On Tuesday, both Sue Kedgley and Sue Moroney tabled petitions in Parliament with over 15,000 signatures, on food standards in schools and pay equity respectively.
That’s an incredible achievement. Most petitions get a few hundred, maybe a thousand signatures. Generally, not a lot of organising energy goes into getting signatures for them because, frankly, they have little practical effect (they are referred to a select committee, who has a quick read and that’s it). So, the fact that community feeling was so strong on these issues that each petition got 15,000 signatures speak volumes. No wonder there was huge applause from the Left when the petitions were tabled.
Issues like these are a great way for the Left, particularly Labour, to rebuild its links with the community and activate the support base.
Another great example is Darren Fenton’s Fair Deal in Hard Times campaign for her Redundancy Protection Bill. They’ve brought a whole range of groups together over the issue and offered people ways to get involved separately from any group, including a petition and 100,000 postcards to John Key. The campaign is mobilising a community across New Zealand that cares about redundancy protection with Labour as a focal point. It shows people that Labour is in touch and cares about the things they do, and provides a basis for future activism and support for leftwing issues.
Phil Twyford’s ‘Not Yours to sell’ supercity campaign and Maryan Street’s adult education campaign are other examples of Labour being a focal point for a community that opposes the Government’s policy on a particular issue.
For a lot of people, it takes one issue that affects them personally to get them interested in politics, Labour can take the opportunity to build a relationship with them over that issue, then extend it to more general support. I think Labour’s MPs are starting to get it. They are starting to see issues as opportunities to build these communities of interest, and build those contact lists for future issues. Maybe that’s why they got such extraordinary numbers on those two petitions this week – the realisation that the community created by the petition is more valuable than the petition itself.
Every issue is a chance to mobilise people and, by doing so, come to see the parties of the Left as being on their side and working with them. Using petitions, websites, email lists, they are finding a way to communicate directly with the public. They can bypass the media with its sound-bites and style over substance coverage and actually have a two way conversation.
Vitally, they have to be sure to retain the network they build with each campaign. A lot of effort goes into building up these communities and once built they’re simple to maintain. Keep talking to those people, keep the email lists. It’s about building a series of networks of common interest, where people are encouraged to participate and make their opinions heard, with Labour in the centre as a hub, a focal point for opposition to the government, not dictating but rather empowering. This is the route back into government for the Left.