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Pushing at an open door

Written By: - Date published: 10:17 pm, November 17th, 2012 - 61 comments
Categories: labour - Tags:

Back in the early 90s the first party conference I went to was very nearly my last. Intransigent foes who used the mic to assault each other was my introduction to the Labour party ‘working’ with each other. It wasn’t pleasant. Nor was it particularly productive. Over the years this dropped into the kind of stratified coldwar and eventually into a kind of rigid formal dance. And I viewed the remit floor as being just boring and largely meaningless. All the volunteering that I did was outside it.

Now I’ll confess that amongst my reasons why I decided to go to this party conference on a media pass was that I could avoid splatter if war broke out again. There are two interest groups in the conference. One is the caucus/beltway. The other is an irritated and frustrated membership and affliates who’ve been feeling increasingly less involved with the party. This second group includes many amongst our authors and commentators.

Damn was I ever wrong about the splatter. And there were a couple of obvious ways to see change happen today.

Firstly the remit hall was full. The delegates were flogging chairs from the journos1. There were people I’d last seen at Young Labour’s summer schools as teens turning up after a hiatus as thirty-somethings (I’m getting too old).

Secondly, there was a single card count. A distinguishing feature of Labour conferences is that when they get down to having card counts on remits and amendments then you know that something is being bitterly fought or very tight.

Most votes are done on voice2 or they are done with a show of hands. Usually the yea or nay is clear. But card counts3 can be called for. Usually what it means is that it is quite tight on a count and one of the other side wants to be absolutely sure that it was that actual card votes that carried it.

When you get a succession of card votes then there is some kind of war for the soul of the party. Now that is what I saw in the early 90’s and I was rather expecting it to happen today. After all over the years more and more control in the party had accreted from the party members into caucus. It has steadily become a more and more frustrating issue for party activists to deal with. The caucus is quite naturally inward looking, incestuous, and far far too concerned with seemingly trivial issues that have bugger all to do with running a decent campaign on the ground.

But war didn’t break out today. This is the healthiest that I have ever seen a conference – ever. And I include the congress in 1999 when we knew we were about to hammer the Nat’s out of the Beehive.

The single card vote was on the most sticky and debated point; the trigger percentage of caucus that a leader had to get after an election to not go to a leadership election with members and affiliates. It started out as a mere third when sent out for discussion. It came back as 45% or 50% (voted down almost without stopping), or to go to 60%. This required a card vote to get accepted.

The issue was essentially that after an election that had been lost or even won, 40% of the caucus could trigger a leadership vote amongst the members and affiliates (“the tail wagging the dog”). The alternate view was that if the caucus had 40% of it’s members so disgruntled that they would petition against incumbent then the party should get involved in making the decision about how to fix the problem.

The card vote resulted in 264 for the 60% requirement and 237 against – really close

After that, the pattern was set and the delegates and MP’s settled down to make the maze of amendments workable. It was clear what the delegates wanted and there really wasn’t any point in dogged resistance.

Now this may have some implications in the short and longer terms with leadership. But it is does appears to be pretty clear in principle. If caucus can’t agree who to support as leader, then it will go to the party and the caucus to vote on. You can guarantee that the outcome with the vote weightings of the caucus 40%, the membership 40% and affiliates 20% is not going to be simple. The party won’t reward people that are perceived to be stirring up trouble nor incumbent leaders who let things get to the state that 40% of the caucus petition to have them removed.

I’d expect that any effective party leader will try to make sure that their most effective MP’s are fully and gainfully employed. Which is what the party and affiliates will want as well. And any MP(s) and their supporters wanting to have a shot at leader will have to be effective. These are the things that party members and affliates will look at.

All MP’s apart from the deranged will probably prefer to keep the dispute away from the party vote because they might not like the judgement passed on them. Getting any resolution in a caucus that has less than 40% malcontents is going to be a whole lot safer than whatever the party metes out.

What does this mean for the short term? Up until February nothing much. In February, it wouldn’t surprise me a leadership petition caused the party vote. It wouldn’t surprise me if it did not. But keep your membership up to date especially in the early part of next year. If anything falters in caucus and there is a disaffected rump there, then the party will need to sort the MP’s out. It is something that I’m sure the MP’s really don’t want to see happen. Not to mention that it will interfere with the political buildup for the next election.

Of course I’m pretty sure that the mainstream won’t spin it in quite that way. Mass actions and political feedback systems don’t make for as simplistic and as easily understood a story as the epic personal conflict of two protagonists to fill those endless minutes (or some other Randian rubbish).

Long term, with the other things that Moira and Tim, the NZ Council, and the policy council were starting to put through today, Labour are looking at a improved party to work with at the next election. It isn’t going to have everything done. But it does look more hopeful to me than it did a few days ago.

1. BTW delegates – that is a bad bad thing to do. You’re wanting them to write nice things about Labour and you steal their seat?

2. Or there is some idiot who thinks that a loud shout fools anyone.

3. The card is your name tag and permission to be at the conference, and also has the number of votes you can wield. The latter is a bit like hit points in games. So you will see delegates carrying around cards with nothing (non voting members), the more common “1” (delegate), and a few barbarians from very far far away carrying “4” on a large card that almost hangs to the loincloth……. ummm ok that last bit was a joke in poor taste about the south island delegates in Auckland  😈

61 comments on “Pushing at an open door ”

  1. Sounds positive , cheers LP 🙂

    • Dr Terry 1.1

      It could hardly fail to be more positive than it looked a few days ago!! Your enthusiasm is encouraging. Thus far, excellent! Nevertheless, it is not all over yet. I would suggest waiting a bit to see how it all “all shakes down”. But I do not want to be a spoilsport and dampen your spirits. As they say, “So far, so good”!

      • PlanetOrphan 1.1.1

        True Dr Terry, it aint over until etc, but it sounds like the spirit of the people @ the conference is harmonious and the public really needed too see that. 🙂

  2. Fisiani 2

    17/11/12 The day the suicide pill was swallowed. New Zealand will never elect a Socialist party. It was an open door ,,,, to oblivion. My commiserations.

    • Jim Nald - Once Was National 2.1

      No need to post your diary entries here.

      But if you are implicitly asking for help, you can post your address or phone details, and an ambulance can be called out.

      Trust you will recover from the eventful day of 17/11/12.

    • dancerwaitakere 2.2

      I really do not understand what deluded world you are living in.

    • gobsmacked 2.3

      Fisiani has spent the whole evening on “dump and distract” duty. Poor thing.

      It’s incapable of entering a debate, it’s just feeling very alarmed at the prospect for the Nacts now. And probably envious too. What kind of active involvement could Fisi ever have in the John Key Fan Club, except the obligatory sycophantic laughter at the embarrassing jokes?

    • Draco T Bastard 2.4

      And the reason why National had to pretend to be Labour in 2008 and why John Banks said that if he told people his policies he would never get voted in?

      I’ll give you a hint: It’s because the majority of people don’t actually like right-wing policies.

    • fustercluck 2.5

      Hey Fisiani,

      We have a Socialist government in office…but the society it serves is the economic elite and the principles it follows is socializing risk and privatizing profit.

      A Socialist government that serves the other 99% of society is a mathematical certainty, especially if a party can demonstrate a capacity to practice meaningful democracy which is exactly what happened at the conference.

      Take your TINA attitude and go back to wallowing at the country club!

    • starlight 2.6

      Fisani,I can feel your tears from here, cry me a river fisi, are you feeling the power leaving
      the right wing in politics ?

    • KJT 2.7

      “New Zealanders are socialists at heart”. John Key.

      • rosy 2.7.1

        “New Zealanders are socialists at heart”. John Key.

        I don’t think he liked that we are/were… and he’s spent the last 10 years trying to change that. With the Labour party compromisers on neo-liberalism unwittingly aiding the process.

    • Poor Fisiani will never win the Labour leadership now ….

  3. Very perceptive Lprent and by far the most sophisticated and accurate description of what happened today. 

  4. gobsmacked 4

    Thanks for your work today LP – and to all the others who provided a running commentary. Great insights into the procedings as they unfolded.

    There’s been nothing like it in the MSM. No surprise there. (Still, bloggers eh? Paging Gavin Ellis …)

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      The MSM are still trying to spin it like there was a coup on. The poor deluded souls that they are have to get their jollies from inventing stuff that didn’t happen.

  5. prism 5

    Hey something really positive to counteract against the Israeli-Palestine travesty running again.

    • lprent 5.1

      I saw comments about that. But this opening of the party is something I have waited decades to see happen.

      So callously, tell me if they go nuclear.

  6. Colonial Viper 6

    If caucus can’t agree who to support ass leader

    Not sure what you are trying to imply here 😛

  7. fabregas4 7

    So will all members get a vote if circumstances work that way? Is this a reason to finally sign up for the party?

    • lprent 7.1

      Yes. Requires caucus to not be working effectively to go to a party vote.

      By the sound of what Tim Barnett was saying, it will be a postal ballot to members, and I’d guess that affiliates will do the same. Weighting of the votes is 40% to members, 20% to affiliates, and 40% to caucus.

      • Colonial Viper 7.1.1

        Put another way, in this system each Labour MP’s vote is worth several hundred times more than the vote of an ordinary member.

        • lprent 7.1.1.1

          Yes. But think it through. The “Leader” is actually the leader of the parliamentary caucus. Their primary role is to lead the caucus in parliament, just as the party president leads the NZ council and the members. Caucus needs to be confident in the skills of their leader and they are the best judge of that – so they get the most weight in the decision.

          The party is there when caucus get themselves in a knot or a new leader is required by caucus.

  8. irascible 8

    Thanks LPrent your anaylsis concurs with the impressions and understanding of the conference I an attending. It was obvious that the reporters had written their stories before the remits were presented. The news reports were a mash up of clips taken at different times and at different points in the remits debate to give the impression of conspiratorial discussions taking place.
    I agree with your interpretation of the post election processes that the reforms would create.

  9. LynW 9

    Sounds very encouraging Lynn, especially knowing you are speaking from experience and an historical perspective. It is a relief to hear hope and a positive message in your summary of events. 🙂

    • lprent 9.1

      Well I was damn surprised.

      Between work, moving, running this space, and just a certain level of reprioritisation post heart attack I haven’t kept a good eye on what has been happening with the review. Not to mention that I am usually far more into ‘do’ than remits. It is pretty clear that the delegates are liking this.

      What has been put up in front of conference has been workable or been made to work. For instance a remit saying that women should be 50% of the officers of the LEC was not because there are only 3 required officers – chair, secretary, and treasurer. But an explicit clause allowing the formation of executive committees, which every LEC I have been involved in has had for years anyway, makes that easy.

      Definitely the most can-do conference I have seen. They even got though most of the substantive remit in the book.

      • karol 9.1.1

        I am pleased to see the attention to the gender issues ( I blogged on it just before the conference started because I see it as important).  

        There was a speech – I think from Judy McGregor? – on the gendering of politics.  Do you know if the speech will be put online?

        • Draco T Bastard 9.1.1.1

          Do you know if the speech will be put online?

          Here

          • karol 9.1.1.1.1

            Thanks, DTB.  I watched the vid, and like a lot of it, and I am really glad Labour is addressing this issue.

            With my poor Internet connection at the moment, I couldn’t understand everything McGregor said.  I will probably blog on it later in the week when the dust settles around some of the other issues raised by the conference.

            My main criticisms are similar to ones I made a little while ago on the policy remits thread:  what about low income women, and the bennie-bashing that is strongly targeted at women, especially single mothers? The gender policies targeted by J McG are  1) amount of women Labour MPs 2) the gender pay gap.  These are very important, but it’s still looking quite middle-class in focus.

            Also, I wonder about some of the things McGregor said about contemporary communications: did she really say “bilious blogging” @2.67 mins, or did I not hear it correctly? 

            • Colonial Viper 9.1.1.1.1.1

              You heard right.

              • karol

                Thanks, CV.  Sheesh. And it got a cheer, too.  Or were they thinking of the sites Lynn mentions below?

                Well, I will put together a post on the gender speech and remit – in a couple of days when (hopefully) the wider party issues have calmed down.  The communications aspect will be part of it.

            • lprent 9.1.1.1.1.2

              Think whaleoil or trademe forums or even the sewer when gender hits politics.

              But it has actually been improving throughout the local blogosphere over the last 5 years.

  10. karol 10

    Lynn: Of course I’m pretty sure that the mainstream won’t spin it in quite that way. Mass actions and political feedback systems don’t make for as simplistic and as easily understood a story as the epic personal conflict of two protagonists to fill those endless minutes (or some other Randian rubbish).

      Exactly.  None of the reports I’ve seen give as in-depth a report on yesterday’s proceedings and implications as Lynn above.

    And like a dog with a bone, they are all continuing to follow their epic tale of conflict between Cunliffe and Shearer, with many proclaiming Key the winner of no matter who is leader of Labour next year.  It was the immediate response of TV one and TV3’s 6pm news last night.

    And this morning’s papers merely elaborate on that theme.In their 2-dimensional Hollywood version of the conference, most tend to take the side  of Team Shearer and smear both the party members and Cunliffe.

    Even Matt McCarten takes this view.  He starts off arguing against the current perception that political leaders should have:

    speechifying eloquence of David Lange or the intimate television connection of Prime Minister John Key.

    He also says (quite wrongly) that the contest between Cunliffe and Shearer is not about political differences, but media performance. He argues that Shearer may not be good at either of those but he’s got relevant experience from his time at the UN.   Then, contradicting himself, McCarten attacks Cunliffe for being too obvious in his media management: i.e. not so good at it, but for different reasons than Shearer – Cunliffe pretends to be for the blue collar classes, but is really very middleclass.

    The other main Stuff and NZ Herald columnists,  don’t seem to have Lynn’s long and up-close experience of the Labour party.  They proclaim yesterday’s conflicts to be as bad as the 1990s. 

    Vernon Small:

    after an impassioned debate that exposed a bitterly divided party. It was the most extraordinary internecine political warfare since Rogernomics split the party in the 1980s, all played out on the conference floor.

    In general the left, the unions and the north – let’s call it the Cunliffe camp – heavily backed the 40 per cent trigger with Wellington, the right and most MPs backing a simple majority that would have given embattled Shearer much greater protection.

    He proclaims it as all good news for John Key. Small fails to understand the significance for the party members, who he denigrates:

    Because in the end this was not just about a new constitution to make the party more open and democratic. It was also about the Cunliffe camp’s revenge for being ignored after last year’s primary race when the caucus installed Shearer as leader.

    And Shearer’s backers senior party members tried to be more mature:

    Senior MPs Trevor Mallard and David Parker tried to steer them that way but they were simply not listening.

    More along the same lines from Armstrong:

    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 and have ended up undermining the current one – quite possibly fatally.

    And similar stuff, though a little less obviously slanted, from Claire Trevett. Interesting though, they she exposes the fact that a line being pushed by Armstrong and Small, actually came from Team Shearer: i.e. that Shearer’s best response would be to push for a leadership vote now, secure his position.

    That puts Shearer’s leadership on much more precarious ground, and last night sources indicated the leader could move to bring matters to a head by forcing a vote, rather than letting it fester over summer.

    Trevett also started compiling a list of MPs for each of the two (presumed) contenders in a leadership contest.

    • lprent 10.1

      I presume that they mean a caucus vote.

      It’d take at least a month for the NZ council and the head office to set up everything for a postal ballot to members. Remember they haven’t done anything like it before. Probably more like two months. But if it were a month then members will get them just before Xmas when they are a whole lot less likely to be home. It is one way of getting grumpy members I would guess.

      Not to mention the affiliates have to set up their own procedures.

      I suppose that an early caucus vote would work. But the party vote will be about feb at the earliest. Delivered with the membership renewal reminders in Jan would probably be an excellent incentive

  11. KhandallaMan 11

    The Labour members did what what their branches and LECs told them to do yesterday: they took the party back from the Caucus.  
    The Caucus should now get “on story” with the membership and stop patronising them. 
    To win the next election the Caucus needs to change its attitude: if they think yesterday was an aberration they will only perpetuate their woes.
    If they acknowledge that NZ Labour is now the most democratic and open in NZ and fully embrace that; we will have created a fantastic new mass party. 
    Roll on change.

     

  12. geoff 12

    What the hell is Andrew Little doing??? He’s going to fuck off a lot of people if he keeps this up.

    • Benghazi 12.1

      Doing deals with Mallard/King is what he’s been doing. He will have been promised a safe seat somewhere….

      I’m hoping his common sense will come to the fore. It should have been a shock to him yesterday to see that he could not deliver King/Mallard the affiliate vote. Neither could Tollich and neither could Helen Kelly. Now what have they promised Kelly??

  13. marsman 13

    Thank you LPrent. Breathing easier with hope in the air.

  14. just saying 14

    Has anyone asked Grant Robertson whether he will rule out a future leadership challenge?

    I was impressed by his speech, and it came across to me as being his own opening gambit in the contest. He laid ‘great and glorious’ Shearer loyalty stuff on with a trowel, but with much greater finesse than Cunliffe has been able to muster. I find Robertson much more likable than Cunliffe, and felt that he skilfully reached out to the left, particularly the much maligned online-left, in some carefully chosen phrases.

    But for me, his actions as a right-wing management man belie much of the content of that speech.

    The fact that at least one member of the leadership team can write a terrific speech, yet Shearer is scripted mangled cliches padded out with meanngless twaddle so dull it would bore a battery hen, proves there is some degree of sabotage going on within the ABC cabal.

    I wonder if the possibility that Shearer’s unpopularity amongst the flaxroots of the party, and the left in general, might bear any relationship to his politics, will ever be mentioned in the mainstream media. Or the fact that the only people he demonstrates real passion and committment to stand up to, to sneer contemptuously at, and to rule completely beyond the pale, is us.

    • KhandallaMan 14.1

      +1 j s 
      Robertson should be asked many many questions. 

      Cunliffe is not the cause of the current concerns.  Roberson n’mates set the scene for these tensions.  They were so ffffing clever in how they took control of the Wellington levers of power: yesterday was about the membership sticking it to that type of minset and behaviour. 

      All is changed.  

      • Bill 14.1.1

        I’m not so sure that “all is changed”. That 60/40 split in caucus is still far too high in my opinion. It allows the gaming and politiking within caucus to proceed more or less as before. Y’know, buy one or two people off with promises of positions within caucus and the 60% +1 position is secured – though probably not that stable.

        By the time you get to a position where 40% of caucus are disgruntled, I think it’s reasonable to argue that the horse has already bolted. A 20% theshhold would have been far, far more sensible. A 20% threshhold would have more or less killed off any ability to ‘game’ sections of caucus and would have alerted the wider party to problems – or allowed the wider party to stamp its authority and get things sorted – before they had a chance to fester.

    • Dr Terry 14.2

      I hope this is not all about who is most “likeable”. It should be about who is best prepared and able to take on leadership. Will we ever get away from “personality politics”?

      • just saying 14.2.1

        That really was “just saying” Dr Terry. I’m happy for someone unappealing to me to lead. If they move the party back to being Labour they have my support. I like loads of people I wouldn’t want near the reins of power.

  15. Bill 15

    Question no. 1. Who sent Patrick Gower of TV3 to go ‘dog’ David Cunliffe? The story of the Labour Conference was all around him – the Labour Party was democratising somewhat. Now, I know that leads to some possible permutations in February. But in the case of wanting to explore that angle, wouldn’t the obvious approach to have been to ask Shearer if he felt comfortable about the prospect of securing 60% +1 of caucus? And then leave it at that? The constant barraging of Cunliffe on TV3 news and the twisting of his refusal to enter into leadership questions on the grounds the conference had been about constitutional or structural matters was absolute bullshit. I believe he again said the leader had his support, but that was absolutely ignored in the news report’s ‘analysis’.

    Question no. 2. What the hell is going on with Andrew Little? I quietly ignored his ‘blogs don’t have a say’ comment on the grounds he had been somewhat ambushed with the question and gave him the benefit of the doubt on the grounds he might not have quite engaged his brain before speaking. But to argue against a democratisation of the party on the grounds it would lead to instability was and is a very fcked up position to adopt in my opinion. And so I wonder, has he been offered some promotion/position by the ABCer’s?

    Question no. 3. Can we expect a smattering of promotions to the benches of mp’s who formally didn’t vote for Shearer in an attempt to garner 60% +1 support before Feb? And would such promotions signal an attempt to overcome differences within caucus or be a cynical ploy to work caucus in Robertson’s favour while mollifying sections of the membership?

    • geoff 15.1

      Good post.

    • Benghazi 15.2

      Excellent post Bill. All I can say is that Gower is a gutter journalist – very low and just not that bright. But he’s in great company this week after Fran O’Sullivan’s lightweight nonsense and John Armstrong having a go at Cunliffe for a toothpaste smile. Come on, don’t New Zealanders deserve some better journalism than that!

      As for Little, he’s sold himself for a safe seat offered by Annette King. My guess is he wanted hers after she announces for the Wellington mayoralty. Unfortunately, its already been promised to Helen Kelly. So another safe seat elsewhere will have been offered to Little. Seats presently held by Dyson and Ross Robertsons are ripe for the plucking as no one wants to see those two sticking around after 2014. Unions you need to watch Little and Kelly and make them understand who they need to connect with and honour!

    • prism 15.3

      Bill
      “Question no. 3. Can we expect a smattering of promotions to the benches of mp’s who formally didn’t vote for Shearer…
      Did you mean formerly?

  16. pete 16

    So, The Standard has been about the Cunliffe/Shearer leadership question all week.

    But now it’s….

    “simplistic and as easily understood a story as the epic personal conflict of two protagonists to fill those endless minutes “

  17. AmaKiwi 17

    My scorecard for the conference:

    Moira Coatsworth +10
    Cunliffe + 5
    Shearer/Robertson 0
    ABC conspirators -10

    Moira managed to reunite a very angry party. It is a HUGE accomplishment. Without ever mentioning names, she allowed infuriated members to smash the ABC conspirators to the ground with speeches which allowed them to vent their fury but in the direction of constitutional changes rather than personal attacks.

    If Cunliffe quit politics tomorrow it would not change two things:

    1. Labour MP’s have been put on notice: “If the MP’s ignore the members again they will destroy the party.”
    2. Shearer and Robertson are still pathetic leaders. Labour needs more experienced hands to take on National.

    Prior to the conference I had been very critical of Moira’s “halfway measures” toward democratization. I hope she will accept my apologies. She displayed superb strategic and tactical skills. She pulled the party out of a deep dark shit hole.

    • Colonial Viper 17.1

      And don’t forget the new Gen Sec, Tim Barnett. Labour is damn lucky to have him onboard.

      There were some real masterstrokes for Conference running smoothly which he was involved with. eg. having the constitutional debates in open session. Having media right there in the room reporting on speeches and voting in real time was awesome. It forced MPs and delegates to think through what they were going to say and how they were going to say it.

      Gutsy, risky call but it worked beautifully. Frakin genius.

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    3 days ago
  • Speech to Dawn Raids Apology
    Tēnā koutou katoa, Kia orana kotou katoatoa, Fakaalofa lahi atu ki mutolu oti, Tālofa nī, Mālō nī koutou, Ni sa bula vinaka, Fakatalofa atu, Noa'ia 'e mauri, Kam na mauri, Malo e lelei, Sioto'ofa, Mālō lava le lagi e mamā ma le soifua maua, Oue tulou, tulou atu, tulouna lava ...
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  • Progress in establishment of Aged Care Commissioner
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    4 days ago
  • New record number of homes consented
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    5 days ago
  • Communities backed to tackle wilding pines
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  • Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation introduced to Parliament
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  • Govt investing millions in Hawke's Bay and Tairāwhiti schools
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  • New Bay of Islands hospital facilities to bring services closer to home
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