.

Yes, there were some stuff ups to, like the anonymous donations to a trust and not being able to fully articulate the Capital Gains Tax details (have you seen the Labour 2014 manifesto?  It's so big!), but that is part of learning.  John Key has many brain fades and "forgets" far too many things to make me comfortable at the end of the day, yet his caucus is NOT publicly mauling him for his failings, and the media is so busy focused on David's minor stuff ups they are not taking Key to task on his stuff ups.

Then there were the media beat ups like the letter David Cunliffe wrote for Donghua Liu in 2003 (do you remember every letter/correspondence you wrote in 2003?), the "apology" at the Women's Refuge symposium (at which Paula Bennett spent the whole time others were speaking playing on her phone) and various other minor incidents during which the media called for Cunliffe to resign.

Which other leader of a political party has had so many media commentators calling on them to resign in one year?  When you think about all the stuff ups John Key has made and have so far been revealed, why isn't he on a permanent holiday in Hawaii right now?

Quite frankly, who would want to be the leader of the Labour party right now knowing that you would be constantly harassed and vilified by the New Zealand media on a daily basis?

And why is this happening?  Well it is obvious that some MPs have not been loyal, and I have to conclude that some party members at various levels and possibly some staffers have also not been loyal.

I said above from my post last year that the new leader would have to unite the party and stop the squabbling.  Well clearly that was one area in which David Cunliffe has not made much progress.  But I believe he can not shoulder all the blame.  The party president, Moira Coatsworth, and the Labour Council should be held responsible for this as well.  They have the ability to censure MPs and could have ensured some were turfed out of contention as electorate candidate for unsavoury behaviour (why do you think 15 MPs 'retired' from National this year?).  But we did not see this happening.  Each MP should also be aware of the party rules and be conscious of the fact that leaky ships do not reach their destinations.

With my own eyes this year I have seen some of the behind the scenes at electorate and regional level of the Labour party.  The jockeying and attempted deal making and backstabbing has left a sour taste in my mouth.  Some candidates were caustic and juvenile in their dealings with certain sectors of the party which meant that some sectors were then very non-supportive of those candidates and sometimes this spilled out into the public arena.  Some potential candidates were treated poorly, and others behaved like spoiled brats when they did not get what they wanted.

We are all human and we will make mistakes in the heat of the moment, but it is how you behave and present yourself after the fact that makes a difference.  And some people did not present themselves in the best light at all.

Leadership for me has been a huge issue in the last 15 months.  It is only when you are led by a less than desirable leader that you realise how lucky you have been previously and what the qualities of a good or great leader really are.  I've been involved in a lot of discussions and collected a number of quotes and memes that speak to me about leadership.  So here I will share some:

On Sunday I came across a guest blog for The Daily Blog on the Labour leadership issue by Anjum Rahman, Loyalty, Leadership and the Labour Party.  Anjum was on the Labour list for the 2014 election.  She is an accountant and a community leader in Hamilton, especially supporting ethnic and immigration issues, but has interests across the broader Hamilton community.  This piece which Anjum wrote stood out to me in particular:

But he (David Cunliffe) 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....

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.

I think Anjum has summed up the feeling of the membership when she wrote this post on Saturday.  Kiaora Anjum for writing a piece so thoughtful and succinct.

It is time for the Labour Party to meet the standard when it comes to leadership and following the wishes of the membership.  Failure to meet that standard will mean another devastating loss to National in 2017, and that would be catastrophic for too many people.


  1. kia ora. i've only just seen this post & want to thank you for the link to my piece on the daily blog & for your kind words.