Outside the bubble

Written By: - Date published: 10:30 am, September 16th, 2013 - 51 comments
Categories: labour, Parliament, political parties - Tags: ,

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… 

51 comments on “Outside the bubble”

  1. Sanctuary 1

    “…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…”

    This is a consequence of the general Western professionalisation of politics, something that in this country was accelerated as an unintended consequence of the adoption of MMP and party lists. In a wider cultural context, the general extension of the values of managerialism to democratic institutions means the values of the technocratic elites has been brought to bear on candidate selection in all political parties. Technocrats like other technocrats, and a desire by the ruling class for “competent” rule by expert managers has generally been the ambient theme of the last forty years.

    We need to guard against this creation of permanent political class. The consequences in Europe of having two groups of technocratic managers in powder pink and powder blue swopping government has been a disconnected and frustrated electorate increasingly turning to populist far-right partys, anything – ANYTHING! – to break the managerialist carapace of an ossified and discredited ruling class.

    that is why I am in favour of term limits and constitutionally decentralised government. If I had my way, New Zealand would consist several Swiss style “supercity” cantons with term limits for representatives at both canton and federal level.

    • Ennui 1.1

      ANYTHING! – to break the managerialist carapace of an ossified and discredited ruling class.

      Two things:
      1. Beautiful language and imagery (love it)!
      2. Fantastic idea.

  2. Blue 2

    That’s one hell of a bubble. It appears to vapourise all rational thought upon entry.

    A reasonable person would recognise that the person they like best isn’t necessarily the best person for the job.

    A professional would recognise that sometimes you have to work with people you don’t like to get the job done.

    An intelligent person would realise that feeding the media with stories of infighting and caucus division only hurts the party and cause they claim to be working for.

    A strategic thinker would realise there was no point voting for Robertson when Cunliffe was going to win and the wider party desperately needed the caucus to back him for appearances’ sake.

    A wise person would know that voting against the wishes of the members, the affiliates and the public is suicidal.

    The Labour caucus seems to be a thought-free zone populated by zombies dedicated to eating brains – their own, in this case.

    • Rogue Trooper 2.1

      hmmm, interesting generalizations.

      • Tim 2.1.1

        Yep. Short on time ….. but …. I’m not sure its a consequence of MMP either – more to do with managerialism inherent in the commodification and corporatisation of all and everything, along with things like the ‘risk society’. Not well explained I know but I don’t have time.
        We’ve commodified, transactionalised and corporatised EVERYTHING that isn’t tied down
        with a lead shield around it including the very basic of human needs.

  3. Ant 3

    The community on The Standard was accused a number of times of being a pro-David Cunliffe echo-chamber that was out of touch with reality. In actuality it ended up representing a fairly accurate cross section of members and left activists.

    Trust a sysop to describe themselves as a Culture Mind, GSV or ROU though…

    • lprent 3.1

      😈

      I have an unfinished post describing the NZ Labour universe in terms of the Culture model. I’ve found that it works remarkably well as a working template. As you can imagine, the hard bit would be to explain the framework and it’s relevance to a politician 🙂

      Mind you it has to be easier than explaining to Helen Clark in about 1991 what the effect of PC’s and electronic communications would be to the political world. Eventually I just brought a second hand PC off a programmer, dropped it on her desk at home as a donation, and connected it to a dialup uucp email system….

      • Rogue Trooper 3.1.1

        well, very Aurelio Zen of you Lynn; The Cartel survives on ‘patronage’ and fears (particularly concerning status and reputation).
        Eccentrically yours, Shoot Them Later 😉 . no fnjckg around! 😎

      • Rogue Trooper 3.1.2

        btw, a ‘universe’ or a microcosm…and, and, after considering the articles by John Armstrong et al; for (feck) two years, I’m reluctant to even bother now, and please, don’t get me started on Bill Ralston, or any others belonging to the professional punditry caste! (that includes Raymond Francis).full-stop.

      • George D 3.1.3

        You ought to be pretty proud every time she hosts a web event at the UNDP – she’s in her element!

      • Jellytussle 3.1.4

        That donation did the world a favour!

    • gobsmacked 3.2

      The community on The Standard was accused a number of times of being a pro-David Cunliffe echo-chamber that was out of touch with reality.

      If anyone needs a definition of “echo-chamber”, it would be something like …

      “A bunch of people who sit in a room after a very bad election result, and tell themselves that the failed leader, deputy leader and chief strategists for that election should naturally be entrusted with the choice of leader for the next election, and who then tell themselves that a guy who has made no impact whatsoever and displays no political acumen whatsoever, should be that leader.”

      It took nearly 2 years for the noise from outside that room to break through the walls. What kind of soundproofing do they use in that building, and where can I get some?

  4. aerobubble 4

    You’re an MP, do you vote for your buddies buddy in caucus or do you use common sense that rule changes mean a new changed to your political career. Nearly half the first round of votes said No, best buddies. So that’s the shock, after the caucus gave us the Goff leadership, then the Shearer leadership and finally the Robertson leadership, why did none of these Robertson MPs go back to their electorates and gauge their parties opinion. Well it does explain the low polling of Goff, of Sheaher-Robertson, the party was inward caucus looking.

    The Labour party changed its rule, not the caucus party, where’s the mention of that? And why was the media so unable to make that point, that Cunliffe obvious has some ability to move the party. This was a take back by the party on the under performing parliamentary caucus.

    Cunliffe is not left wing, but accepts like many right wing parties globally that left wing solutions
    are now in the ascendency, geez will the media get over it, the era of kissing the big end of town is over – i.e. no need to prove core neo-liberal indoctrination.

    Take the copper tax, National can’t argue the free market anymore not when they intervene and the market, unions, etc all get in a line and say WTF.

    We are moving into an era of tight budgets, tight economy, tight energy world, and the rage of three decades of soft weak extreme right wing politics paid for by cheap high density fuels, the
    resulted in do nothing, undermine government, and picking rich prick winners policy.
    (all obvious to everyone other than the media) was inefficient and harmed resilience.

    Jones brings back the enjoyment of the job; Robertson negatives over took his positives; Cunliffe looks capable to learn from both of them. Enjoy the win, and don’t be such a bitch. Key is tired, National naturally bitchy, like 50% Brownlee, Crush nothing Collins, double sip English, Climate change what Climate change Joyce.

    If I were Cunliffe I’d set up panels in each town, feed them Jones’ latest quirp and use the feedback to get a feel for the punters. He’ll lay off the explaining, and use the obvious ability Cunliffe has to tie up the interesting, convincing, yet hard hitting appeals into tight little bundles and repeat them.

  5. joe90 5

    The beige dictatorship.

    The emergence of a class of political apparatchik in our democracies is almost inevitable. I was particularly struck by this at the CREATe conference, which was launched by a cookie-cutter junior minister from Westminster: aged 33, worked in politics since leaving university, married to another MP, clearly focused on a political career path.

    http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/02/political-failure-modes-and-th.html

    • Ennui 5.1

      As to the beige dictatorship and Bills institutional or managerial types where do we go now? I have often reflected (after conversation with these types of people) who are preponderant in politics, corporates and commerce how little they know! And often so “young” to be placed in positions due to having the “right” meal ticket degrees and making the “right noises”.

      Gnarly old bastards like myself, myself years of real life experience, behind the wheels of commerce, or others from behind the wheel of a truck, where to for us? Methinks that the Labour party could do with us for MPs and staff, but we might not be young enough, suitably degreed, PC enough etc etc…shame. But we are expected to swallow this nonsense and deliver our time, our votes etc.

  6. Bill 6

    I guess when you are a political party bent on selling stuff to people that they don’t want and that’s detrimental to their well being, then you become insulated and defensively TINA. For 30 years, that’s been the reality of the Labour Party. And so it’s no surprise there is a preponderance of ‘institutional or managerial leftists’.

    But if Labour are filing a divorce on the neo-liberal consensus, then I see no reason why the institutional or managerial types wouldn’t/couldn’t adjust accordingly, and with new found focus, be reasonably effective politicians…perhaps a bit unsure and ‘soft’ until they get a feel for that ‘common’ ground beneath their feet.

    As for the rump of the unabashedly TINA to neo-liberalism who remained in parliament post 2008 when the smarter amongst them jumped to other career paths? Well, old dogs/new tricks and all of that. Backbenches and the door marked ‘exit’.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      Oh really.
      You look at a person like David Cameron in the UK, most of his life spent in the Conservative Party machine, or Tony Abbot, who is very similar ( was a Liberal press secretary among others)
      Of course Washington has a revolving door between elected officials and the machinery of government and the the wider business world

      • Bill 6.1.1

        Hmm. So you don’t think the ‘revolving door’ has been fair whirling as a result of governments elevating corporate friendly neo-liberal agendas? You think the parliament to boardroom career path, for both Tory and Labour politicians, was as well worn during (say) the 60’s?

  7. Greywarbler 7

    I watched a tv doco on Greek Themistocles, a lower-class chap who became a general soon after democracy was embraced by Cleisthenes (as a maneouvre to help him to gain advantage against other nobles). The experiences at the start of building a democracy do not seem too different from those here and now trying to rebuild democracy to be a system fitted to today’s requirements.

    This from Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Themistocles
    [Cleisthenes] proposed to the Athenian people a radical program in which political power would be invested in the people – a “democracy”.[11]
    The Athenian people thus overthrew Isagoras, repelled a Spartan attack under Cleomenes, and invited Cleisthenes to return to Athens, to put his plan into action.[12] The establishment of the democracy was to radically change Athens:

    “And so it was that the Athenians found themselves suddenly a great power…they gave vivid proof of what equality and freedom of speech might achieve”[13]
    The new system of government in Athens opened up a wealth of opportunity for men like Themistocles, who previously would have had no access to power.[14] Moreover, the new institutions of the democracy required skills which had previously been unimportant in government.

    Themistocles was to prove himself a master of the new system; “he could infight, he could network, he could spin…and crucially, he knew how to make himself visible.”[14] Themistocles moved to the Ceramicus, a down-market part of Athens. This move marked him out as a ‘man of the people’, and allowed him to interact more easily with ordinary citizens. He began building up a support base amongst these newly empowered citizens:

    “he wooed the poor; and they, not used to being courted, duly loved him back. Touring the taverns, the markets, the docks, canvassing where no politician had thought to canvas before, making sure never to forget a single voter’s name, Themistocles had set his eyes on a radical new constituency”[14]

    However, he took care to ensure that he did not alienate the nobility of Athens.[14] He began to practice law, the first person in Athens to prepare for public life in this way.[14] His ability as attorney and arbitrator, used in the service of the common people, gained him further popularity.[15]

    • Olwyn 7.1

      On what channel was it? I just love stuff about the ancient world, and I wish I had seen that.

    • Murray Olsen 7.2

      So Themistocles moved from his house in Herne Bay and took up residence in the Crown Lynn suburb of Ceramicus? Hmmm. Could be more to this than meets the eye.

      • Greywarbler 7.2.1

        Olwyn
        It turned out to be a History Channel series. It’s very well done – riveting. I thought Greek history a bit of a bore, I’ve heard about Troy and not much else had stuck. It has all come to life for me.
        There are 3 episodes.
        508 BC Ancient Greeks: The Revolution of Democracy | History Channel Documentary
        1st – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ5Bu-eqVZM
        and

        490 BC Ancient Greeks: Golden Age of Civilisation : History Channel Documentary
        2nd – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHMu2gVzspA
        and

        431-399 BC (Sokratis) Ancient Greeks: Empire of the Mind : History Channel Documentary
        3rd – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0T78tNS9u8.

        Murray O
        I noticed that name Ceramicus. It says in one of the episodes how the potter’s job was a very low class one. Even though they were making essential, useful items. Maybe that tendency has continued in their playful destruction of plates which they sometimes throw at dancers. But ironically, they had a military dictatorship that suspended democracy in the 1960’2 and the plate smashing was stopped.

        In 1969, the military dictatorship of Georgios Papadopoulos that had suspended democracy and ruled Greece autocratically from 1967-1974, banned plate smashing to the great disappointment of Greeks and foreign tourists alike. It is no longer officially allowed at Greek nightclubs, but still happens occasionally.

        Crown Lynn ceramics got to a higher level similar to those that I found in a 1980s Nathan’s advert for 20 piece stoneware set from Japan. It cost $69.95 – compare today’s much lower prices.
        The country is awash with imported coffee mugs, teacups hardly sell at all at the op shop I help at, and good used dinner sets of everyday ware sell for $5. So it’s back to low wages and esteem for ceramics.

        • Olwyn 7.2.1.1

          Thanks for that Greywarbler. I do not have sky TV, but I will try and track it down as a DVD. It’s interesting that the potter’s job was a low status one, given that they have all those vases and so on, decorated with scenes from their stories. Plato had a certain respect for tradespeople; he did not rate them as highly as philosophers, but he respected the fact that they had real knowledge, and were not all hype like some of the people in public life. I would think ship builders would have held relatively high status, since the Greeks were great sailors.

          • Greywarbler 7.2.1.1.1

            Olwyn
            I don’t have Sky either. Can’t you just use the links to youtube I’ve put up? You will find it great to view and lots to think about.

      • Rogue Trooper 7.2.2

        that is both clever, and funny, Murray.

  8. Rich 8

    I think it’s simpler than that:

    – most of the media commentators are closet (or overt) National supporters and wanted Labour to elect either a useless and divisive leader or one so right-wing as to be the next best thing to a National government (should a Labour party led by them be elected). Jones fits both those, so was hyped beyond his tiny support base in Labour.

    – because Labour elects its leader democratically but ranks its list internally and has a base of mostly long serving electorate MPs, the caucus is out of sync with the membership and has several members who are far to comfortable in opposition.

    • Ennui 8.1

      I doubt Patrick Sneerperson, or Duncan Garrulous on our TVs have ever read Marx, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and so on yet the things that they spout on about as “authorities” are thiose inclined to require some background knowledge. We are being so dumbed down…and to add insult to injury these thickets get remunerated vast amounts compared to the average Joe who knows a damned sight more….who will save us from these idiots???????

    • Tim 8.2

      “most of the media commentators are closet (or overt) National supporters and wanted Labour to elect either a useless and divisive leader….”

      They are. But of course if Labour REALLY do something about corporate welfare and monoply/duoploy positions (i.e. put a stop to it in favour of social welfare – and of course in favour of what’s supposedly true competition and capitalism, rather than the crony), watch them all brush off their stripes as soon as they can find a bulk supplier of hydrogen peroxide.
      No more Media Works/TV3 prop-ups (and a call-in of the debt) …. No more Sky monoploy…. and TVNZ – being publicly owned – having to operate in the PUBLIC interest.
      Interesting times.
      I’m picking that some of these ‘pundits’ (laughs loudly within) might soon be pulling their heads in.
      But then you never know. It’ll be a contributing factor though as to whether Labour get both my party and electorate vote in 2017. So far, and after the election of Cunliffe, they’re about 40% on the way.

  9. Tiger Mountain 9

    By George you’ve got it! is all that can be said really LP.

    The basic disconnect between membership and parliamentary wing has been Labour’s downfall for almost ever. While helping a Labour member letterbox on the weekend (dog minding and gossiping) the people that said anything good that has ever happened in NZ is due to Labour governments was amazing, West tho, East we might have been run out of town.

    Heh, interesting how physics terminology gains popular currency–“event horizon”, many years back “the second law of thermodynamics” etc.

  10. tracey 10

    Gillard makes some interesting observstions of labours historical influence… things they fought for and won and which were not reversed by a conservative government.

    Examples here

    Homosexual law reform
    nuclear free

    Some things eroded by conservatives
    working day and week
    working conditions

  11. McFlock 11

    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.

    […]

    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.

    Maybe both groups voted for whom they thought would be the best candidate at the next election?
    Why is there an expectation for the caucus vote to mirror that of the membership or the affiliates (because those two groups differed from each other, as well)?

    I have two suspicions:
    the first is that the membership saw different aspects of the candidates compared with the caucus. Not necessarily better or worse for any of them, just differences, and that affected the distribution of each group’s vote;

    the second is that the extent of “factionalisation” (as opposed to “merely having a different opinion that isn’t wrapped in personal animosity”) is a meme that serves both the MSM (who would love to keep bleating headlines about A House Divided and other Shakespearian themes) and the more zealous supporters of the new leader (who need to explain why he didn’t have the leadership from feb 2012 if he is so fundamentally better than all previous candidates).

    Mind you, the people I suspect I will never understand were those who voted Jones over Cunliffe. Seriously, I mean come on

    • gobsmacked 11.1

      David Shearer voted for Jones over Cunliffe (and Robertson). It was his final act as leader – putting the party’s future last and his hurt feelings first.

  12. red blooded 12

    I can’t imagine Shearer’s motivation, but it’s got to be said that he showed very bad judgement in backing a man who amy women would find hard to trust/respect/feel respected by and by so obviously defying the will of the majority of members.

    Very odd.

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    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.

    My suggestion, and this really applies to all political parties, is for them to adopt Loomio. Actual discussion and voting over what the party represents and the policies that it will pursue will inevitably decrease that distance between the caucus and the members.

    And it’s OpenSource.

  14. vto 14

    There is so much talk it seems there is no time left

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