Theorising the Labour leadership selection

Written By: - Date published: 11:55 am, December 16th, 2011 - 78 comments
Categories: accountability, labour, Politics - Tags:

We have great expectations of our members of parliament. They are there to represent our views as citizens of New Zealand, as members of our own little town or big city, perhaps as women or liberals or environmentalists. To manage those expectations our politicians are members of political parties to provide signposts of their main values. We presume that if we vote National we will get members of parliament that advocate for smaller governments and big business; Labour will aim for collective action and market regulation; the Greens will prioritise our lakes, land and skies.

Our assumptions however, of how members of parliament will reach their decisions, differ and this shapes how we judge their performance. Judgement is what I was considering when reflecting on the Labour leadership selection process. Many people have been discussing and evaluating the decisions of the Labour caucus on this blog. I was interested to reflect on the philosophical assumptions that underlie the judgements members may have made about their caucus representatives.

British philosopher Edmund Burke termed two different modes of viewing representation as the trustee and delegate models.

Under a delegate model we see politicians as purely a mouthpiece for us as citizens. Accordingly they should reflect the views of their constituents and keep their own perspectives on the sidelines. In a modern setting this could mean running polls in the electorate before voting on an issue or gaining a mandate on all policies prior to election. If you consider this view of how politicians should act it seems pretty untenable. Within a community it’s going to be impossible to get full agreement from all voters so naturally many will feel let down no matter the decision. It would also be incredibly expensive to canvass substantive opinions on all issues that politicians have to vote on and it’s a pipe dream to imagine you can gain a mandate for all policies in your election campaign. It would also be pretty restrictive to government progress if politicians weren’t able to act/react to the fluidity of governing because they hadn’t gained a mandate for each decision. Still, there are many people out there who view politics in this way. “Politicians never do what I want” they complain, “We should have binding referenda for everything!”

The trustee model characterises politicians as people who have been elected to represent the best interests of their community but this could be what people need not what they want. This perspective views politicians as having more time to research and consider the issue at hand as well as life experience or specialist expertise that will aid their decision. If you view representation through a trustee lens you trust your politician to use their judgement on issues and believe they have an edge on the common person to make the right decision (whether it’s because they are immersed in information via their job or because of the skills/qualifications they hold).

So I’ve been thinking a bit about these two perspectives in the wake of the Labour leadership selection.

I think the expectations we have of our parliamentarians and the nature of the relationship is slightly different with party members than with voters. There is perhaps more of a requirement for a delegate model in this relationship as politicians depend on their members to get them selected, to fundraise or donate and to campaign and ultimately get elected. While we have many excellent members in the Labour caucus I don’t think any of them imagine they would be members of parliament without the volunteers that work to get them there. There is perhaps the presumption that MPs ‘owe’ it to their members to consult them and to try and reflect their views. This expectation is obviously more applicable to decisions made within the party as members of the Parliamentary wing of Labour than to all their votes in the House.

I think some of the anger and upset I’ve seen on this blog and others over the Labour leadership is because many members are holding to a delegate model of how their MPs should act and feel betrayed if they perceive the caucus haven’t acted accordingly. This is understandable if members had the mistaken view that the leadership road show was opening up a delegate relationship with the caucus but I think most Party communication was clear that MPs had the final say.

Ultimately, I prescribe to a trustee view of the relationship in this instance. I put my trust in our 34-member caucus to make the right decisions for our party primarily because this is what has been asked of them. Our constitution asks them to act as trustees not as delegates. Therefore it asks them to use their insights, on the job experience and qualifications to decide what the party needs in a leader. We were asked to express our opinions on the leadership but now we must trust they have made the right decision.

I think theoretically this is actually the best way for the Party’s decision making around parliamentary leadership to be structured. The caucus is in the best position to judge the character of leadership contenders and to assess their ability to work in the desired role. We also are supporting them as parliamentarians because we believe they have particular skills that make them worthy of their roll and part of that roll is selecting the person that will lead them. We cannot trumpet their skills with the selection and campaign process but then dismiss them when it comes to the leadership decision. Lastly I am not a fan of majority or popular opinion always being the right decision. This caution of ‘mob rule’ is why there are checks and balances in the US political system, why countries aren’t run purely on referenda and why we have voted to support MMP over FPP.

If you are philosophically opposed to this mode of governance then I would be interested to hear your reasoning. It seems relevant in light of the upcoming review* of the Labour Party constitution to get these expectations clear in our minds.

 Pointy

* Clarification: The upcoming review is organisational rather than constitutional.  See Moira Coatsworth’s speech earlier this year. There is an expectation of a constitutional review afterwards because the constitution and organisational structures are so intertwined.  lprent

78 comments on “Theorising the Labour leadership selection”

  1. Ant 1

    There is so much wrong with this post it’s not funny.

    Ultimately, I prescribe to a trustee view of the relationship in this instance. I put my trust in our 34-member caucus to make the right decisions for our party primarily because this is what has been asked of them. Our constitution asks them to act as trustees not as delegates. Therefore it asks them to use their insights, on the job experience and qualifications to decide what the party needs in a leader. We were asked to express our opinions on the leadership but now we must trust they have made the right decision.

    Oh dear.

    • The Voice of Reason 1.1

      Best you say what you think is wrong with it then, Ant, and put up some alternatives. From my perspective, the post does an excellent job of explaining the difference between the two models of representation and why that analysis is apt in light of the Labour party leadership change. 
       
      Pointy has correctly identified an issue that many supporters struggle with; the difference between the wider membership role and that of the paid reps. Or, to put it another way, what we expect from our MP’s versus what we should expect from our MP’s.

      • lprent 1.1.1

        It gets even more ambiguous than that. Consider this….

        MP’s are elected and paid for by the voters. It is pretty easy to argue that they are actually largely responsible to the voters. So how are they responsible to members?

        Members are members of a party that is in theory made up of branches. The branches have the ability to send policy remits through regional conferences, policy committees, to a national conference to become party policy that binds the parliamentary MP’s..

        Now I’ve never bothered to put in a remit because I looked at the procedures and what was involved long ago.

        Now I haven’t seen what I’d consider to be a working branch in a while. Mostly they can’t make the minimum attendances, and I pretty much stopped attending them a decade ago because all they did was chew up time. But lets ignore that reality intrusion.

        What remits do go through the system and survive filtering and eventually get passed are as far as I can tell are simply ignored by the parliamentary team. As far as I can see the parliamentarians make most of the policy up based on focus groups and polling. Now someone show me a contrary example in say the last 15 years?

        But assume I am right. So what is the role of members?

        Well they don’t contribute that much to the nation-wide party finances from what I remember of the last set of accounts I saw. They are good for the local electorate campaign costs – the $20k max per electorate. They are useful for candidates for campaigns for leaflets, hoardings, canvassing etc.

        Someone here the other day said that members were just viewed as being MP fan clubs. That statement has been weighing heavily on my mind… It sounds about right. The question in my mind after seeing the number of dysfunctional electorates around is that correct? But it pretty much explains the attitudes of the MP’s – especially the ones high on the list or list only ones.

        The operational review had better start by looking at what is the purpose of members?

        Update: I forgot selection!

  2. Pointy 2

    Hi Ant

    You are welcome to engage on the ideas raise in the post and indeed I’d like to hear some other options for viewing the relationship. Sanctimonious crap isn’t welcome so come up with something other than ‘Oh dear’ or bugger off.

    Pointy 

    • lprent 2.1

      Hi Pointy, I added the clarification at the end of the post because otherwise I’d be be correcting people forever. What Moira actually said in May was 

      As your president I will ensure we have a strong 21st century party organisation.   We need to be relevant and engaging to people in the 21st century. This means a bigger and more open Labour Party that attracts more thinkers and activists who are committed to our values and to responding to the great issues of our time. It means a party that drives political and social change towards a strong sustainable and just society.

      I am committed to us reviewing our organisation and rebuilding. Your advice on what our 21st century Labour party needs to be will be critical to this. After the election we will complete an organisational review. Chris Flatt and I are determined that this will inform a 3 year programme of rebuilding and strengthening our party.

      Some organisational priorities are very clear. Building sustained fundraising is one. We now have operational budgets running consistently within budget but we need long term fundraising for our campaigns. (This afternoon we are talking to you about our campaign fundraising this year and how you can help.)

      Another priority is enhancing communication and involvement. Like most voluntary organisations our members and supporters are our strength and we need to work together in ways that recognises this –communicating more effectively through a range of media and empowering our members to act locally. We are also strengthening our ties with sister parties including the Australian Labor Party. This weekend we welcome Tegan Gilchrist, Matt Burne and Sandy Rippingale from the ALP and we thank them for their solidarity and support.

      Ongoing renewal of very skilled men and women to serve in parliament is most important.  This means we will work systematically over the next three years to attract, develop and support a diverse pool of skilled women and men who aspire to be MPs. This is particularly important for candidates with potential who do not have strong regions or sectors behind them. The women’s leadership conference held last year was an example of a systematic effective strategy to attract and support a particular group of candidates.

      It cannot come soon enough for me, and I rather suspect may be coming too late. I’m finding it very difficult to raise any enthusiasm for it. Why?

      Well I didn’t really notice too much of the renewal coming through in the list. Offhand I’m struggling to see many new Labour MP’s actually in parliament (Carmel and… who?). I also couldn’t even find any information about the organisational review online apart from inside this speech, a post Mike Smith did here, and a few mentions in leadership candidates speeches.

      I get the impression that we will be two thirds of the way towards the election before anything happens which is far too late. I feel that membership ideas will just disappear down a blackhole as per normal because it is something that should be being discussed now in the LEC’s but there is bugger all information about scope, procedure, options, or anything else – not even in my e-mail box. That is the fastest way I know to get badly thought out and quite ignorable suggestions is to do everything without time to ponder and discuss. It all sounds like yet another Wellington only jackup.

      I’m just damn well cynical. I don’t expect MP’s to be delegates. However I also don’t expect them to be so incestuous that they appear to listen to each other and their wellington flunkies more than their members. Which is what they appear to do.

      I’m not interested in being viewed a member of a MP’s fanclub. That wasn’t why I got involved in
      politics.

      • rocky 2.1.1

        I like this comment. I guess that means I’m as cynical as you are 🙁

      • Fieldwest 2.1.2

        Agree. I’m too very cynical now. I don’t expect MPs to be so insightful that can make all correct decisions for memebers.

        • Pointy 2.1.2.1

          I agree too. And actually in the post I say in this specific instance that is the power the constitution affords the caucus (to pick the leadership) and that I think it’s probably the right division of responsibility. But I have also said in the comments that I would be happy to hear arguments to the contrary and be convinced otherwise.

          There is no where that I have said, or even contemplated, that the caucus should make decisions on everything for us as members. 

           

    • Ant 2.2

      I have some pretty big problems with putting trust in people just because it is their job to be trusted. Who are they accountable to if their decision making or insights are deemed flawed? It’s no longer purely the electorate due to the party list under MMP. The party, and by this I mean its members, should form an additional level of accountability to those who are supposed to represent us.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.2.1

        Frankly I think the idea that an MP’s job is to “represent” is ludicrous – which is probably why so many people agree with it. We elect them to govern.

        • Ant 2.2.1.1

          We elect them for both reasons. If they fail to represent their constituency then generally they don’t get elected and don’t govern.

          • One Anonymous Bloke 2.2.1.1.1

            I don’t see how they can but fail to represent their communities. Take climate policy, for example. We need our government to do the right thing, but if they do they won’t be returned. The notion of “representation” is partly to blame for this.

            OAB’s democratic model has a civil service that proposes viable evidence-based policies, and a parliament that gets to choose which version is adopted, with no other alternatives to be considered.
            Or something! Probably be a bloody disaster but…

            • Ant 2.2.1.1.1.1

              Yeah definite headache to address, there are issues like climate change which are in the greater good, but how do you get a mechanism to address these without leaving open the door to abuse?

              I sometimes wonder if a constitution that can be amended by a citizen’s quorum would be the answer on the big issues. They could make the decisions based on presentations of reliable evidence without the fear of losing their livelyhood that a politician has, I wonder if this would let them make the hard decisions?

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                In the specific example of climate change, I think it’s quite clear that most would prefer to sacrifice the future than risk their “livelihood”, but even if that were not the case, I have spent the last three years reading almost everything published by Real Climate, and I’m still nowhere near competent to judge good policy.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    The (relatively recent) historical context is that when caucus goes off too far from the party and its membership, bad things happen.

    A lot of Labour Party members remember this all too well, and it likely colours some responses.

    An organisational review with no constitutional review. I guess that means the membership won’t be voting on future leadership changes quite yet.

  4. Olwyn 4

    I will reply because these things have been very much on my mind in the past few days. Firstly, someone becomes a trustee in relation to a truster, or a group of trusters, as in payee-payer, etc. And that, for me is where the issue lies. The delegate model would require members that are more fully informed than is possible; I accept that. The parliamentary party, however, has in my eyes behaved in a way that has done little to inspire trust on the part of the members.

    One suspects, for instance, that the “meet the candidates” event essentially combined a membership drive with a PR stunt, and that the members were “listened to”far less than they were led to expect. After all, the broad direction of the party would seem to me to involve a consensus between members and representatives, even if the the way in which that cashes out involves the members trusting the representatives. Then there were the media releases designed to undercut the candidate that appealed to many members, and who seemed to accord with the direction the members hoped the party would take: the affirmation of the so-called ABC club, for instance, and the fudging of numbers, so as to signal where to vote if you were still undecided. Finally, there was the choosing of two relatively inexperienced people, at a time when financial catastrophe threatens and a snap election could be called before the term is up.

    There is something quite sad too about Labour MP’s and right wing propagandists high-fiving each other while the members console themselves. On the two times I have met David Shearer I thought he seemed an OK guy. But after this performance my eye is still too jaundiced to see him in such a way that I can join in the general rejoicing. Does that answer your question?

    • Pointy 4.1

      Hi Olwyn

      I think I largely agree with you and perhaps that is why I’ve turned to something theoretical to try to nut out how I’m feeling. As there is obviously some doubt from the way I’ve presented myself I was a clear Cunliffe supporter and let caucus know. I agree with many of the concerns you’ve raised about the process and the spectrum of the political voices that seemed to influence it.

      I guess what I’m trying to do is look forwards and say ok ‘what are my expectations of caucus’, ‘what can I reasonably ask of them’ ‘would I want the whole party to have a say on the leadership anymore than caucus?’. My knee-jerk reaction last week was very pro members having the vote for leadership but then I guess I started to think about the differences between the president and the parliamentary leader etc and that led me to this piece.

      I think I would also be happy to be led to different conclusions!!

       

      • Olwyn 4.1.1

        I think the trust issue is the important one, which can perhaps be bolstered by constitutional clarity (I have to admit that I am not knowledgeable about such matters). Where the members have the say, trust is open to failing in the other direction. Labour is probably too big to be subverted by its membership, but one can imagine the Greens getting flooded by blue-greens who want to keep the conservation bit and drop the social bit, and voting accordingly between elections (say after a defeat), when its MPs have been voted in on other grounds. Trust and genuine connection are needed, though it is difficult to see how you would legislate such things. I guess there are three parts: the caucus, the members and the voting public, and how they fit together. In a healthy party, the members are more than fans, and in many ways form an important interface between caucus and the voting public. They create the enthusiasm that others want to be a part of, the bit that may prove to be a missing link in the recent selection of a leader. Unless they are able to win back the members’ trust.

  5. Southern Labourite 5

    G’day I’m a member of the Labour party.

    The two key principles of democracy are:
    # People have the right to a controlling influence over public decisions and decision-makers. This is the principle of popular control
    # People be treated with equal respect and as of equal worth in the context of such decisions. This is the principle of political equality.
    Source: Human Rights Commission http://www.hrc.co.nz/report/chapters/chapter06/democratic01.html#ide1

    The trustee model does not follow these principles.

    Cacucus has their own experiences and this is invaluable. But this doesn’t mean they’re in the best posistion to judge the character of leadership contenders. As an example from the Christchurch earthquake, it is hard to see the cracks outside the house when the inside looks spick and span. If they want to inform members of who they think should be the leader then they could tell their members. They can support leaders in their campaign to be leader.

    There maybe MPs that say members should not know what happens in Caucus. I don’t agree with that. Openness, accountability and transparency are cleanders that ensure our MPs are not corrupt by power. This didn’t happen in the 80’s. Majority opinion isn’t always right, but neither is minor opinion.

    Thanks for reading.

    • Pointy 5.1

      Southern Laboruite,

      We are a representative democracy. That is why we elect people to represent us and we all have an equal right to vote those representatives in. Under a representative democracy the trustee model fits just fine. If we had a direct democracy then that would be a different story…but we don’t.

      The caucus is a different matter and their relationship with the party is governed by the constitution.

      • Southern Labourite 5.1.1

        Hi Pointy,

        Of course the practicalities of direct democracy don’t make it so viable. But what makes you think the trustee model fits just fine? We still don’t get to elect our leader under the current model. That is not representative democracy in that regard.

        The caucus is a very important matter Pointy in regards to democracy as well as leadership. I challenge you to think about who the caucus and constitution are meant to serve.

        Regards, Southern Labourite.

        • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1.1

          “what makes you think the trustee model fits just fine?”

          Who said it “fits just fine”? I think it’s the worst possible fit apart from all the other ones.

          • Ari 5.1.1.1.1

            So you think a caucus vote is better than a vote including all members? Why?

            I trust members a lot more than I do the caucus.

  6. Blue 6

    It’s not really about ‘trustee vs delegate’ Pointy. It’s about asking 34 people who have their own interests at stake to make the decision.

    Bottom line is, the party leader controls the porfolio allocation and rankings.

    Maybe we’d all like to think that all MPs are selfless creatures who will do what’s best for the greater good even if it significantly disadvantages them personally, but that’s a bit optimistic.

    People have egos, and they do let them get in the way.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 6.1

      “People have egos, and they do let them get in the way.”

      This is also true of science, and it is worth remembering that science works in spite of the humanity of scientists. We can learn a lot from the adversarial aggression that is peer-review, especially in the context of evidence based policy.

      • newsense 6.1.1

        yeh to me this trustee model comes across a bit like an economic decision making theory.

        I remember some one in the education profession telling that those in charge of professional courses were not trusted to define what to teach because they had an interest or something like that. Agency theory or something?? bit of a vague recollection sorry.

        I find it difficult in this case to allow for a behavioural model of the trusted policitian with the best information making the best decision for the electorate. Surely self interest does get heavily heavily involved, though I have heard depending on who they supported that both sides were terrible because they were self interested!

        • One Anonymous Bloke 6.1.1.1

          You missed the point. You can’t trust people, period; we’re all biased. You have to figure out a way to balance competing biases so as to allow evidence and remove anecdotes or advocacy. I appreciate that this will leave the National Party with no policy at all, but fuck them.

  7. Who would ‘trust’ Edmund Burke, the man who condemned the French Revolution and disqualified himself from the bourgeois parliamentary democracy?

    Trust is fine when you are a member of the ruling class and trust your parliamentary representatives to protect your private property. Occasionally a coup is necessary but that is a mere circulation of elites. (Montesquieu to Michels)

    When you are a member of the working class you cannot trust your parliamentary delegates not to be bought off by those who own and control the means of production and exercise the power of the state. (Marx to Gramsci)

    Thus a healthy distrust is the midwife of revolution. (Fukuyama to Fukushima)

  8. Draco T Bastard 8

    It would also be incredibly expensive to canvass substantive opinions…

    Not any more. As one example we have Surveymonkey. Sure, when it comes down to actual voting we need to be able to verify the people voting but even that’s not hard and is reasonably secure. Doing so also gets rid of the “Politicians never do what I want” as everyone will be able to see the result. Not always getting what you want is part of the democratic process.

    It would also be pretty restrictive to government progress if politicians weren’t able to act/react to the fluidity of governing because they hadn’t gained a mandate for each decision.

    But they would have that mandate. In an emergency they could pass legislation and then come to us about it and we could validate their actions or tell them to go back to the drawing board. Under normal conditions they should be coming to us anyway – in fact, they do but select committee process is very limited.

    If you view representation through a trustee lens you trust your politician to use their judgement…

    Ah, the old Authoritarian, leader knows best view.

    This caution of ‘mob rule’ is why there are checks and balances in the US political system…

    The US constitution was written to produce a US aristocracy. It didn’t quite pan out how the Founding Fathers wanted it to as everyone else wanted democracy. Of course, now that the corporates and the 0.1% have total control of the government anyway they got what they wanted – it just took a bit longer. Considering that most people are decent people and are reasonably well educated now the mob rule scaremongering should be thrown out as the BS that it is.

    From what I’m seeing coming out of the Labour party since the new leader took over Labour is heading even more to the right. Why are they doing this? Because the MPs are not listening to their members but to themselves. ATM, I’ll be surprised if they have 20% of the vote next election.

    • Pointy 8.1

      Draco, I don’t think you can advocate surveymonkey as a way to canvass voter opinion without alienating a whole section of society who are already alienated enough.

      As for the strawman authoritarian argument…we have many ways to curb those that govern with the most obvious being a vote. With a population that could be barely bothered to do that I find it hard to imagine they would engage enough on each policy issue to have a valid response either. Hence why we have representatives in the first place.

      Again, as I’ve said, the Labour caucus’ relationship with the party is a different matter.

      • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1

        I don’t think you can advocate surveymonkey as a way to canvass voter opinion without alienating a whole section of society who are already alienated enough.

        SurveyMonkey was an example of a way to do so, ie, online and electronically.

        As for the strawman authoritarian argument…

        So decades of research is a straw-man argument?

        With a population that could be barely bothered to do that [vote]…

        Have you considered that people can’t be bothered to vote because the political parties aren’t talking or listening to them. People are being alienated from politics and, IMO, it’s the authoritarian mindset that’s doing it.

        Again, as I’ve said, the Labour caucus’ relationship with the party is a different matter.

        No, it’s not. The Labour caucus is, IMO, not listening to the party’s members.

        • Craig Glen Eden 8.1.1.1

          Exactly DTB I agree with all your points here. The truth is many Labour MPs told their LECs that they were going to vote a certain way after consulting with them clearly they didn’t do as they said as we got the inexperience and poorly performing ( based on Member Meetings and TV presentation) Shearer.

          Pointy argues that the member’s have put the MPs up for their skills and we have to trust that they know best, past experience ( Douglas, Prebble) shows thats a fallacy. Also I suspect after such a poor electoral performance many members are seriously evaluating just how good our MPS are because clearly they are not that good, and with regards to the leadership vote members cant trust them.
          I honestly believe we ( Labour ) would be better to trust the collective wisdom of the membership with regards to future leaders than the current model in which MP’s vote in their vested own self interest.

          If we are to continue as a Party ( which is getting smaller) members have to have more direct say and MPs have to be held accountable ( no secrete voting) every card carrying members vote should be worth the same in my view regardless of what position you hold in the Party.

          The whole I know best stuff because of my position is total crap and is used to hide total self interest.

          • Pointy 8.1.1.1.1

            Ok, so how are you going to argue for that change? I think the vested self-interest thing also plays out amongst the membership although members don’t necessarily have as much to lose in the parliamentary leadership battle. I just don’t see it as being a line to promote change ‘we don’t trust you as MPs because you’re all just self-serving unlike us members’. 

            I think the whole ‘we can’t trust politicians because their selfish wankers’ thing is also crap. There needs to be a balance. 

  9. Pascal's bookie 9

    I’m neither a LP member nor a voter so I won’t say anything beyond the following question:

    Who does the parliamentary caucus represent? LP members, or LP voters?

    • The Voice of Reason 9.1

      Both, bookie. And one more, as well. MP’s have a responsibility to party, voters and caucus. All 3 stakeholders have the ability to endorse or sanction the MP by voting him or her in or out.

    • lprent 9.2

      Yep that is the real question….

      I suspect that the best way to make that clear is to force a contested selection in every electorate including that of sitting MP’s and making sure that at least a few of them result in sitting MP’s not getting selected each election cycle. Probably help with the renewal as well.

      Remove the current list selection process and make it something like a STV process without regional divisions or any favouritism for sitting MP’s. After all the list is meant to reflect the party right?

      Both of those would probably concentrate MP’s and members minds a lot

      • Colonial Viper 9.2.1

        I suspect that the best way to make that clear is to force a contested selection in every electorate including that of sitting MP’s and making sure that at least a few of them result in sitting MP’s not getting selected each election cycle. Probably help with the renewal as well.

        Wow you are cruel and unusual. Not saying that I disagree, mind you.

        • Pointy 9.2.1.1

          Not a bad idea Lynn!

          • lprent 9.2.1.1.1

            Well if we are having an organisational review, then I think that the organisation of MP’s should be in the mix as well. It isn’t even part of the constitution, although embedding it there would be useful.

        • lprent 9.2.1.2

          I think that members are taken far too much for granted. But I’m also concerned about MP’s getting too embedded in the Wellington beltway matrix.

          I was digging through some material looking at new Labour MP’s per election. The turnover is far too low.

          Perhaps we should look at a term limit for MP’s as well – say 3 elections and then they have to take one off. That’d encourage them to keep their external skills sharpened as well. It’d also make the selections more interesting with ex-MP’s wanting to get back in.

      • Pundit X 9.2.2

        Its a little like a labour movement groundhog day for me watched all of this debate taking place in the eighties in the UK Labour Party although even then it was far more democratic. Even at that point a member could indeed move a resolution at ward level and wind up seeing it composited into policy at annual conference which I did. Problem was the MP’s ignored conference policy. Selection and reselection of MP’s along with the enfranchisement of the membership in electing the leader and deputy brought about significant change for party members but Labour remained out in the cold electorally throughout the Thatcher years. Along came Blair who introduced reforms which separated the party from effective policy making and did away with mandatory reselection of MP’s. The election of the leader and deputy is still done by electoral college which includes the membership the affiliated organisations and the MP’s themselves. A UK labour leader can at least claim a mandate.

        Labour does have a mountain to climb here. The party is as I have said a fan club for MP’s and exists to provide them with job security. Fine if you don’t mind being National lite (the direction Shearer will almost certainly take the party) and are comfortable with paying lip service to heroes of the past: Savage; Kirk. But the judgement of caucus is now and has been for a long time fatally flawed and inspite of all the talk of renewal the party is circling the drain.

        Then there are the Greens a modern, democratic and inclusive party that involves the membership. They certainly won’t be waiting for Shearer to get his act together but siezing the initiative. Its likely for the forseeable future they will become the opposition party. If I hadn’t left Labour in despair six months ago and joined the Greens I certainly would have now. I think Team Shearer is about to throw the car in reverse.

    • Carol 9.3

      Who does the parliamentary caucus represent? LP members, or LP voters?

      And how much much does the current Labour Party confuse engaging with the voters with engaging with the media?

  10. Very good post Pointy, interesting.

    Whatever type of representation is used it comes down to the how well informed the people involved are and how reasoned their decisions are. From what I have seen of the recent Labour leadership process I think I’d rely more on caucus to come up with the best decision, despite their personal interests.

    I’m very interested in delegate versus trustee. I think in practice we need to rely mostly on trustee but we do need a better balance with some level of delegation, our referendum options are to limited, too slow and too expensive.

    I’m establishing a trial exploring how all constituents (not just party members) can have more input into our political process while avoiding bogging it down with too much.

    Time will tell how much involvement people will actually want, there tends to be a moaning apathy prevalent. But if a better balance with more constituent involvement can be established then it should encourage more engagement between people and politicians.

  11. Uturn 11

    “Under a delegate model we see politicians as purely a mouthpiece for us as citizens. Accordingly they should reflect the views of their constituents and keep their own perspectives on the sidelines.”

    In a consultative environment it doesn’t mean that at all, in fact, it would be silly to exclude representatives from a consultative process. How is the party to communicate with the people if the reps are not present or engaged? To suggest a purely theoretical delegate model is possible in our existing style of politics is not a genuine proposition.

    “In a modern setting this could mean running polls in the electorate before voting on an issue or gaining a mandate on all policies prior to election. If you consider this view of how politicians should act it seems pretty untenable.”

    That’d be a clumsy way of doing it, but far from untenable. You’re not exploring the idea, just saying what could be the most backward or theoretically pure application to forward your point of view.

    “Within a community it’s going to be impossible to get full agreement from all voters so naturally many will feel let down no matter the decision.”

    This is not necessarily the case with true consultation, unlike the stuff we just saw in the Labour Party leadership “consultation”. Or even local body council “consultation”. When small groups discuss the issue, they understand the issue and are more likely to explore options, or worse case, chose the lesser of the evils. See OWS movement for current evidence of this process – not a pollie or party in sight. How did those dumb people do it, eh?

    “It would also be incredibly expensive to canvass substantive opinions on all issues that politicians have to vote on and it’s a pipe dream to imagine you can gain a mandate for all policies in your election campaign.”

    Expensive, no, not if a modern civilian version of a political commissar office or similar existed already. Organisational skill needed? Yes. Failing that, if you have a local hall, park or venue, you have a cheap meeting house. Auckland was once divided on boroughs and county councils. It hasn’t always been a super city. The idea that large and centralised is better democracy than scattered local groups simply isn’t true. If it were, then MMP would fail. While politics will always attract flaws in decision making, better forms of representation cannot be ruled out simply because they are not tidy. Every time someone discards another facet of true democracy for tidy hierarchy and ease of rule for the party, the people suffer. What your argument denies is that a system could be put in place to support better representation. Just bloody well come out and say you support Labour’s latest decision and help me to help myself not waste my fudgin’ lunchtime!

    “It would also be pretty restrictive to government progress if politicians weren’t able to act/react to the fluidity of governing because they hadn’t gained a mandate for each decision.”

    This needs expansion. Is your “fluidity” the same as John key’s “dinnemic” environment? Are you saying a government has no obligations to its people – that overseas influence must always come first? That a nation cannot be protected in any way?

    “Still, there are many people out there who view politics in this way. “Politicians never do what I want” they complain, “We should have binding referenda for everything!”

    Then it is up to the party to engage the people on their terms, not on the party’s terms. Talk to the freekin’ people for godssake. Discuss things, instead of trying to screw them and build your own career!

    What I’m getting most from your post is that politics should be for politicians; people are too busy being good consuming school fish to consider their future, and should be kept that way. Well, have a look at voter turnout this time round and see where that attitude ends up. Ruling would be easy if there were no people to rule. Inspect your attitudes and you’ll see that centre left is really just Right and it won’t come as such a surprise that Labour were so easily infiltrated by Prebble and Douglas et. al. .

    • Pointy 11.1

      Thanks for your substantive comment. 

      You have critiqued my description of the theory as not reflecting the modern reality. That’s because I was outlining the basic principles of the theory not discussing how the theory plays out/could be re-worked/is irrelevant to modern situations. I like that you have presented ways that people/voters are consulted but ultimately that is still a trustee model, isn’t it? Part of a politicians job is to gather all the information available which definitely includes consulting their members, stakeholders, communities etc. But, and it’s a big but, the expectation is that they will assess all the information to hand and decide. Or do you really believe the process is one where pure agreement on all consulted must be reached and then voted on accordingly?

      As for attacking the use of the word fluid I think you are reading what you want to read. 

      Lastly I would love a direct democracy. That isn’t really what the post is about. If we could get citizens to vote in general elections at levels consistently higher that 78% that would be heavenly. If anyone would turn up to vote in local body elections I would die of happiness. I advocate participation in all levels of democracy including questioning the democracy itself.

      So back to the issue at hand. What should we expect from the Labour caucus? Why? 

  12. Uturn 12

    “As for attacking the use of the word fluid I think you are reading what you want to read.”

    Then define your understanding of it. I cannot of the top of my head think of a situation where the unavoidable slow machinations of central government are somehow so agile in reality that they could react to “fluid” anything. So define “fluid” for me.

    “…but ultimately that is still a trustee model, isn’t it? Part of a politicians job is to gather all the information available which definitely includes consulting their members, stakeholders, communities etc. But, and it’s a big but, the expectation is that they will assess all the information to hand and decide.”

    Your post moves the default setting of trustee model right out to closed-doors decision making by the party, letting people in as a nice afterthought. I say the delegate model can be practically expanded to include some trustee features – to meet modern realistic operational demands – without ever risking the closed-doors of purely theoretical trustee modelling. The implication of the “big but” of considering all information to hand and then deciding, is that it is largely undesirable and too hard. This is not the attitude of a party that is focussed on improved systems of democracy.

    “Or do you really believe the process is one where pure agreement on all consulted must be reached and then voted on accordingly?”

    As explained, if true consultation takes place, unanimous agreement is not possible, expected – or desirable. Any party needs healthy desenters to encourage prudent self-awareness in the party.

    “Lastly I would love a direct democracy. That isn’t really what the post is about.”

    So tell us all what the post is about. I think it is you wholeheartedly support your party and you found a reason to match – evidenced by your question of expectation from the current Labour leadership. If my manner seems terse, it’s because I’ve read so many multi-post revelations of the flippin’ obvious from many an intransient poster that could be circumvented by a simple two line statement that’s it’s driving me nuts. If you find it offensive, I apologise. Don’t let it influence your decision to award any further contributions to this site.

    “What should we expect from the Labour caucus? Why?”

    We cannot expect anything while there is little to no engagement with or communication with the average voter. We’d just be projecting sweet nothings onto disembodied words and figureheads. They do not care what I or anyone on this site thinks because there is a major power imbalance in the theoretical relationship until around 2014. We cannot change that from here and we cannot begin the process unless Labour starts it. My wish is that they make up their friggin’ minds as to who they represent: workers, or aspirant classes. Once that happens, which model they use to engage the voter will be clear.

  13. Pointy 13

    Uturn, I don’t believe it is possible for a party to ask for a mandate before they are elected on every piece of policy that they will need to enact or every law they will need to pass. This is why I’ve used the word fluid to describe the contextual factors that people have to govern . National didn’t predict the Chch earthquake for instance. Or the Peter Jackson’s employment law problems. What part of this is contentious to you? 

    • Colonial Viper 13.1

      Uturn, I don’t believe it is possible for a party to ask for a mandate before they are elected on every piece of policy that they will need to enact or every law they will need to pass.

      Not every piece of policy. Just very major decisions. Like leadership selection.

      BTW Peter Jackson’s employment law problems were contrived and planned in coordination with National. The only people surprised there were the workers, unions and the public.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 13.2

      “Peter Jackson’s employment law problems.” There weren’t any. Except for the exploited workers. And they got shafted, and now they have to pay for their own vaseline.

    • Draco T Bastard 13.3

      What part of this is contentious to you?

      The fact that the MPs just changed the law without consulting with the people of NZ.

      • Pointy 13.3.1

        So you think they need a mandate prior to governing or that they must go back to the people for each decision? Your issue seems to be with representative democracy not with me suggesting two ways to view representation. 

        • Draco T Bastard 13.3.1.1

          So you think they need a mandate prior to governing or that they must go back to the people for each decision?

          Not each decision but each policy change. Note also that no single party has a mandate. It could be said that a government has a mandate if several parties that belong to that government or even just parliament were elected on similar policies. If they’re looking at changing policy that they weren’t elected on then they should go back to the people for a referendum.

          Your issue seems to be with representative democracy not with me suggesting two ways to view representation.

          You gave two options:
          1.) Where the MPs did as they chose
          2.) Where the MPs actually discussed things with the voters/party members and then did what the majority of them wanted which may or may not be what the MP would choose.

          Obviously I’m in favour of the second.

          • Pointy 13.3.1.1.1

            So you didn’t support Civil Unions or the repeal of section 59 of the crimes act then? Neither of them would have passed if politicians had gone to their individual constituencies and been bound by their views. Indeed I think Jackie Blue voted in support of the repeal of section 59 under the first reading but the death threats got her a bit down (along with the majority of her voters objecting) so she ceased to support the bill. 

            • Draco T Bastard 13.3.1.1.1.1

              So you didn’t support Civil Unions or the repeal of section 59 of the crimes act then?

              Where do you get that idea from? Just because it’s likely that they wouldn’t have passed a referendum doesn’t mean that people wouldn’t support that change and keep pressing for it.

              The s59 referendum is an example of needing rules about clarity for referendums. That question was designed to get the response that it did.

              Neither of them would have passed if politicians had gone to their individual constituencies and been bound by their views.

              They may not have passed at that time but would have done so eventually.

              • Pointy

                Rule by referendum is a really bad idea but that is a whole other post in it’s self. You’ll find that the only parties that call for constant referenda are right-wing populist parties of the vain of Le Pen and Pauline Hanson.

                Is that what you actually think is warranted in order to make representative democracy work? You have no faith in politicians to make decisions on our behalf at all? That’s fine if it is but that difference is greater than the difference between the two models I’ve described (even in the simplistic terms you’ve paraphrased them in). 

                • Referenda are good for a limited number of issues, like electoral reform.

                  Otherwise I think the best approach is for ‘the people’ to make themselves better informed and to do more to lobby their representatives. Polls or referenda could be used to add weight to the lobbying. The more compelling the argument the more likely it will work.

                  • Colonial Viper

                    1) You said referenda have limited uses.
                    2) Then you said: but most of the time its better for people to lobby their representatives instead…
                    3) …Perhaps using referenda to add weight.

                    WTF Pete G.

                • Draco T Bastard

                  Rule by referendum is a really bad idea but that is a whole other post in it’s self.

                  Only according to the authoritarians who don’t want the system, which rewards them so handsomely, changed.

                  You’ll find that the only parties that call for constant referenda…

                  ZOMG, I’ve morphed into a right-wing hate group and didn’t even notice :O

                  You may not have noticed but over the last 40 odd years the right have taken the language of the left and subverted it. If they’re calling for referendums then it’s because they think that they can control the message and thus how people vote. Considering how much the MSM is biased in favour of the right they have a fairly good reason to believe that as well.

                  I’m for giving people the actual information rather than spin.

                  You have no faith in politicians to make decisions on our behalf at all?

                  Did I say that? hmmm, nope. I actually expect them to make decisions on a day to day basis (I expect to see those decisions as well) but when it comes to policy changes I expect to be consulted.

                  • Pointy

                    Draco, I think someone may have mistakenly told you your points are more valid if you deliver them with snarky enthusiasm. They’re not.

                    Referenda aren’t a democratic magic bullet. They even more prone to being subverted by lobby groups than most other political decision making. They definitely have their place for citizens to have their say on major constitutional changes or to provide a government with a clear mandate on a contentious issue. But as a constant toll for governance they are majorly flawed. I’m happy to haul you out some proper references but I get the feeling you don’t really care what I say. What ever it is is wrong or ‘authoritarian’. If you actually want to discuss DIRECT democracy that is another issue entirely and one where citizens are directly involved in policy decision making at all levels at all times. A very worthy system but quite different from rule by referenda.

                    As for ‘policy changes’ I don’t think I’ve talked about those as explicit ‘changes’ but rather referenced events when policy has to be designed to suit the circumstances. The general manifesto of a party should let you know what their values are but, as I’ve said repeatedly, you can’t cover every event in your pre-election manifesto. 

                    • Draco T Bastard

                      Referenda aren’t a democratic magic bullet.

                      Never said they were but they’re a hell of a lot better than the MPs doing what they want and not listening to the people.

                      I’m happy to haul you out some proper references but I get the feeling you don’t really care what I say.

                      I’m quite aware of some of the downfalls – California constantly voting to lower taxes and going deeper and deeper into debt is one example. Most of them seem to be in the US where Atlas Shrugged was a best seller and they’re constantly told that lowering taxes on the rich will improve tax returns even though it’s obvious that that doesn’t happen.

                      Oh, wait, that shit happens under representative governments as well.

                      Good education and reporting of facts by the MSM is required rather than continual reporting of myth from the Business Roundtable. Would help if the economists had a theory based in reality rather than delusion as well.

                      I’d prefer direct democracy – still thinking on how to work it though. We need the administration that government represents so how do you hold government departments accountable in a non-hierarchical system?

                      …as I’ve said repeatedly, you can’t cover every event in your pre-election manifesto.

                      And as I said the government can make a law change that wasn’t in their manifesto and then go back to the public to get it validated.

  14. Pointy 14

    Hi CV yep…Draco seemed to be talking about voters not members of a party. And yes I know all about Peter Jackson’s ‘issues’ with NZ employment law, perhaps a little tongue in cheek. 

  15. strategos 15

    A progressive alternative to Obama ?

    Link: http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/12/15/at-last-a-progressive-alternative-to-obama/?utm_source=rss&utm_medi
    um=rss&utm_campaign=at-last-a-progressive-alternative-to-obama

    • Colonial Viper 15.1

      Ronald Reagan would be a progressive alternative to Obama.

      • The Voice of Reason 15.1.1

        Steady on, old chap!

      • strategos 15.1.2

        Some would argue that the financial rot set in under Reagan with the ‘Star Wars’ initiative threatening to bankrupt the USA.

        • Sam 15.1.2.1

          Well it did result in the probable bankrupting the USSR?Eastern Europe and all it stood for.
          Thus the fall of Communism was triggered by Reagan talking about “star wars”, not actually implementing it at the time.

  16. dancerwaitakere 16

    Theorising the reform needed within the party is easy.

    The Labour Party was established with the premise that it is the party of the people, by the people, for the people.

    So it goes like this.

    Once Card. One Vote.

    Every member of the Labour Party gets their card that entitles them to vote on the Leadership (President and Parliamentary), the Party List and the Policy. Simple.

    Reform the Labour Party so that after almost a century the party is finally accessible.

    • Blue 16.1

      This year’s leadership contest was compared to the US primaries. Unlike those, however, the rank and file of the party did not get to actually vote.

      How hard would it have been to have ballot boxes at the door after one of those meetings, and everyone in the room could cast a vote for either Shearer or Cunliffe?

      Instead the contenders went around the country to those meetings and tried their best to win over the party members, which was totally pointless because only the 34 MPs got to vote.

      Now we have a dissatisfied activist base who don’t agree with the decision. It will be interesting to see what that means for the party.

  17. Anne 17

    Now we have a dissatisfied activist base who don’t agree with the decision. It will be interesting to see what that means for the party

    It means there is going to be dissension and probably some rebellion in the ranks. For example, I see Stuff is reporting that Shearer has offered Cunliffe a place on the front bench but it’s at the lower ranking end. Ahead of him are 2008 first termers who, while they may have political potential, are not deserving or ready for such high ranking at this point in their careers. I read that as petty mindedness on Shearer’s part, and shows just how low some of Cunliffe’s detractors were – and still are – prepared to go.

    In the two weeks leading up to the vote Shearer claimed time and again he had not thought about the portfolio distribution, nor had he discussed it with anyone. That was a lie. It is obvious the Finance portfolio has been promised to Parker – the price Shearer had to pay to get Parker to step down and have his supporters line up behind Shearer. Lets face it, had that deal not been struck then Cunliffe would be the Labour Party leader today.

    The ‘membership base’ were taken for a ride and I predicted as much right at the start of the process.

    Yeah I know… I’m a very modest person. 😎

    • Colonial Viper 17.1

      Shearer has offered Cunliffe a place on the front bench but it’s at the lower ranking end. Ahead of him are 2008 first termers who, while they may have political potential, are not deserving or ready for such high ranking at this point

      This is a very big risk that this caucus is playing.

      It sends a number of wrong messages to the party members, including the importance of meritocracy vs political patronage. And if the vote againt Cunliffe was indeed along the lines of 19/15 or 20/14, then whoever holds the current balance of power in caucus appears willing to explicitly show disregard to a large number of colleagues.

      Of course, Cunliffe may actually end up being offered a no. 3 or no. 4 spot, what would the MSM know.

      • Anne 17.1.1

        Of course, Cunliffe may actually end up being offered a no. 3 or no. 4 spot, what would the MSM know.

        As you know someone is leaking like a sieve to the MSM and the consensus of opinion is that it is Trevor Mallard. Some of the info. has been (suspiciously) incorrect I’ve been told, so you may be right CV. Anyway, if Parker is able to negotiate a deal then I’m sure Cunliffe is equal to a similar task. He must know where a few skeletons are buried.

        • Colonial Viper 17.1.1.1

          All in all, my taste for this kind of politics is seriously waning.

          Storm clouds are not just gathering on the horizon, the first warning spatters have struck the windshield. This country must be ready.

    • Sam 17.2

      But if Cunliffe is now in the process of publicly “spitting the dummy” before any announcement on
      jobs by Shearer, isn’t Shearer justified in dropping Cunliffe down the rankings or ignoring him altogether?

      • The Voice of Reason 17.2.1

        He’s not publicly spitting the dummy at all, Sam. There is just a lot of vacuous speculation about what is going on (cf Anne above and ad nauseum), and no actual facts. Shearer will pick a team around him based on his own judgement as to their individual qualities. Cunliffe will be offered a post and he can either accept or decline. I hope he accepts, whatever the ranking, because he has some real talent and Labour needs all the firepower it can muster.

        • Colonial Viper 17.2.1.1

          Don’t you normally put the most capable heaviest firepower towards the top end of the front bench? Let’s see if it happens.

    • Sam 17.3

      Now we hear that well before the election, Phil Goff was talking to David Shearer about taking over the leadership. This means then that Phil Goff had already given up on his leadership before the election. How poor was that.

  18. Colonial Viper 18

    Bernie Sanders rocks – Millionaires must pay their fair share; Citizens United decision must be overturned (Corporations are not people and should not have constitutional rights)

    Bloody hell the US is a mess. Good on Sanders. I wish there were a dozen of him in the US Congress.

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