9 Sep 2013

The Labour Party Leadership Contest

Thoughts on process and perception


Shane Jones, David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson on the hustings

For the first time in living memory a NZ political party has opened up the election of its Parliamentary leader to the wider constituency of its members and affiliates.
The decision has created consternation among the opinionistas employed by the NZ media as many of them have no real idea or understanding of democratic electoral processes. 

In fact, Paul Little, an opinionista employedby The Herald on Sunday, opined, from a position of abysmal ignorance, that the process was of little value as it acknowledged that the elected Leader was obliged to articulate and work to implement Labour Party policy developed and framed by the membership through its annual conference rather than the Leader dictating policy as of individual right.

The TV networks, not to be out done, deployed their cameras around the streets of South Auckland to solicit voting intentions and attitudes to the contenders from any one who could be stopped by a thrusting microphone and intruding camera with no regard to the fact that the only people who could vote for the Labour leadership were card carrying members of the Labour Party orthe affiliated Trade Unions. However, as the TV networks were looking for a story based not on leadership or policy but on the candidates' personal lives reality was to be sacrificed in the quest for salacious comments that could be used in a sound bite and could be construed by the opinionistas  to be a reflection of the Labour Party membership.

Then, in pursuit of "scientific data" the media commissioned "research companies" to conduct surveys of the public to "discover" the voting intentions of the Labour Party members. However, conveniently ignored by the opinionistas, the surveys did not canvass the intentions of the voting constituencies within the Labour Party which, of course, rendered any data and subsequent opinion of little value.

To further confusion about a very clearly written and laid out electoral process and to boost his ratings the TV3 opinionista, Patrick Gower, deliberately chose to construe an answer to an open ended question about perceived public attitudes to homosexuality as being an attack on Grant Robertson from David Cunliffe. Then, in the blogsphere, Chris Trotter wrote a piece based on an overheard conversation in a local bar between two unidentified and unnamed "activists" that accused the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party of trying to hi-jack the election  by circumventing the process in some undefined manner. However, as neither the drunken conversationialists or the eavesdropping Trotter had bothered to refer to the Labour Party constitution or the readily available election process being followed one must conclude that, like Gower's attempt on TV3, Trotter was engaging in an exercise in ego boosting political mischief making in order to "secure" his reputation as the "prime opinionista of the Left." 

For the Party membership the choice of Leader has been difficult as they have been faced with choosing between three very articulate and informed candidates. Each one presenting the Party policy in different ways. Shane Jones in his blokey, rough hewn manner. Grant Robinson in his Norman Kirk inspired and acid humour laced manner and David Cunliffe with a presidential style, politically aggressive and articulate manner.

For the members these contrasting styles and candidates has called for earnest, well informed consideration and debate uninfluenced by direct lobbying by the contenders or their supporters. 

While the media, like the English Rugby Football Union in the 1990s which was asking itself - "Who can defeat Jonah Lomu?" rather than "how can we organise to defeat the All Blacks?",  has directed itself to the simplistic question of "Which man can defeat John Key?" the membership, recognising the fact that when John Key declared, on coming to office, that the economy was on the edge of a precipice took a giant leap forward and who, when wrestling with his conscience, can only secure a draw, has been debating far more fundamental issues - like:

Which man can articulate the Labour Party policy clearly, succinctly and positively in such a way that there can be no misinterpretation, no misconstruing of principle by opinionistas or self serving bloggers.
Which man can connect to the voting public through the radio talk back, TV and print media in such a way that their statements cannot be manipulated to meanother than what was said and, more importantly.
Which man will be able to organise and focus the Labour Party in Parliament and at large to recaptureand develop  its organisational skills and systems to defeat the National-ACT party in the electorates and for the Party vote for these are the real factors that will impact on the Labour Party as a political force in an MMP parliament.

For me, the decision was based on the evidence of solid Labour Party policy articulation, of obvious organisational skills and campaigning ability as well as a desire to get on with taking the fight to preserve New Zealand's society, New Zealand's education and welfare systems and New Zealand's economy from the asset strippers and from ideologically flawed policies imported from the play books of discredited theorists and incompetent right wing administrations either from the USA or the UK rather than the interpretations of the opinionistas whose knowledge of constitutions and democracy are always shaky if not shonkey.

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