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ImperatorFish: On “The Issues That Matter”

Written By: - Date published: 12:43 pm, September 5th, 2012 - 36 comments
Categories: identity, labour - Tags: , ,

Scott at Imperator Fish has kindly given us permission to syndicate posts from his blog – the original of this post is here.

I see that Jordan Carter has written a piece in response (I presume) to Stuart Nash’s blogpost about Labour’s “mistake” in focusing on issues like marriage equality.

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)


36 comments on “ImperatorFish: On “The Issues That Matter””

  1. SoSoo 1

    If marriage equality is not the single most important issue of the day, then more important issues should not be shunted aside to make way for it. Asking for gay marriage to be postponed while more important issues are sorted out is not to be against gay marriage. It is only to recognise that is less important than other currently pressing matters.

    It’s the same old trick. The left wants a bunch of things, the most important of which will cost money to “the people who matter in society” and others which cost them nothing or very little (like gay marriage). The right stop the left focusing on its most important goals by drip feeding acquiescence to the cheap or free issues.

    In ten years time some NZ children will be eating grass, whilst Labour will be claiming victory over some minor point of identity politics.

    • gobsmacked 1.1

      Oh God, another day, another distracting claim of “distraction”.

      Evidence? Let’s cut to the core …

      1) Where is the evidence that Louisa Wall’s bill is losing Labour votes?

      2) Where is the evidence that Labour’s “more important issues” are winning votes?

      A distraction from what? Roof painters? What Shearer/Robertson/Parker message is not getting through, because of that pesky gay marriage thing? What great speeches have been overlooked?

      Has – for example – the petition for a referendum on Asset Sales been impeded in any way by this private member’s bill? Or are the signatures still rolling in, because (get this) people can care about more than one thing?

      Evidence, please.

      (There is, of course, plenty of evidence of “distractions” by Sua William Suo and Trevor Mallard and now Stuart Nash – but that’s not the kind you mean, is it?).

      • SoSoo 1.1.1

        How about the last 30 years where the Labour party has done little, if anything for “people who experience unfairness and inequality through no fault of their own” when this requires dealing with actual economic inequalities? Labour has caused more inequalities in this respect in the past 40 years than it has remedied, and there appears to be no sign of that changing any time soon.

        As someone said below:

        “The issues that matter are related to why so few people turned out to vote.”

        We’re in the worst recession for decades with a completely discredited economic model, and the Labour Party can’t even rally around an economic policy that isn’t merely defensive against the predations of the right. If they can’t do better than that, then for me they aren’t worth voting for, whatever their stance on gay marriage is.

        • gobsmacked

          You haven’t addressed the issue at all.

          Your argument is “Labour are failing”, which most people on here – including me – are pointing out all the time.

          Yes, Labour are failing on economic policy (and much else). Nothing you have said links that failure to a popular private member’s bill which rectifies an injustice.

          What is being “shunted aside” (your words)? The bill was drawn from the ballot on July 26. Before that, there was NO “distraction”, because there was no bill. So, what was happening prior to July 26?

          If you want to argue against marriage equality, then go ahead, argue against marriage equality. But if all you’ve got is the “distraction” card, then you’re both wrong and dishonest. Again I ask … a distraction from what?

          • Stuart Nash

            A distraction from the worst levels of child poverty in decades, from the widest gap between the very small minority and the suffering majority, from the good hard working people up and down this country who are losing their jobs. Its a distraction because it has sucked the oxygen away from debate around other issues. This is exactly what the Nats wanted. When was the last time you saw an opinion piece on child poverty and what a national shame it is? These are the issues that Labour needs to prove it has the solutions to. Fariness and equality of economic and social opportunity is so important and yet somehow we are MIA from the debate on these, and other, very important issues.

            • Colonial Viper

              Stuart. Good to see you about. I agree with you. Although I support Louisa’s Bill, we need to remember that it might modestly alter the lives of a few tens of thousands of people.

              Compare that to the massive number of NZers living in poverty – its clear where Labour needs to be focussing the discussion.

            • QoT

              Here’s the thing, Stuart: that “oxygen” was “sucked away” from other issues not because Louisa Wall dared advocate something she (and 2 in 3 New Zealanders) believes in, but because there are vocal and media-attention-grabbing opponents to it.

              So I guess as far as you’re concerned, Louisa Wall should have sat down and shut up because Colin Craig and Bob McCoskrie are better at playing the media than Labour is.

              And the most recent piece I saw on child poverty was … oh. Posted 18 minutes ago on Radio New Zealand.

              The problem isn’t that marriage equality “sucked the oxygen” away from child poverty, Stuart. It’s that Labour has come up with no better answer than “extend our deliberately-anti-beneficiary WFF tax credits to beneficiaries and then wonder why no one thinks that sounds like a good idea”. Oh, and getting David Shearer to “tour the heartland”.

              And yet no one cares what Labour is saying on child poverty? I am so, so surprised.

            • gobsmacked

              Stuart, you are talking about what you wanted Labour to talk about.

              I was talking about what Labour were talking about. Like roof painters.

              David Shearer made his first speech at the beginning of the year. In it, he talked about suspending payments to the Cullen fund. That was the headline that came out of it. Not child poverty. And so it continued for six months. What have Shearer and Parker and co been talking about? Not gay marriage. There has been no narrative, no consistency, no inspiration, nothing. Whose fault is that?

              MIA? Too damn right. Labour were MIA long before a ballot on July 26. And you know it.

              Stuart, you are not stupid, and nor are (most) people here, so please don’t play the old political game of attacking the knights instead of the king. Your criticism should be directed at the people in charge, but instead, you (implicitly) direct it at Louisa Wall and co. Why? Because it’s easier.

              If you would like to tell David Shearer and his “strategists” that they have seriously under-performed since David became leader, for reasons that have nothing to do with “gay marriage”, then please go ahead. They don’t listen to us, but they might listen to an old colleague. They certainly need to listen to somebody, and soon.

              Good luck.

            • fatty

              “When was the last time you saw an opinion piece on child poverty and what a national shame it is?”

              The editorial in today’s Bay of Plenty Times was all about how the Government needs to focus on child poverty.
              Try google news, search ‘Labour Party NZ’ and see what comes up. Sorted by date, gay marriage only comes up as the 9th entry – one week ago on the 30th August.
              Nobody is talking about the Labour Party in relation to gay marriage.
              Also, hardly anybody is talking about the Labour Party in relation to child poverty…or anything.
              It appears as if nobody cares about what Labour has to say on any issue…that is the problem. Gay marriage is being used as an excuse by a party that is failing to communicate with voters about anything.

    • QoT 1.2

      shunted aside

      Yes, I thought it was disgusting the way Louisa Wall tackled the Clerk of the House to the ground during the ballot, forcing her to pick Wall’s bill first in defiance of all proper Parliamentary process.

      • kiwi_prometheus 1.2.1

        It should never have gone in, in the first place. Stupid “Identity Politics” nonsense. Trust a rad fem to be all on board. It should have been dropped back in the hat.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Ah, yes, because having the same rights as everyone else just isn’t all that important.


          • kiwi_prometheus

            Again, if its all about “Love Rights!” then how can you stop a sister and brother who fall in love from getting married? You would be taking away their rights!

            • Draco T Bastard

              Incest is illegal and that applies to everyone.

              • Stuart Nash

                you miss the point: of course human rights are important, but there are some issues that are so pressing and so pivotal to who Labour is, who we represent and what we believe that they MUST take priority: like child poverty; like a growing unemployment, like a tanking economy, like education and health.  Im not arguing that gay marriage isn’t important, because it obviously is to some people, but I would assume that even for the people directly affected by the inability to marry, the issues affecting the health and well-being of a great many families up and down this country are more important.  

                What about the right of every Kiwi kid to a decent education and 3 square meals?  Because I can guarantee there are thousands of children who are not getting the education they deserve nor are their tummy’s full when they go to bed.  Now that’s not fair.!  

                Anyway, I have made my point, Louisa’s Bil is on the way to becoming law and so now can we please focus on taking down this government by tackling them head on re the issues mentioned above.  

                • Draco T Bastard

                  you miss the point:

                  No, I don’t. The point is injustice and by calling the same sex marriage bill a distraction you perpetuate that injustice.

                  Not what I’d call a principled stand.

                  What about the right of every Kiwi kid to a decent education and 3 square meals?

                  But Labour won’t do anything about it because they fail to see what’s causing that poverty. They’ll look at maybe raising taxes a couple of percent, put in place a CGT with holes a truck could drive through without scraping the sides.

                  We cannot afford the rich.

                  Anyway, I have made my point,

                  No you didn’t because you didn’t have one.

        • QoT

          rad fem

          Oh, k_p. Every time you try to label me as such I just find myself laughing so hard I fall down.

  2. js 2

    Human rights rarely seem important to those who have them, but are critical for those who don’t and are vital for an egalitarian society. PM Peter Fraser was one of those leaders who fought for the UN Declaration on Human Rights in the 1940s. I guess there were those at home who called that a distraction too.

  3. Dr Terry 3

    I think the article above, and the comments here, make a number of very good points. This is a discussion well worth pursuing. Thus far, thanks to all.

  4. King Kong 4

    “Progressives want a Labour Party that stands up for people who experience unfairness and inequality”

    This is where you dickheads get it wrong. The Labour party should be a party that represents all of New Zealand not just fags and losers.

    Leave the bene cuddling to Mana and get on with being a credible party with a slight left of centre bent.

    • All of New Zealand includes queers, you loser. 😉 You can’t have “all of New Zealand” by excluding part of it. The conservative parts are welcome to their rights the same as the liberal parts, and I will fight just as hard for their rights as my own.

      The moment you start actually advocating for rights that don’t effect you is the first moment you’re actually worth listening to.

    • mike e 4.2

      primitive primate thank god for evolution as you have been left behind ,Your obviously not from the bonobo side of the family .

  5. Murray Olsen 5

    The bill came up on the ballot. Should Labour NZ First and the left parties have voted against it because it’s not about one of the “important” issues? I don’t think so. They can get as many bills about other things on the ballot as they like, but anything against asset sales, for strengthened bargaining power for unions, against fracking, or even in favour of smaller class sizes would be defeated because the Tories have a majority. This is one of the few issues that the law can be changed on while in opposition, so I see it as a win.
    This doesn’t excuse Labour from doing other things that opposition parties should be doing. NZ First and the left parties make a reasonable job of raising issues from the opposition benches, and holding the government to account on some issues. Why can’t Labour do it as well?
    Another issue of the day: which of the Paganis is King Kong?

    • kiwi_prometheus 5.1

      “This is one of the few issues that the law can be changed on while in opposition, so I see it as a win.”

      Ok, good point.

  6. tracey 6

    Kk, no single party can represent all nzers. You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of how our political system works. You seem to be saying labour should represent all nzers by failing to suppirt some nzers. Anyone got a banana for kk?

  7. BernyD 7

    They all matter, that’s why they’re called issues, surely?

  8. peterlepaysan 8

    The issues that matter are related to why so few people turned out to vote.

    End of story.

  9. kiwi_prometheus 9

    Its still flawed on a philosophical level. Marriage necessarily involves the unique condition of a relationship between a man and woman. It’s not just about lurvvve, otherwise a mother could marry her daughter if they so wanted using that argument.

    The only counter strike when I was being mobbed and before the argument got shut down was a Deconstructionist derivative about the above idea being too “binary”. 🙄

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      Its still flawed on a philosophical level. Marriage necessarily involves the unique condition of a relationship between a man and woman.

      Nope, you’re wrong as has been pointed out to you before.

      It’s not just about lurvvve, otherwise a mother could marry her daughter if they so wanted using that argument.

      WTF is it with idiots coming up with blatantly stupid arguments?

      • kiwi_prometheus 9.1.1

        “Nope, you’re wrong as has been pointed out to you before.”

        As I pointed out above, the only response was the Deconstructionist “binary” BS typical of the Feminist ideologues.

        “WTF is it with idiots coming up with blatantly stupid arguments?”

        Yes claiming marriage is a love right is definitely blatantly stupid. As I pointed out, on that ground why can’t an uncle and a nephew marry, it would be a violation of their love rights not to allow them according to Team Love Rights.

        • framu

          “on that ground why can’t an uncle and a nephew marry”

          possibly because its illegal for them to have a relationship in the first place.

          do you really not get it or are you being thick on purpose?

  10. fnjckg 10

    whos’ that clomping on our bridge?
    why, Me, said the baby billy goat gruff

  11. Nunya 11

    As others have pointed out there are plenty of kiwis suffering much worse injustices caused by decisions made by the Lange labour government, and to a lesser extent, the Clark pseudo labour government. The failure of that government to properly repeal the worst aspects of the Nats employment contracts act is the reason that so many kiwis are working their asses off for a wage that is insufficient to feed and clothe themselves.

    For some strange reason some of those poor buggers who copped the roughest end of the pineapple are still voting labour.
    Unlike many G&L voters who deserted labour in droves once everything had been put into place to allow them to enjoy a creature comfort rich, bourgeois lifestyle.
    Back in 2008 many G&L voters were more concerned with tax cuts than being able to call their relationship a marriage.

    Oblamblam dragged the marriage thing outta the box marked ‘cheap promises the rethugs won’t steal’ as soon as he realised that indifference can cost him the prezdency in November. People don’t care he hasn’t helped amerikans – his obamacare cements the right of the insurance corporations to control amerikan health services and it criminalises those wage earners who refuse to buy into the crooked health industry’s crooked health insurance plans.
    Oblamblam publicised the gay marriage issue in a vain attempt to get a few dem party activists back in the fold. The volunteers who do all the real work had deserted oblamblam when he refused to close Gitmo, bombed Libya into smithereens and began sending hit squads out to murder anyone who disagreed with his imperialist mind-set. So the G&L marriage thing was dredged up to make the dems seem relevant and hip. All to get kids who know no better convinced that a vote for oblamblam will bring peace on earth to all mankind as long as they trudge the streets putting his lies and lying sound bites through every mailbox.

    All the corrupt closet neo-liberal ‘social democrat’ parties around the world followed suit. Here was an easy and cheap way to ‘engage the masses’ without getting offside with their corporate backers.
    Too bad that much of those masses will only stick with the party as long as there are G&L ‘injustices’ to be sorted.

    Ooops! Doesn’t that mean it will never truly be ‘sorted’? Face it it just isn’t in the interests of these so called social democrat parties to properly address G&L issues cause as soon as they do many of the voters will be back to worrying about reducing their tax, & forgetting completely about the peeps on the bottom of the economic heap whose needs were sacrificed to help G&L kiwis to get justice.

    Labour has no chance of being the second largest party in parliament next election, much less the largest, unless they can convince the million who refused to vote at all, that they truly mean to stick with the average kiwi shit kicker.

    At the moment NZ Labour are showing no sign of doing anything other than indulging in the type of elitist niche politics that may garner a few one off votes for as long as a segment of bourgeois NZ can claim to feel oppressed.

    However, rebuilding the labour party into something meaningful, something that doesn’t require social justice issues have to be lucky enough to get pulled from a hat, requires rebranding the party as being a political movement that is 100% devoted to immediately addressing all forms of injustice, especially economic injustice. If the labourites do that they won’t hafta spend their time convincing gay men, many of whom spent years trying to humanely extricate themselves from disastrous marriages that they were wrong, that marriage is indeed the solution to whatever they think ails them.
    It is a bullshit policy adopted for cynical political reasons and most thinking kiwis, gay and straight, see it for exactly that.

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      However, rebuilding the labour party into something meaningful, something that doesn’t require social justice issues have to be lucky enough to get pulled from a hat, requires rebranding the party as being a political movement that is 100% devoted to immediately addressing all forms of injustice, especially economic injustice.

      Kick ass dude.

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