Here’s a guest post from an Auckland Labour Party member with a different take on the constitutional changes. It’s interesting and challenging. Good food for thought.
Let us consider Labour’s proposed constitutional reforms in its moment. New Zealand’s progressives continue to splinter, just as conservative variation contracts. As the progressives splinter, they are also growing. Their speed and cross-activism is lithe and viral. Digital activism is finally fully contesting the print world – within the MSM only TV news can still lead public opinion.
David Shearer, Labour’s leader, understands very deeply and with serious scale how to form unity within analogue space; quieting military factions, brokering peace. The lack of precision, the refusal to attack, the actual kindness that his eyes betray, they are hallmarks of an intuitive negotiator and peacemaker. A broker less like the feline JK Galbraith or high chess player of Kissinger, more like a world-stretched social worker leading communities through years of hardship. The truth of his commitment shows in every wrinkle.
Labour’s constitutional proposals have responded to progressivist splintering within an analogue world, like a peacemaker. Without question they care, and they show it. Youth, women, and Maori have their places cemented. The instruments to reboot regional groupings of activists will, done with sensitivity, break down inter-regional factions. The moribund Electorate Committee structures are finally challenged.
However those new regional instruments don’t layer onto New Zealand’s actual structures. Auckland, for example, is structured by legislation as a single political organism. Its political power both by number of Members of Parliament and by Auckland’s Council are growing quickly to match its utter commercial dominance of New Zealand. Within Auckland, activism is increasingly digital and exceedingly rich. Auckland, like all the Australian cities, is turning New Zealand into a state dominated by one city. And it is not Wellington.
As New Zealand’s government shrinks, and policy agency to direct society or the economy also fades fast, so Wellington and parliament’s influence is weakening and Auckland’s social and economic domination increasingly define power. Not a good thing; a reality.
This is the first framing of the actual base contest of power within the constitutional reforms. It addresses factions, not structural shifts. Labour is more than Wellington. National shows this understanding quite baldly: Auckland’s money is the key to everything. Labour’s constitutional reforms don’t yet get the growing importance of the regions, or of Auckland particularly.
At base the reforms presume there is a beautiful pyramid of power, with the Leader in Wellington at the top. The constitutional proposals entrench the Leader so that even if they only have the support of 33% of caucus, no challenge to the leadership is possible.
Which is where the curiosity is amplified. The deep Left Melancholy experienced by New Zealand’s progressives after enduring two of the worst defeats they have ever had was entrenched by Labour’s leadership contest of November 2011. Activists were invited to feel like they had power once more. President of the Labour Party Moira Coatesworth let out this genie of democratization. The vast digital networks rang with enthusiasm. It was like the 99% was about to win against the 1%. It felt like Occupy. Digital palimpsests finally came out into the analogue light again to the many meetings.
Instead caucus made a resolute point of taking no notice whatsoever of the overwhelming view of Labour’s members.
That same line is drawn here. There is a cold break between the effort to re-unify the splintering progressives and make regional structures more productive, and the caucus grip on power. The one-third of Caucus hold the leadership trip mechanism against the two thirds of caucus, and thus against the 40% Membership voice, and further against the 20% Affiliates voice.
Labour Wellington’s power may be shrinking in real life, but, like the contracting world of the 1%, power is here defined and held by fewer and fewer. This is unlikely to be Shearer’s doing – he is from the analogue peacemakers’ world. And the constitutional review at its lower orders is a way of making peace. Neither the growing power of regions, nor digital activist splintering, is addressed.
Instead the core of elected power, that shrinking analogue world of Wellington, is untouched unless over 67% of Labour’s Members of Parliament decide to revolt. 67% has never in Labour’s history been achieved before in a leadership contest. 67% was not required as a threshold of changing leadership even in the darkest days of Rogernomics. Why now? Why such a higher level of protection than any other New Zealand political party?
More pointedly, why does the core 1/3 of Labour’s caucus think they can make themselves insured from the reforms that all other aspects of the public service are going through? Why do they think they have an entitlement to greater job security than every other public servant? What makes this particular leader so important to protect that he deserves protection that neither Clark, nor Fraser, nor Kirk enjoyed?
The reforms seek to make Labour broader at the base, and much, much narrower and higher at the top. A pyramid. The existing structure is not just unchallenged, it is reinforced. But it is done kindly. It keeps peace with the splintered base, but leaves the structure intact and entrenched.
The structural reforms are generous within a wilful blindness to structural redefinitions of power in New Zealand; it is the very model.
of a Labour solution.