For many years there used to be a blog site called The Thordon Bubble1, that was dedicated to the minutiae of the political scene as seen from a small area in Wellington. I always thought it was a perfect name for the thermocline difference of views between the hunting grounds of the politicians and parliamentary political media, and what happens in New Zealand.
Over the years I have observed many youngish politicians breaking into the bubble and over a year or so get morphed into people whose strategic thinking abilities atrophied to the three yearly electoral cycle. In some ways that is their task. Political parties can have a direct influence only if they are on the treasury benches, and their indirect influence in opposition is limited to how far they can threaten the governing parties chances of reelection.
However it has to be said that over recent years, including the third term of the last Labour government, this tendency to spiral inside the event horizon in the incestuous Wellington bubble has reached extreme levels for both the politicians, their staff, and the parliamentary press gallery.
For the Labour caucus this has been due in a large part to a shift in the recruiting ground for budding politicians to not be from experienced party and union activists, but from the paid parliamentary staff. Rather than recruiting people whose experience was from the communities that they had laboured in, it was from the shared trust experience of employer/employee relationships. In other words – patronage.
Similarly the movement of journalists from the parliamentary press gallery to working for politicians as press secretaries to heading off into the lobbyist/PR world has produced a similar inbreeding experience. It has concentrated the genes for credulous self-interest to an extent that is dangerous for free and open press.
But there has probably never been quite as clear an example of the differences between those inside the bubble and those outside the bubble than the numbers for weekend’s leadership result for Labour.
The first round vote for Cunliffe in caucus was about half that in both the membership and affiliates. It was the other way around for Robertson. Right there you can see the event horizon between the Labour caucus and the Labour party. This was exactly the result that I’d expected bearing in mind the ever shortening time horizons of those in the bubble. Many weren’t even managing to look far enough ahead to how to win the next election.
For anyone outside the bubble and ‘the game’ that was divorced from actual voters, it was obvious that for Labour to make headway against National they were going to need considerable experience with a track record of not screwing up. His current lack of wide enough experience (as I pointed out last week) meant that Robertson was unsuitable. Shane Jones has more experience, but appears to have an innate talent for cocking things up. There was no real choice in the field that caucus was able to present to the party.
So the party membership and party affiliates, left and right, voted overwhelmingly for the candidate that they thought would bring the most experience to win the next election. This shows up not only in their first votes, but also in their second preferences after Shanes Jones would have been knocked out.
Caucus in the first round votes, in my opinion, did not. They voted on factional grounds that to me appear to have little to do with winning the next election. About the only thing that gives me hope is that if the second preferences had been counted then the vote would have been more even.
The vote that set the leadership voting system in place last year indicated how wide the differences were between the party members and the caucus. Then the caucus wasted the opportunity to understand because they expended their energy on a quixotic scapegoating quest, aided and abetted by their allies in the parliamentary press gallery, by claiming it was some kind of coup attempt. It wasn’t and the bubble view on what had been going on was offensive to all of those who’d argued and voted on the resolution.
Now the caucus members have another opportunity to gauge how wide the differences are between the bubble view and that of the membership that they represent. I’d strongly suggest that they look at it with a lot less distorting spin in their vision this time.
While I’m steadily moving outwards towards the Labour Ulterior in my interest in the NZLP, there are considerable signs that the decades long stasis of the NZLP’s membership is breaking up. This is attracting many from the Ulterior back into active membership – the figure bandied around is that there has been a 15% increase during the leadership primary.
Since the members are potentially the best focus group and message spreaders that the party has, then it’d behove the caucus to figure out how to work with *all*2 of them rather than against them.
1: The original Thordon Bubble was on blogspot until 2008. It moved to a new site which currently appears to be offline. But at some point it shifted to being an aggregator site as the author took a job where running the blog would have caused conflicts.
2: Note for MP’s that those who turn up for LECs aren’t particularly representative of the membership. They are representative on those who can stand the boredom of spending several hours in a cold room listening to people drone on one at a time. This is a very special breed. Generally I’ve found that the people who put campaigns together (if they aren’t the chair/secretary) will turn up at LECs only occasionally coming up to an election (but they are a special breed as well). Joint branch meetings get quite a lot of the older members to hear their politicians and party officials speak. Most younger members never show up at meetings at all, they talk to each other online. Such a pity that the party still hasn’t managed to cope with such a radical idea…