Nash writes that, while he’s a supporter of marriage equality, the whole issue has been a distraction to Labour, and that Labour should be focusing on “the issues that matter”.
I’m aware that a number of people within Labour believe that the party came unstuck during the Helen Clark era over a perception that Labour were more interested in social engineering and identity politics than, say, improving the lives of ordinary New Zealanders.
Like Jordan, I really struggle with this viewpoint. Marriage equality is important, because to progressive and liberal-minded people it is unfair that gay couples do not have the same rights as heterosexual ones. Marriage equality may not be the single most important issue of the day, but for many people it is an important one. It should not be written off as a “side show”.
If Labour Party strategists (although it should be noted for the record that Stuart Nash is no longer a member of Shearer’s strategy team) cannot see any benefit in supporting legislation that promotes equality for a group of people in our society who experience discrimination, then the party really does have problems.
And they should be able to draw lessons from the success of Louisa Wall’s campaign and apply those learnings in other policy areas. One thing marriage equality campaigners did well was frame the issue in a positive way that most people could understand and identify with (and this post by Lew Stoddart is a must-read on the framing of the campaign messages). The fact that so many people got behind the campaign and were motivated to get involved proves that marriage equality is one of those “issues that matter.”
Progressives want a Labour Party that stands up for people who experience unfairness and inequality through no fault of their own. Labour strategists may worry about the party becoming unfavourably associated with “identity politics”, but it’s hardly a surprise when most of the messaging from Labour on the “issues that matter” goes over the heads of the average Labour voter. If people cared so much about asset sales they wouldn’t have voted in such large numbers for John Key. And while I like some of the policy work being done by the party in the area of economic development, it’s all a bit too intellectual to be understood by the average voter. Simple messages work, as do appeals to fairness and community. That’s why the marriage equality campaign was a success. Labour ignores those lessons at its peril.
(NB: Jordan has clarified his post was in response to Mike Williams on the radio rather than Stuart Nash on the interwebs)