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At conference, vote for a members’ democracy

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, November 13th, 2012 - 53 comments
Categories: labour - Tags:

Next weekend, the Labour Party has the opportunity to become a truly progressive social democratic party. One that values and wants member input into one of its most crucial decisions: the selection of the leader.

For the past year, the Labour Party has been engaged in an organisational review that has drawn its momentum from the enthusiasm and interest shown by party activists in the leadership contest following the last election. The culmination of the organisation review is a number of remits to amend the Party constitution that have the potential to increase the voice and involvement of activists and members in the Party. The Party has consulted with members throughout the organisation review and at each stage of the process members have clearly identified that input into the selection of the leader is significant to them.

So where are things at? There appears to be consensus around the Party’s proposal for an electoral college of: caucus (40%), members (40%), and affiliates (20%). This is positive and reflects the importance of members. In any leadership contest, members’ votes will now have the same weighting as caucus. However, as always, the devil is in the detail.

In order for members to have a say, there has to be a leadership contest. This makes the ‘trigger’ for a leadership contest crucial. If the ‘trigger’ is too high, caucus ultimately decides and members are excluded, so if the Party is serious about member involvement and input the threshold for the trigger will be reasonably low. There are two parts to Party’s proposal:

an endorsement 3 months after a general election; and
a ‘trigger’ outside of the endorsement process.

It is difficult to deal with these two issues separately, but in theory the threshold for both should be the same.

Originally, the Party proposed a 50% plus 1 trigger for the endorsement after a general election and a signed petition by two-thirds of the caucus for a leadership election outside of the endorsement. A two-thirds ‘trigger’ is ridiculously high. It would give a small minority of the caucus the ability to prop up an unpopular leader who had lost of the confidence of the majority of his parliamentary colleagues or members. This seems to be the feedback the Party has received as well and largely reflects the amendments to conference put forward by members. So with two-thirds pretty much a gone. What options are there for delegates to conference to choose from?

The Party has now proposed the trigger outside the endorsement process be 55%. I’m not sure where this number has come from, it seems a bit random, but I suspect it is about placating parts of the caucus that are worried about having too much member involvement. There is also an amendment to make it 50% plus 1. But this still leaves the selection of the leader primarily in hands of caucus and will encourage factionalism.

I’ve heard rumours that there might be an amendment to make the ‘trigger’ 40% of caucus. This is intriguing. It would mean that the leader would need to maintain the support of a clear majority of their parliamentary colleagues promoting stability and would also align with the members proportion of the electoral college votes. It is also worth bearing in mind that the British Labour Party only requires 20% of their parliamentary caucus to sign a petition to call a leadership election so the talk about 50% seems strange given the proposed model is largely modeled on Britain. My advice to delegates would be go with the lowest threshold possible to ensure that members will always be an integral part of selecting the leader.

No less important is the threshold for the endorsement following a general election. The current proposal is 50% plus 1 for endorsement. This seems to run a little counter to the intent of the organisational review. It centres the process on caucus and a low threshold for caucus endorsement will result in reduced member involvement. This is probably what is behind one of the amendments to require 60% support of caucus to endorse the leader. This would align with the members’ share of electoral college vote and would require a clear majority of support for the leader in caucus to avoid member involvement in selecting the leader. I’d support this amendment.

This conference provides members with a unique opportunity to solidify their involvement in the process for selecting the leader. Once this is done, there is not likely to be another chance to change the rules for some time. I’d encourage delegates to conference to keep this in mind when they come to cast their votes and as issues emerge on the floor of conference. No doubt, there is lots of maneuvering going on behind the scenes at the minute. The Party hierarchy shouldn’t be afraid of proper input members. After all, members are the foot-soldiers the drive the cause. Just remember, that in order for the leader to be successful they need to have the support of members. Let’s make sure the process truly reflects the importance of our place in the party.

53 comments on “At conference, vote for a members’ democracy”

  1. And this is why all parties should be run by the members, with each member of caucus and each person involved with an affiliate also being… a member.

    The ability of Caucus and its affiliates to override members is exactly how Labour gets bad leaders, bad policy, and is the quickest way for the party to get out of touch.

    • AmaKiwi 1.1

      Elitism: Rule by a select group of people whose (supposedly) extraordinary skills, abilities, and wisdom render them especially fit to govern. (I.e., the parliamentary caucus.)

      Democracy: Rule by the people.

      We have never had a revolution which overthrew the government. Elitism reigns in all spheres of our lives: economy, labor relations, schools, government.

      What supporters of elitism ignore is:

      1. Elites are self-serving.
      2. Elitism produces apathy.

      The proposed remits are only a first step towards increased member participation. Will the next Labour government pursue the agenda of its parliamentary leaders or an agenda prioritized by the majority of ALL the people?

      Politics is local. People want safe neighborhoods, clean streets, functioning schools and hospitals . . . . . mundane things. Most people do NOT want dramatic changes from government. On the other hand, people who struggle to rise to political power want to re-design the world into their concept of utopia.

      Therein lies the rub. The majority want the present systems to function smoothly. MP’s want to tear the systems apart and re-make them into their concept of the ideal.

      Pure democracy is inherently conservative. Elitism is radical.

      • higherstandard 1.1.1

        Nice comment, worthy of its own post for open debate.

      • r0b 1.1.2

        AmaKiwi – mind if I put it up as a guest post?

      • Elites are most certainly not radical, in the true sense of believing in reforming social and economic systems is a good idea. They are extreme, (in their reinforcement of existing power systems) which is a fundamentally different thing. You can only be a (small-c) conservative radical in any sense if you want to turn back the clock and go back to previous policies, and even that is arguable.

        I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, (especially that the delusion of utopia if only we could implement all our radical reforms is a huge problem in politics) but I think the specifics are striking the wrong chord with me. People don’t mind large change, IF they can be reassured it won’t disturb their everyday life. People don’t mind large change when they find it beneficial, necessary, or it disproportionately benefits them. The important lesson to this is politics requires pragmatism of one flavour or another. For radicals who aren’t extremists, that means advancing your agenda policy-by-policy when you can sell the concrete benefits to the electorate and build a coalition around them. The Green Party is a very good example of pragmatic reform-minded radicalism in New Zealand politics.

        None of those difficulties to systematic change necessarily implies conservatism, they simply make it easier. That we have been progressing slowly but steadily away from conservative social and economic values despite the uphill slope this implies says something about just how bad these values really are, especially in a relatively skeptical and swing-voting electorate like New Zealand, even if sometimes conservative or even right-wing policies can sneak through the cracks, even under nominally left-wing governments.

  2. KhandallaMan 2

    +1 Guest.

    The membership has a once in a generation opportunity to put its mark on how the party is shaped and how it governs itself.  

    The membership must grab this opportunity to amend, speak and vote for resolutions that give the membership power.  

    The leadership will genuinely point out administrative/stability/various reasons why high trigger points, small powerful sub-committees are the way to run the party effectively.  Yes, effectively in the eyes of people who have spent their lives working in the rarified atmosphere of the Beehive and Fraser House. 

    When looking at any proposed rule ask your self: does this help the membership have a stronger voice; or does it allow a small senior group to do their stuff with less accountability?

    Have a “great” weekend.  

  3. Cayte Shepherd 3

    More points for consideration::

    1. The membership votes in the candidates
    2. The general election determines who will be in the house of representatives
    3. The Leader is the Leader of the Parliamentarty wing of the party, who was voted there by the membership and the public.
    4. The Leader of The Party is the President, voted there by the membership.
    5. Caucus votes for the Leader of the parliamentary wing, he/she is the Leader of the Parlaimentary wing and not the party membership.
    6. All roles have been voted for by both the membership and in the case of candidates by the general public as well
    7. Those voted into the house of representatives have a duty to determine who is best to run that aspect of the party, that is who they think is best to lead the parliamentary representation as these are the people who work directly with the Leader of the parliamentary arm.
    8. At the branch or LEC all positions of responsiblity have been voted for by the membership.
    9. What a tier of voting to determine the best to be the representaives and hold positions of responsiblity!

  4. alex 4

    If the Labour caucus screws this up there will be a huge exodus of members towards other parties, most likely the Greens who are much more internally democratic, but also potentially to Mana and NZ1st. That has got to worry even the most self-serving of MPs, that they will have nobody to hammer their signs into the ground in 2014.

    • Hami Shearlie 4.1

      Jacinda Ardern didn’t seem to care what her electorate committee’s thoughts were about the previous leadership battle even after they had done all the work in her electorate and from what I remember, wanted her to vote for David Cunliffe. She ignored them!!! If the Caucus display the same arrogant and selfish behaviour in the future I think the members of the party might be ignoring her and her ilk and leaving. My cousin and her husband are dyed-in-the-wool labour party members, leaflet deliverers, stall holders, electorate helpers and have been for decades. When I saw them recently they stated that if David Cunliffe is not elected leader soon, that they are thinking of voting for the Greens. I was shocked!! If THEY are feeling this way, you can bet your bottom dollar that many many more party members are too! I am not a member of the Labour Party, but I have voted for them in every election since I turned 18 – over 30 years . But I won’t be voting for them if Shearer is leader. He’s shown his contempt for sickness beneficiaries and others, and no doubt he would call them underclass like the Nacts. He’s so busy trying to woo back a few swinging voters from the Nacts and doesn’t seem to think that it might be a good idea to encourage the 800,000 people who didn’t vote last time, to actually vote and vote Labour this time. He can’t convince anyone to vote for Labour because he doesn’t seem to have much in the way of convictions, or if he does, he doesn’t articulate them well at all. I get the feeling he doesn’t think anyone’s poor unless they’re scrambling to pick up mango skins to eat!! What do others think?

  5. AmaKiwi 5

    @ Cayte Shepherd

    b.s. Cayte, you are all about WHO is given power to rule over us, NOT about what decisions they make.

    Asset sales are stupid whether they are proposed by Key or Shearer; Banks or Norman.

    I don’t give a damn which political leader makes the decision, I care about WHAT they decide.

    If you think you know what these leaders really intend to do, you are dreaming. Politicians only rise to the top if they CONCEAL their true intentions from us.

    Personalities will disappoint you every time. Examples: Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble.

  6. Bill 6

    Okay, it looks like a ‘dogs dinner’ as far as structures go, but…

    On the 40/40/20 split, it would appear that the affiliates become ‘king makers’. Whoever has the affiliates ‘on board’ wins. And since access to and potential influence over them is easier for caucus…(a two way process, I know, but the members marginalised regardless)

    Meanwhile, I’d have thought (simple me) that the obvious scenario would involve the caucus chosing ‘their’ leader and that leader needing a simple majority of the members to endorse him or her in the first instance.

    And once endorsed, a low trigger among members to faccilitate any necessary discussion, debate and input… a ‘taking things on board’ or into account mechanism… but with a high bar for actual removal as being the way to go.

    Y’know, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to develop a structure whereby the larger the %age the call for change is within the membership, the lower the necessary %age for change would be within caucus…a kind of sliding scale of balance.

    And why not roll the affiliates into the membership and have each affiliate given one vote. They’d still have far more day to day and behind the scenes influence on caucus than members, but their power (and so, potentially the power of caucus) would be lessened in relation to members when any matters came down to voting.

    • Ironically, even if you move to a vote where affiliates and caucus members only have their one vote, they still wield a lot of power in the party because they still form and influence a lot of the party’s opinions on issues. They just can’t completely run roughshod over the members whenever they like any more and have to consider the opinions of their base.

  7. prism 7

    I am critical of the coverage that this morning’s Radionz Morning Report gave to this discussion and analysis of Shearer’s performance. In the constant lead ups to the item there was reference to a ‘whispering campaign’ by bloggers and some media commentators. There were other negative remarks by a political reporter.

    To my mind a whispering campaign is a malicious behind-their-back white-anting of a person. The discussion on Shearer has been very public, no whispering at all. And there seems to be the idea that people should not have too much to say about the choice of Labour leader, that the Party should decide.

    This is about a Party that is the major one to prevent the destruction of our New Zealand. Which would become a floating protean entity that anyone with money could own, like some of the islands off the UK. And we people would become a new type of serf. So we all have an interest in getting an intelligent, informed, principled, business and environment oriented, person with strong and subtle media skills and a desire to communicate the Labour vision for the future.

    • lprent 7.1

      Yeah, I’d call it being rather public.

    • Dr Terry 7.2

      Note headline in today’s Herald (13/11/12), “Shearer brushes off critics”. He is reported as as follows:
      “Labour leader David Shearer is brushing off a crescendo of calls for him to step down by left-leaning bloggers and and commentators . . . saying it is ‘nonsense’ and should be ignored”. This is, in my opinion, an offensive and dismissive remark to the many who have offered reasoned comment through the Standard.

      Is everything going to depend upon a solitary speech (with aid of speech writers) at a solitary Conference? (Naturally, and as to be expected, his front bench colleagues mutter words of loyalty). I have yet to be convinced by Shearer, or convinced about the quality of Labour’s leadership team.

      Columnist John Armstrong remarks “that the postings’ pessimism . . . sounds less like panic and more like reasoned and considered discourse between party members” (and, may I add, some who are not party members). Sometimes, Armstrong has a way of putting his finger correctly upon an issue.

      • bbfloyd 7.2.1

        It doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet just how well this particular “debate” has played into the merry pranksters hands…..

        While we fall about, arguing the merits, or not, of a leadership change, the raiding party are making hay with the last of our sovreignty…..

        Whether David shearer is ready to lead the fightback on behalf of what’s left to fight for, is a discussion that needs to happen….

        But why, oh why, is it necessary to feed the barking dogs of the tories with enough guff to make it entirely possible for them to completely cover what is ACTUALLY being done to what is left of this potentially great place to live?

        Well done guys’ n’ girls… sucked in beautifully!

        • I can’t speak for anyone else, but this kind of “sucked in” situation actually was the first thing on my mind.

          I concluded that Shearer is so:
          1) incompetent.
          2) headed in the wrong direction by the wrong approach. (ie. triangulating instead of laying out firm principles, even if those principles are more centrist than the base would like, they’re still better than nothing)
          that it was worth it either way.

          Honestly, the leadership has been doing so little to gain attention that I’m tempted to say there could even be an element of “there is no such thing as bad publicity” to the attempt of inane pundits to try and spin our calls for a resignation as rumours, whispering campaigns, or some sort of leadership challenge. Any time you need to call on a party leader to resign with our current media environment, it gets covered in the same stupid horse-race style.

          This isn’t about drama, it’s about the fact that the man could hardly lead his way out of a paper bag, and has used up all his chances to do so. If Labour had been in competent hands, it would already be winning the polls with the opportunities they’ve been handed by the government.

          • PlanetOrphan 7.2.1.1.1

            U underestimate “Voters” grumpy hearts, it hurts to tell people u were an idiot, they’ll stay with silence for a while yet bud.

        • PlanetOrphan 7.2.1.2

          Well said bbfloyd (-:

  8. Great post, thanks.
    It seems to me that a members’ democracy is the only thing that could save the Party from caucus.
    The other option is another trip down ideological hijack lane, back to the awful 80s.

    • Colonial Viper 8.1

      Yep. A Labour Members Democracy.

      The concept of caucus needing a dominant say in who the Leader is “because they have to work with them” is poorly founded IMO.

      The MPs are professionals on over $140K pa.

      IMO their job is to work with whomever their MEMBERSHIP CONSTITUENCY decides is best in the role and is best for the country as PM. It is up to the Leadership candidates and caucus to present the case for who is best to the membership, so that the membership can make an informed decision.

      And this is a core issue at the moment. Caucus do not want to have to go to the wider membership to make the case for who the best Leadership team is, and to listen to our feedback. A large element within that group of MPs still think it should be completely up to themselves.

  9. Cayte Shepherd 9

    Responding to Ama Kiwi.

    It is indeed sad that you have had to interprete my post. Which did not need an interpreter!

    I was outlining how the process is at present. It was neutral.

    On Asset Sales is David Shearer proposing to sell our Assets? I think not. Many New Zealanders have been out gathering signatures for months for the citizens initiated referendum on Assets Sales, including David Shearer, Grant Robertson, David Cunliff, David Parker, Annette King, Clayton Cosgrove, Russel Norman, Matiria Turei etc, atc and so forth and myself.

    I see no hint of D.S. backing the sale of our assets. Have you meet him and has he said such to you? I indeed have meet with DS and spoken at length about the strategic importance of rail in New Zealand. He certainly does not back the rail for sale or mothballing and nor does the party. It was the Labour-Progressive Coalition who bought back our rail and renamed it Kiwi Rail to line up with Kiwi Bank and Kiwi Saver and the Cullen Fund!

    Often times actions speak louder then words.

    • AmaKiwi 9.1

      Responding to Cayte Shepherd

      “What a tier of voting to determine the best to be the representaives and hold positions of responsiblity!”

      I interpreted that to mean you approve of the hierarchical framework for decision making.

      I return to my central position: I do NOT trust representatives to make decisions reflecting the will of the majority of the people. Only a referendum can guarantee that. Labour leaders CONCEAL their views about binding referendums. But every one I have asked abhors them.

      It’s about protecting their patch, THEIR power to decide for us. They do not want us to decide for ourselves. Their inaction on binding referendums speaks volumes.

    • Colonial Viper 9.2

      I see no hint of D.S. backing the sale of our assets. Have you meet him and has he said such to you? I indeed have meet with DS and spoken at length about the strategic importance of rail in New Zealand.

      How about repurchase or nationalisation of any assets sold.

      • Rodel 9.2.1

        CV yes! Re-purchasing assets and stating that ACT’s idiot charter schools will be closed would bring me back to Labour.

      • Aussie hisss 9.2.2

        “How about repurchase or nationalisation of any assets sold.”

        Can I be on your planet, where we have a bottomless pit of money. And we just overtax everyone so we can buy assets back!  Fuck off, when Labour get back in, the last thing they should be doing is buying everything back, they are going to have to focus on jobs first and getting this country out of debt.  You are such a tit!

  10. Cayte Shepherd 10

    Responding to Colonial Viper.

    The Labour Party has a strong history of repurchase and nationalisation of assets. It started with Michael Joseph Savage.

    Yes madness was a foot with Prebble Douglas etc. They became The Act! And lessons deeply learnt form that mischief.

    Through the Labour-Progessive years we saw repurcahse of Air NZ, the rail, build and repair of state houses, roads, schools, creation of a bank, savings schemes etc.

    It has been firmly acknowledged that selling of stategic assets and non strategic assets was a folly, it has been heralded that it will not be repeated by a coalition of the progressive.

    • McFlock 10.1

      Labour’s renationalisation in the 2000’s was largely due to intense pressure from its coalition allies, most notably the Alliance but also the Greens.
             
      Left to their own devices Labour would not have been half as progressive as the were, and now their defenders give Labour the credit for policies that it fought at the time.
             
      This is why I’d actually be happy for a left government where Labour only got 35-40% of the vote. The Labour Party of Savage and Lee has been dead for thirty-odd years. 

    • Flossie 10.2

      “Yes madness was a foot with Prebble Douglas etc. They became The Act! And lessons deeply learnt form that mischief.”

      If that is the case Cayte, I suggest you watch Shane Jones very carefully. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  11. Rich 11

    It doesn’t seem to a problem for the Greens to have the membership elect leaders (and rank the list). Why can’t Labour follow suit – it might help them stop haemorrhaging activists to the more democratic party?

  12. KhandallaMan 12

    Do all MPs have to attend the Annaul Conference?

    What are the circumstances under which an MP may miss the important Saturday session. 

    If an MP asked to be excused, in order to attend a social event, would that be seen as a snub to the membership that has prepared hard for the Review Remit session? 

    • Rich 12.1

      Rather than the passive aggression, why not write: “MP X is a dick because they’re dipping out of the review remit session in order to attend a rugby game / sisters wedding / S&M party in the Wairarapa”. Say what you mean, eh.

  13. ak 13

    Top post Guesty. Ae, go for it delegates, 20% max or bust. Aligns with the very deepest, seething essentials of Labour ethos and sets a base to eliminate the perennial and fatal infighting and intrigue that is the cancer of the Left.

    Remind them of the alternative examples: the Alliance and the mainstream churches. The tragedy of the ages: the purest and most glittering motives and promise, bludgeoned to a pulp by something as mundane as structure.

  14. Pete Fraser 14

    I actually don’t understand at all how giving a minority of caucus the ability to roll the leader elected by the membership is at all protecting the membership’s say.

    This is transparently an effort to make it easier for Cunliffe to force a spill before the next election, part of the same campaign as the sudden burst of anti-Shearer rants. And to be honest, I think it’s self-serving, anti-democratic, careerist bullshit.

    • peterlepaysan 14.1

      You mean caucus does not indulge in “self-serving anti-democratic, careerist bullshit” already?
      Yeah right!

      It is the membership, not bloody caucus that should be driving policy and thus leadership, not a bunch self serving wankers (eating fish and chips is now optional).

  15. infused 15

    You guys must be pissed about what all of them said about this blog. Basically don’t give a shit. hah.

  16. Jimmie 16

    What good have the union affiliates ever done for Labour?

    Aren’t they more about pushing their own self interests?

    Why can’t the leadership be split evenly between the members & caucus?

    Why can’t the members have the opportunity to have a recall vote on a leader? (Say a petition of 15-20% of members)

    Otherwise the members will be shown lip service while caucus and the unions do their dodgy deals.

    Imagine the brouhaha if the Nats gave the business round table a 20% block vote on who their leader should be?

  17. millsy 17

    To be honest, I am not very optimtistic about Labour’s conference in the weekend. The rogernomes still lurk in the background, pushing the Third Way policy settings. Labour’s national super policy attests to that.

    They will die in a ditch to keep Labour wedded to the neo-liberal consensus, in the hope of capturing the fabled ‘centre ground’. Even alternative policies that will be seen as viable by those they call the ‘mainstream’ will not even have a look in.

    • kiwicommie 17.1

      I am curious to see if the Greens can win some electorates in 2014, it might even be vital if Labour doesn’t get its act together and stop pandering to the center-right voter (which would blindly vote National -Act anyway).

  18. kiwi_prometheus 18

    Whats with middle age guys who keep trying to grow what sparse tuffs of hair they have – it looks like the mange? Why are these guys completely clueless about style? I thought politicians spent heaps on image consultants?

    Shearer needs a no. 1 buzz cut to eliminate the receding hairline/mange effect, then grow a neatly trimmed manicured full beard or maybe a wide goatee to balance out the absence of hair up top.

    Not exactly expensive, time consuming or technically difficult to achieve.

    http://menshair.about.com/od/facialhair/ig/Facial-Hair-Styles/manicuredscruff.htm

    Would show some style and character instead of that standard issue sallow complexion, tired bags under the eyes lacklustre, banal, middle age appearance.

    • Te Reo Putake 18.1

      I believe Shearer’s do is known as The Cosgrove.
       
      You are right, KP, and if he went with the beard/goatee/whatever, he’d at least look less like, you know, just another white man in a suit. Obviously, it’s now too late to go for the rug, so no point trying to find out whatever now extinct species’ pelt Dunnokeyo wears on his head and copying that.

  19. Jenny 19

    Leadership is vital, of this there can be little doubt.

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