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Democracy is not the problem

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, November 23rd, 2012 - 47 comments
Categories: democratic participation, labour - Tags:

During the Labour conference, Armstrong patronisingly wrote “delegates were so blinded and so intoxicated by the prospect of securing a say in the election of future leaders that they did not think through the consequences”. Old Tories hate democracy. But it’s disappointing that Garner made the same mistakes. Democracy doesn’t weaken, it strengthens – ask the Greens.

Every year, every single year, the Greens co-leaders face a vote on their leadership from party delegates. It doesn’t require a caucus trigger, it doesn’t just happen once every three years. And it isn’t destabilising. In fact, it’s stabilising because any leadership challenger has one legitimate time a year to make that challenge. No stab in the back coups in the Greens. Actually, no coups at all. The Greens’ leaders have been putting their leadership on the line year after year for 22 years without a leadership spill.

In fact, that’s how any society you might be part of works. You go along to the AGM and the office-holders are voted on. Occasionally, there’s a challenge and its resolved one way or the other. If the chairmanship of the Waikikimaukau Golfers Association can be decided thusly, why can’t the leadership of the organisations at the heart of our democracy?

As for the claim that a newly elected Prime Minister could be spilled – please, get real. A leader who leads you to victory is like a minor deity. Are all those newly-minted ministers and first time MPs who have their jobs mainly thanks to the success of one person going to turn around and sack that person? In reality, the vote would be another chance for the new PM to bask in success as the caucus and party cheer them.

Launching a coup is a very, very serious thing that MPs don’t do lightly. If you can’t get a definite 40% in caucus against Labour’s weakest leader since Palmer (and at least Palmer was authoritative on constitutional stuff), how are you going to get 40% against a newly victorious PM? Can you name me a time, ever, when the caucus, let alone the party, of a newly elected PM would have voted them out within 3 months of winning? … except Bolger?

The problem with Labour’s reforms isn’t that they are too democratic, it’s that they’re not democratic enough. They’ve gone with a model where caucus is a gatekeeper and then over-powered in the actual vote. This will be used by the old guard to shield Shearer and themselves from the views of their own party. The Green co-leaders have no such protection, and it means they can never turn their backs on their members.

If Shearer has turned over a new leaf and is now strong and dynamic, then he will give the party the opportunity to vote on his leadership in February. But I bet the anti-democratic old guard won’t let him. And isn’t that more destabilising in the long-run?


47 comments on “Democracy is not the problem”

  1. MikeD 1

    “Caucus must control its own destiny.”

    What a bunch of authoritarian crap. No wonder the gallery could only view the outpouring of democracy on Saturday through the usual frame of the caucus leadership spill. Party democracy is entirely foreign to them.

  2. Craig Glen Eden 2

    So true James the labour members should get a vote every year in my view. This February we should just have a vote Members caucus unions all have a vote for who we want as leader. The events of the last few days show exactly why its needed, who ever wins gets my support until the membership vote at the next conference.

  3. mike 3

    You’ll note that the author has pointed out that ‘Greens co-leaders face a vote on their leadership from party delegates.” That’s right, delegates. You’re saying ‘we should just…all have a vote for who we want as leader’. A sort of talkback forum which drives people into warring factions and inevitably makes for sore losers who needle constantly. Yeah just what we need.

    • weka 3.1

      I was under the impression that when people talk about the members having a vote, they’re talking about delegates, not the whole membership having a vote each.

      • Craig Glen Eden 3.1.1

        Why should it be just delegates. If its good enough for every Joe citizen to have a vote on who the Government should be or who the Mayor should be why shouldn’t every member have a say? Oh hang on dont tell me, the delegates know more than the party members, surely not.

        • weka

          Actually I think it might be all the members in the new Labour system – ts commenters were talking about a postal vote the other day. Maybe someone could clarify.

          In the Greens it’s delegates that vote. I’d rather not have the party leader decided by a popularity contest, which I think is what happens with ‘everyone’ having a vote (it’s how we choose govts and look how that works). I’m sure this is mitigated by the fact that people bothering to vote in a political party leadership vote will most likely be well informed of the issues and people involved. Maybe.

          Using regional delegates means that members need to get involved in their region, and take part in the decision making processes there. It makes it more robust IMO. But then teh Greens highly value democracy and so we don’t see the same degree of skuldugery that you get in Labour.

          • Craig Glen Eden

            Do you want democracy or not if you are arguing that Democracy is floored fine but you cant argue that delegates should vote and that some how thats a better form of democracy than one person one vote with out giving a logical reason. If we want to be an engaging social democratic Party we need to make sure every one has a say not just the special people with special powers.

          • Colonial Viper

            In the Greens it’s delegates that vote. I’d rather not have the party leader decided by a popularity contest, which I think is what happens with ‘everyone’ having a vote (it’s how we choose govts and look how that works)

            Hang on a sec.

            The way I understand it, the Green party delegates MUST vote as their electorate membership tells them, and must declare the vote they cast to that membership so that they are accountable.

            That means you don’t get this bullshit which happened with Labour in Dec – members clearly telling their MPs to vote one way or another, and the MPs just going off on their merry way doing whatever they like, never having to explain to their membership what they actually did do.

            Secondly, people who become members of a political party are people who are interested enough in NZ democracy to get involved with how it works, and to participate at a level that 95% of people do not bother with these days. So members should have a real say, unless of course the party leans towards a more authoritarian perspective where only a selected elite within the party numbering less than 100 essentially have all the say.

            Now you might like that better, but consider how well its worked for Labour so far.

        • toad

          The Green electorate organisations select their delegates at electorate meetings which every member in the electorate is entitled to attend and vote a few weeks before the Conference. Delegates are not usually free to vote according to their personal preference. Most electorates bind their delegates to vote for a particular candidate when the leadership is contested (subject to something extraordinary happening, like their preferred candidate withdrawing or making an absolute arse of himself or herself between the electorate meeting and the Conference).

          • alex

            And a good system it is too. Members are enfranchised and have a real say, but its also efficient and manageable on the Conference floor.

    • Pascal's bookie 3.2

      A sort of talkback forum which drives people into warring factions and inevitably makes for sore losers who needle constantly.

      Quoted for Iron.

  4. ad 4

    Shearer is 2 votes away from the magic block of 22. And he will get it within 2 weeks. There will be no vote in February for the members.

    “If Shearer has turned over a new leaf and is now strong and dynamic, then he will give the party the opportunity to vote on his leadership in February.”

    There is no locial progression in this sentence. They are not related clauses. Shearer has been rewarded for being “strong and dynamic” by unnecessarily ruining the career of one of his best MPs. The accumulation and exercise of power is far more attractive and rewarding than the instability of democracy.

    • Tom Gould 4.1

      It was more of a ‘career hari kari’ than a ‘ruining’ and 100 per cent of the Caucus seems to agree.

    • Slartibartfast 4.2

      ” The accumulation and exercise of power is far more attractive and rewarding than the instability of democracy.”

      And yet this is exactly what he accused Cunliffe of!

      “Mr Shearer was asked what Mr Cunliffe had done specifically. He responded that Mr Cunliffe had attempted to promote his own interests above those of the party. ” – Press statement.

      Classic tactics.

    • Colonial Viper 4.3

      Shearer is 2 votes away from the magic block of 22. And he will get it within 2 weeks. There will be no vote in February for the members.

      That’s an awesome crystal ball you have there.

      I’m glad none of the MPs at the caucus meeting were upset with how this whole affair has been stage (mis)managed. And that none of the MPs had any concerns with being expected to simple be “Yes Men” and “Yes Women” under Shearer’s leadership. And that none of the MPs were miffed at being required to swear fealty and reveal their “secret” (LOL) caucus vote 3 months ahead of time or be considered “traitors”.

      Because if any of those things had happened, well, MPs might have more questions over Shearer’s leadership style, not less.

      • the sprout 4.3.1

        Exactly. Shearer’s mammoth stuff up in his handing of Cunliffe, which saw him go from hero to zero in less than 24hrs, will be giving most of the caucus even more doubts about Shearer.

        • David H

          Speech ? What leaders speech, was help over the weekend? And I’ll bet most people can’t remember what he said. and the 2012 conference will now be known for Shearer’s folly, and demise?

  5. Tom Gould 5

    “Ask the Greens”? Why ask a fringe minority single issue party how to govern a country? They have had MPs in Parliament for 16 years now and have nothing to show for it, unless you count the number of ‘meetings’ they have held to talk about what someone else should do, or the number of press releases also talking about what someone else should do?

    • weka 5.1

      “Ask the Greens”? Why ask the third biggest, and now mainstream, political party in NZ on how to govern a country? They’ve had MPs in Parliament for 16 years now and have developed policy around many important issues, not just environmental ones. They have achieved many things, not least of which is keeping environmental issues on the table and in the public view. They’ve also influenced environmental and social policy within other parties and thus government. This year they’ve been core in the movement to assets in public ownership.

    • Lanthanide 5.2

      Surely the presence of Green MPs has reduced the other parties’ share of the seats that they might have otherwise won, so the Green MPs have directly influenced the government?

      What if National in the last election and this election didn’t need a coalition? What if Labour didn’t need to string along Dunne / Peters because they had larger numbers themselves?

      Incredibly naive and blinkered view you take, Tom.

    • Tracey 5.3

      Have you just woken up Mr Van Winkle? What an absurd summary of Greens impact on politics and society.

    • alex 5.4

      Well they managed to push a National government into acting on home insulation, especially in low income houses. Yes, thats right, thanks to pressure from the Greens a National government did something for poor people. That is a pretty fantastic achievement I would say.

    • Dr Terry 5.5

      TG. How “green” you are!

  6. Just more of the rightwing establishment leaping to the defence of Shearer.
    No suprises there mate.

  7. David H 7

    Just a thought here.

    Everyone here has seen Shearer in a press conference. But has anyone noticed the jolly looking rotund man with a bland smile on his face???? No, it’s not DPF. It’s Grant Robertson mentally killing him self laughing, and waiting (in vain) to fill Shearers shoes. But Robertson who I saw described by one journalist as a “Dullard” has I feel all the appeal of an un`lanced boil on the rear.

  8. Bill 8

    Because I don’t want to cross post, I’ll link to this argument on what I’ll just state here – healthy democracy cannot ever exist in an environment that is fundamentally anti-democratic.

    Damn. I think weka might be right about linking two pages over on a thread. Anyway, I was trying to link to comment 23.1 on the ‘A Good Time to Join Labour’ post

  9. Colonial Viper 9

    Old Tories hate democracy.

    Actually, traditional Tory voters very much like democracy. Tht’s why they always vote. The neoliberals and crony capitalists however are another question – they love cartel behaviour.

  10. Tracey 10

    I was concerned at how disinterested our leader appeared at meeting one of the most inspiring supporters of democracy in the last century. I thought his animation while talking to business people spoke volumes compared to his apparent boredom at meeting aung san suu kyi. Never too tired to be excited about money.

  11. gobsmacked 11

    Anyone for evidence?

    Let’s do what Duncan Garner apparently can’t. Look beyond these shores, to what really happens, instead of making stuff up.

    All around the world, political parties in dozens of democracies have to address this basic issue. And all around the world, parties have developed a variety of internal systems which don’t leave everything in the hands of a few MPs. And yet, they still manage to run governments.

    Except Australia. Is that a model to follow? A faction-ridden ALP and Tony Abbott. Hmmm.

    I suppose the rest of the World is Foreign and Doesn’t Count. They don’t understand politics like we do. David Cameron and Ed Milliband should bow down to the Political Editor of TV3 … he understands their jobs so much better.

    Duncan must be getting ready for his new job as talkback host. Bugger the facts, just rant.

  12. John Chapman 12

    In response to Mike. The Greens have branch debates before their annual AGM and usually mandate the delegate to vote for the branch choice. There is also a voting option of ‘Non of the above’. Its a matter for the membership not the caucus or delegates who makes up the Co-leadership.

    • weka 12.1

      Do Labour delegates get to vote for what they want rather than their constituency?

      • Colonial Viper 12.1.1

        usually the delegates will be instructed on how to vote by their LEC or branch. Certain votes delegates will be given discretion on…”get to Conference, talk to the people involved, vote the way you think best”.

      • Te Reo Putake 12.1.2

        I went representing the views of my LEC and I voted accordingly. I trust all the other delegates did the same.

  13. Why 13

    I thought democracy was based on 1 person equals 1 vote. Why should a democratic party be different than the democratic government it hopes to rule?

    If the Leader cannot convince the members that they are up for the job, then they are not.

  14. Ron 14

    I dislike the delegates voting and watching how the Greens managed to elect the current incumbents would much prefer all members having a say in the election of a leader.
    In addition I think that party list is very important and should be open to all members to vote on.
    That would do more with one stroke to being democracy into NZ Politics than anything else I can think of.

    • George D 14.1

      In the Greens the electoral list is party member ranked, rather than delegate ranked. Though the list is then adjusted (in a fairly transparent fashion) to ensure that gender equity is maintained (50%), and that no region, age group, or other demographic is overly represented. This occasionally means bumping someone up or down one. There’s healthy internal debate about this process, and no question that if the membership wanted it differently, they’d vote on it at the next AGM and make it happen differently.

  15. Jenny 15

    The Greens’ leaders have been putting their leadership on the line year after year for 22 years without a leadership spill.


    Maybe it’s time they started.

    With a current leadership that seems set on continuing the policy of Climate Change Ignoring that they pursued in the last elections. The Green Party deliberately traded principal for electoral advantage.

    Will they do so again?

  16. Here’s the thing.
    Ken Livingstone first came to power because London Labour did a similar thing. A change in rules saw him roll somebody who spearheaded the campaign, who was palatable to the electorate. This happened within days of Labour taking charge of Brent council, a similar event occurred in the same decade in Liverpool.
    Whilst I applaud the new found enthusiasm amongst Labour grass root activism I fully expect Labour to do the same thing.
    If Labour ever win another election it will be with a non offensive leader and then the nutters on the fringes will roll him in short order and place somebody with no chance of actually fronting and winning a campaign into the captains seat.
    A recruitment drive for membership is pointless unless more than half the membership have a grasp on reality and then you will only get 40% of the vote.
    Competence and popularity become secondary to dirty deals and scheming. Something the Caucus and union bosses have masters degrees in.
    You would be better off all joining the greens and trying to bring the commies and hippies in that party to heel.

    • Polish Pride 16.1

      “You would be better off all joining the greens and trying to bring the commies and hippies in that party to heel.”

      Especially those hippies eh. I mean seriously, imagine wanting to live in a world without War….
      They must really be a bunch of raving loons!

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