Mike Williams, former President of the Labour Party, says Labour should avoid navel gazing. And yes, generally speaking, gazing at ones navel is never good practice – at least when it comes to building self-esteem – unless you’re in the practice of cleaning it regularly. Then again, if ones navel is sort of rancid-looking after 3 years of hanging around vegan potato-chip eating anti-GCSB protestors, then it’s probably good idea to give it a good rinse. Surely the time to clean ones navel is now, after this little experiment has crashed and burned, and – more importantly – well before we’ll ever have to show our navels in public again.
In other words this is exactly the time to be dis-unified and a few days ago – when the election was still going on – was exactly the wrong time to be dis-unified. Arguably it was both wrong and correct at the same time to be dis-unified less than a year ago when Cunliffe was playing musical chairs with his two other perennial partners(rivals?) Grant Robertson and Shane Jones. The one thing that was disconcerting about that particular contest was how little difference there was between the candidates. Back then I said the Labour primary was a terrible idea, and I definitely think the choosing of David Cunliffe wasn’t worth the bother – and expense – of an open-primary contest, especially when differences between the candidates were so minor and the whole point of the exercise appeared to be to show how ‘united’ everybody was.
Shane Jones was arguably the most different of the trio, if only because his racist comments about Asian workers in Christchurch, sexist comments about feminists, and his long protracted expositions about what he’d do if he were alone in a room alone with John Key’s testicles and a pair of callipers (which made you wonder if he was auditioning for leader of Labour or head dominatrix of National) established him as a genuine nutcase. Other than that Grant Robertson and David Cunliffe were scarcely distinguishable save for the fact that Grant Robertson looked like a younger, fatter, less experienced version of the latter. Now I notice Grant Robertson has lost a bit of weight – in the middle of an election campaign no less – which should narrow the difference further, and David Cunliffe also has several humiliating apologies to his name (which should make for some interesting recriminations), but other than that this has every sign of looking like another go at the doomed musical chair experiment of last year.
Unless navel-gazing is involved of course.
At the very least the party should consider the following:
- Get rid of the GCSB – not the agency, just the issue.
The GCSB issue is a pointless one that should be relegated to the trash can along with Labour’s worn-out tinfoil hat. Not only is the issue too complicated for most people to understand (including, ironically enough, the people who keep bringing it up) but it is also apparent that the surveillance the GCSB does or does not do entirely relies upon informal arrangements we make with our Five Eyes partners. In other words, Unless you’re planning on leaving the Five Eyes there is no point in having this discussion. A more progressive and competent Prime Minister will probably exercise better oversight of the GSCB and NZ’s other security agencies, but the discussion is just not one that’s worth having on the campaign trail, in fact it can lead to people thinking you’re proposing scrapping the GCSB or – worse – acquiescing to ridiculous Internet-Mana(RIP) proposals to offer Edward Snowden asylum.
- Avoid the climate change fizzle
By this I mean not to refer to the sound Tokelau makes as it steadily sinks into the ocean but to the fact that there are some people out there who believe that the sinking sounds of Tokelau will actually end up being a major election issue in New Zealand. Perhaps it will – in 2021 – but until it does, hash-tagging ‘#climatevoter’ or paying attention to Generation ZeroSense is not doing Labour any favours. If climate change activists want real movement on this issue they will have to setup a centrist political party outside of the spectrum and court climate-sympathetic votes from both National and the Greens. Until then, spending inordinate amounts of time on this issue will only make Labour sound more divorced from the realities of the average voter. I have more to say about the vegan yuppie climate muppets of K Road, but for now I will simply say this: a day after the election the #climatevoter hashtaggers all joined together in protest along Queen Street – there were 300 of them.
- Child poverty and capital gains
This is the second election that has been lost on ‘child poverty’ and a capital gains tax. It is pretty clear both of these issues and proposals are not resonating with the electorate. In fact the whole child poverty thing has become a bit like the whole ‘the market will sort it out’ thing that Libertarians used to annoy everybody with. Q: How will you boost New Zealand’s flagging economy, A: By solving child poverty. Q: How will you stop beheadings in Syria, A: When kids have breakfast they are less likely to behead people on YouTube, etc etc.
- Give local organisations more autonomy
The one thing that was truly impressive about this election campaign were the efforts of the local Labour electorate organisations. For example, in the electorates of Hamilton East and West, the idea of both Sue Moroney and Cliff Allen in setting up offices that were in themselves political advertisements (they were situated in prominent places in both electorates) – is one worthy of replication nationwide, and the enthusiasm and diligence of volunteers in both electorates could not be faulted (there were other problems in both of these races, but that is fodder for another post).In fact, you sort of felt sorry for those that were really fighting the tide of people who thought voting for their nice local Labour electorate candidate would be like voting for a nightmare coalition of Kim Dotcom and Whaledump. More than that though these organisations were hamstrung by the fact that there appeared to be little to no localisation of campaign advertising or of the campaign itself. The signs for Hamilton East and West were much the same as the signs around Mangere (save for different names on the billboards of course). Giving local organisations greater say in how campaigns are run and co-ordinated has to be part of the discussion if only because…
- …Labour’s head office is terrible
Just awful, horribly disorganised and with poor communication lines to local organisations on the ground. The cringe with which poorly-thought out directives from ‘head office’ were received by local organisations ended up being a realistic simulation of what it probably would have been like if one had been operating a Soviet satellite state in the age of the telegram (except with less permitted autonomy).
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. I suspect progress can probably be made on issues of egalitarianism, cost of living, housing, regional development, research and development, social welfare, and perhaps even gender issues too. But it will require a real break from the past, and there’s no way of achieving this whilst still in denial about the state of ones navel.