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Monday 12 October 2015


P&R: Send Them Victorious?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 18th November 2014

It's decision time for the Labour leadership contenders, given that the outcome of the current leadership contest will be announced today. What should we make of this?

Labour's leadership is decided by a primary, in which the current parliamentary caucus, constituent unions and rank and file party membership all get a say in who becomes the eventual leader. This is decided through a preferential voting election, where one ranks their preferred candidates in order of preference. The lowest polling candidate then directs their voters second preferences to others before they drop out and so on, until an eventual winner is decided. As with 2013's Labour leadership contest, loyalties are divided. Louisa Wall appears to support Nanaia Mahuta's candidacy, as, reportedly, did Auckland Labour's Pacific Sector, placing Mahuta as their own first preference, then Andrew Little, David Parker and Grant Robertson. Against this, Labour's Mana MP Kris Faafoi and Te Wai Pounamu MP Rino Tirakatene were the ones that nominated Grant Robertson in the first place during the current leadership campaign. Annette King, the interim caucus leader, has said that amongst the Labour parliamentary caucus, Robertson is the preferred candidate. Unsurprisingly, the influential Engineers Printing and Manufacturing Union chose its own past secretary, Labour List MP Andrew Little, who must also be a strong contender, given the significance of that particular large trade union.

Other questions emerge in this context, however. Does the primary process meet the needs of the Labour Party through providing stable leadership and is it participatory democracy at work? After all, a primary did select the divisive David Cunliffe as Leader of the Opposition last time, and he led Labour to one of its worst election results, causing severe internal strain and reported disunity within the Labour caucus, many of which apparently didn't want him there. Might the primary format disadvantage Grant Robertson or Nanaia Mahuta particularly? Is it captive to populist leadership campaigns with little substantive appeal, like that of Cunliffe in 2013? Against this, however, if Labour reverted to parliamentary caucus only contests, that might simplify and expedite matters- but would that be at the cost of internal party democracy and constitute the disenfranchisement of the party rank and file?

Of the leadership campaigns, both those of Grant Robertson and Nanaia Mahuta alike seemed to be the most aspirational. In our case, presumably we want to shatter another glass ceiling. If Grant Robertson became Labour leader and ultimately won the next election as Prime Minister, New Zealand would mark another first in its human rights record, becoming the first Southern Hemisphere nation to elect someone lesbian or gay as our parliamentary executive leader, and the fourth overall, behind Iceland, Belgium and Luxembourg. However, for exactly the same reason, one cannot deny the inherent justice within Nanaia Mahuta's campaign, either. One only had to witness the vicarious pleasure when US President Barack Obama won his second presidential term in 2012. Maori popular culture has always been influenced by African-American precedents- my mother had a photograph of Dr Martin Luther King on the wall at home in Christchurch, and I remember her crying when Dr King was assassinated in 1968. In fact, I won't even bother to do so. It is long overdue for New Zealand to break another glass ceiling and elect a Maori Prime Minister. In Labour's case, this is particularly pertinent. After the last general election, Wairakei is now the only Maori electorate not held by the Labour Party. It could be argued that as with Scotland's independence referendum and envisaged maximum devolution of powers for that vital constituent element of the United Kingdom as a result of its retention, should it be 'business as usual' for Labour and its own Maori constituents? I'd like to see Labour adopt a more resolute attitude toward eventual constitutional change- namely, the entrenchment of both the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Treaty of Waitangi.

When it comes to other policy matters, I don't mind admitting that I'm conversely somewhat concerned about Little's call to abandon Labour's capital gains tax policy. New Zealanders clearly do not want further asset sales and the CGT is Labour's core fiscal policy alternative. Arguably, the problem was not with the capital gains tax policy itself during the last two election losses, but the lack of preparation that occurred with the party media managers and the parliamentary caucus leadership. Goff and Cunliffe should have been thoroughly drilled in advance about possible questions and objections that the Prime Minister and Finance Minister would present. And if the capital gains tax were abandoned as Little proposes, what core alternative fiscal policy would he therefore propose?

2.00 PM: The new Labour leader is Andrew Little. While most of the caucus and party membership voted for Robertson, the affiliated unions chose one of their own. However, it was a very close-run contest, with a split vote that was nearly fifty-fifty. Andrew Little is a former national secretary of the EPMU, as noted above. As is noted in the news section, he sounded a conciliatory note, stating that he hopes that Robertson, Mahuta and Parker will continue to play senior roles within the parliamentary caucus and party organisation. Disappointed, Grant Robertson has said that he will not run for the Labour leadership a third time.

Andrew Little is a former head of the Victoria University of Wellington Students Association and New Zealand University Students Association. He is a past Labour Party President and as EPMU Secretary, one of his interests has been the development of higher-productivity workplaces. He was formerly Labour spokesperson on industrial relations, tourism, the Accident Compensation Corporation and justice.

Recommended:


"Andrew Little elected Leader of Labour Party" Scoop: 17.11.2014 :http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1411/S00182/andrew-little-elected-leader-of-labour-party. htm




Craig Young - 18th November 2014

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