That’s a question, not an imperative.
It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the Clark-Cullen legacy on NZ’s political orthodoxy. Their government – like Thatcher’s and like Lange’s – moved the political mainstream, requiring incoming governments to appeal to it in order to win support. John Key’s ability to learn from some of the mistakes of his predecessors in both major parties, but not others, has been considered in plenty of different ways, and some of those give more than a moment’s thought to his future. At least now people agree that he has one which doesn’t involve being rolled by Bill English.
But what of Labour? I see two broad possibilities, which I’ll characterise as the Crusaders Game and the Hurricanes Game. Despite being a Hurricanes supporter, by that I don’t mean to privilege one over the other.
The Crusaders Game
Labour recognises that the political agenda is no longer theirs, and concentrates on their core stuff: defence, set-piece, taking advantage of their opposition’s mistakes and infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to seem a cheat).
This means a retrenchment of sorts. Goff is the ideal leader for this game: steady, capable, etc. but they will probably have to alienate the Greens, and if the mÄori party and its constituency gets what it needs from being part of the National-led government Labour may find themselves friendless. Whatever the case, this strategy will mean ceding the political field to National and starting again in three or six or nine years from within someone else’s political agenda – as National are doing now. This relies on fairly orthodox two-party-plus-hangers-on political thinking – the idea that occupying the centre is the route to success.
The Hurricanes Game
Labour sees in Key’s concessions to the Clark-Cullen agenda an opportunity, and maximises it by relying on gut instinct, team spirit, inspirational leadership, raw opportunism, personal brilliance and complaining about Key’s infringing at the ruck (but not so much as to appear a whinger).
This strategy will require three things: first, new leadership; second, a much closer relationship with the Greens; third, intense and sustained energy. Labour will have to learn to live lean, to rehabilitate itself with the wider left, and ultimately to normalise the idea of the Green New Deal among skeptical NZ voters. This relies upon a quite unorthodox political strategy – the idea that a party or bloc of parties can and should cooperate to move the centre in order to more easily occupy it in their common interest. The danger is that they run out of puff in getting there, and find themselves in three or six or nine years having to adopt the Crusaders Game anyway.
There are other possibilities, of course, but these seem most plausible and simple dichotomies are nice.
So, four questions: what should Labour do (in your humble opinion) and what will Labour do? How, and why?
Could you rewrite the article without the rugby metaphor so that I can understand it?
I believe Labour should rethink what it stands for and what it believes in, other than regaining power at all costs. They need a goal before they need strategy and tacics. If they managed to think of some goals they might also want to think about communicating them to voters.
I suspect they’ll just thrash around aimlessly in opposition and wait for the economy to defeat National.
To go further Left and get closer to the Greens would be to invite a very long time in Opposition, I feel that many Kiwis are tired of the extremisms of the far Left, instead Labour should get back to basics, to grass roots, to what it really believes in. Phil Goff is doing fine as leader in my small opinion. Clark and Cullen were fantastic, but Goff provides a contrast, a more main stream feel.
Your metaphor makes perfect sense to me but I wonder if you haven’t perhaps missed one vital factor in the game ahead: the weather.
By this I mean that, IMHO, the oncoming recession will be rather like trying to play dazzling footie straight into the teeth of a southerly gale whipping sheets of icy rain straight off the Southern Alps directly into Althletic Park. It will be hard enough for us punters up the top of the Millard Stand, but the players will themselves have to change the game plan. The carefully rehearsed line out tactics will be nigh on useless, strategic kicking for touch will be a lottery, loping cut-out passes over to the wings will be especially risky, the ground will be slippery, and the ball even more slippery. It will be a case of having to get back down to the fundamental basics: possession plus territory equals points.
All in all, a rather convulted way of saying I largely agree with Thomas (above) in that Labour should go back to its roots, redefine what it stands for, what it wants to achieve and identify its allies.
What will it do? I dunno. As a Hurricanes supporter myself I am well used to heartbreak. How many times have we made it to the final only to drop the ball at the crucial moment? I suspect it will be a case of seizing upon every National mistake, playing to the crowd, sending in the front row to sort out in their own special way the momentum of the rolling maul, and finding a super-sub to bring on at the key stage.
To mix the metaphor, Goff is prety much a night watchman.
I knew there was something I liked about you :)
This rugby metaphor makes it seem that you’re focusing on more of an FPP style of politics than an MMP one. In an MMP system, Labour should be working on developing coalitions and listening to and negotiating with various parties and sections of society.
In terms of should: for me the Labour Party should get back to some of its founding principles (far from being far left, Tanya, Labour moved too far to the neoliberal right in recent years). I think the party should be working more on their principles than on winning future games. They have lost their way by sacrificing Labour principles to election winning.
A green new deal, or something similar, seems like the way forward given all the big problems the world is now facing. The relationship with The Greens is very important here.
But Labour also needs to rebuild its relationship with blue collar workers, those on the lowest incomes and/or benefits, and with Maori people.
Maori are an important consideration here, and this includes not just those that will vote for The Maori Party. It’s possible that we are seeing the end of Maori largely supporting one of the major parties. Maori people are pretty diverse and not in agreement on many things, There are Maori MPs in most, if not all, of the parliamentary parties, and I suspect that in the future Maori voting will be spread more amongst the parties.
Though the wild card will be if the electoral system is changed to be more like an FPP system in the near future.
BTW: I have been watching Al Jazeera today on the Israeli elections & it raises a point relevant to a lot of the debate during our last elections around MMP. Most of the Israeli commentators reckon that even if Netanyahu’s Likud party gets less votes than Livni’s Kadima party, Netanyahu is more likely to be able to form a government through coalitions with smaller parties. Unlike Key, Livni & her followers don’t seem to be saying that the party with the most votes will have the moral right to form a government (though I don’t see how either of the 2 Israeli right wing might-is-right war-mongers could claim a moral right).
Just read it without the phrase “in the ruck” and there you have it.
Labour should play a hurricanes game but probably will play a crusaders one.
They’ve shown themselves to be good at stitching up deals with other parties, they’ve just been picking the wrong ones.
Heh. Would you prefer a fishing metaphor? A rock ‘n roll metaphor?
The painting of the Clark-Cullen government as left-wing extremists is the great political triumph of the National party and a vocal and well-resourced minority of its supporters. Basically the whole argument emerges from a few very prominent symbolic pieces of policy (s59, EFA, F&SA, food regulations, underlaid by the throbbing beat of `communist lesbians are taking over our country’. There’s no merit to it whatsoever; but then, there doesn’t have to be for the throb to be effective.
A very good point, well-made.
No, I’m quite explicitly saying that Labour should choose, and soon, whether they intend to run a FPP-like campaign (as National did, though they embraced MMP late in the piece), or a full-blown MMP campaign. The two games basically split along these lines. But I can see which you favour :)
This is where both Labour and the mÄori party have their work cut out for them: in convincing MÄori that aligning en bloc is in their interest. National is in an interesting position, too, since they will not be comfortable allowing the mÄori party to dominate the MÄori electorates while Labour dominates the party vote in those electorates. For the sake of security they will want to try to win one or the other, while not alienating the mÄori party with whom they are in coalition. Incidentally, I think this is where MÄori as a demographic can potentially benefit – although they are a diverse group, it means both major parties and several of the small ones will begin to treat them as a voting bloc to be won, not as an electoral commodity held on the basis of historical possession.
It’s not a political football in Israel, since the party with the plurality of support is automatically granted a month or so to form a government – only if they fail to do so can another party attempt it. No such provision exists in NZ, where the G-G must name as PM the first person who can prove they have the confidence of the house.
When you say `should’, do you mean that you would prefer if they did because it would result in better political outcomes in the future, or that you believe it would be a more successful strategy toward the goal of regaining the government benches? I see this as a matter of dynamic tension between the likelihood of being able to form a government and the ability to influence policy. Traditionally, the Crusaders Game would be better for the first task, while the Hurricanes Game would be better for the second; but of course, you can’t have much policy influence if you don’t first win.
I mean both, in the long term.
Do you think they should be prepared to spend a decade in opposition in service of this long-term goal?
Perhaps, but it wouldn’t necessarily take that long. Why do you say a decade?
I don’t know, it’s a major shift in political strategy, and would need buy-in from a huge number of groups. While Labour was quite unified in government I can see factions developing in opposition, and the emergence of a new generation of leaders will always result in some infighting. It took Labour nine years to return to government by the orthodox route through the nineties, and National the same through the oughties. Sure, the state of the world economy might speed things up somewhat, but I think the most realistic chance of Labour returning to government in ’11 or ’14 is by the tried-and-true. I think the adoption of a new ideological and political strategy (a la British New Labour, but with the added electoral complexity of MMP) is only wise if they can be assured of following it through – and I think there’s a very real chance of it all falling apart after the first (or second) lost election and having to then revert to a more modest strategy.
MMP needs to be revised, List MP’s should not be there because they have not been elected by the voters and represent no one except for the Party, this is dangerous, and disempowers voters. MP’s answerable to electorates seem to do a far better job.
How about move away from the Right, and stop being a neo-liberal freemarket party like the rest of them in Parliment. How about returning to being a real workers party. How about full comittment to the welfare state and giving beneficaries a decent income to live on. How about looking after Maori to. How about nationalising the essentials like power.
In 9 years Labour did little to significantly raise wages or close the gap between rich and poor, instead they tinkered around the edges of capitalism, preserving the status quo in favour of business. Has Labour reversed the damage done late 80s/90s? No.
Labour is no longer the party of the workers, its just a slight variation on the National Party, National Lite if you like. Labour needs to return to its roots and come back as a real alternative to National, but with Phil Goff at the helm? Doesnt seem likely. – IMO.
hmmm – underlying argument that seems to be brewing is “what is the purpose of the left?”. Possibly an issue for Labour is whether they ditch certain parts of current ideology to become new-labour, for example having a pragmatic view on privatisation (somethings yes, somethings no) rather than current ideology that opposes it without consideration. For example should government really be into farming via Landcorp? Better argument might be about adding to conservation estate. However currently ideology prevents this discussion. That provides a straight jacket which generates internal tension over time as the world moves on.
Since 1988 and the collapse of the soviet union the left has had a hard time trying to articulate what it really is about. Essentially there is a general public view supporting liberal democracy (I realise I run the risk of comparision to Fukuyama end of history here) with economic liberalism. Now there is the argument of how much trust do you put in markets, but fundamentally markets are part of the publics view of how the world works.
For a large part of the left this generates a tension, are they providing paternalistic guidance via “nudge” type policies that help shelter people from poor decision making. But this actually is not liberalism but old fashioned conservatism/paternalism – I realise the use of these terms has changed in the last 100 years. This may not appeal to particular groups within labour. However this could be taking up the philosphical mantle of keynes and may provide a discourse that appeals across groups. The challenge will be in using the tactical space to paint national as not keynes and then hoping the public does not like the worldview provided by national. To fit your rugby analogy this is about minimising the downside, wrestling the ball from ruck and then putting up and up and under or long kick, hoping to get through the defences. Risks however are twofold, one you just return the ball to the attackers who are then in a better position to pin you to the tryline; and two despite retreiving the ballyou fundamentally are not the stronger team. You may score a try but the other team is going to come back powerfully at you. The long term objective is to become consistent winners e.g Crusaders, Man U, AC Milan etc. Temporary losses get wiped away quickly and you dominate the long term tragectory.
What seems to be forming up from this, is the need for an understanding of the overlapping clusters of public interests and how to provide a meaningful worldview that many of those clusters can identify with.
Since the worldview has changed post soviet union (and i’ll argue remains true despite current economic crisis) another possible response is having a green philosophy. That could mean a short term accomodation with the green party before swallowing them. The challenge will be providing a green philosphy that the public connects with.
To be honest the public does see the current green party as watermelons. Nick Smith is doing a lot to try and convince the public that a different green philosophy exists that is compatible with peoples liberal democractic worldview. So Labour would need to neutralise that, again this runs into the straightjacket of some internal factions (re no privatisation). This all seem to add up to labour needing to revisit who it is, what it is and what is world view/framework is and how this imprves the lives of New Zealanders.
Whether labour indeed?
Why does no one seem to back Phil Goff as the new leader? He’s not very right wing at all, and does a solid job.
It seems to me that the likely timeframe for Labour returning to power is to a large degree dependent on how National behave (or are perceived to behave). It’s possible that Labour will be able to sleepwalk back into government in 3 years.
*Politics Is Not Sport*
It’s about people’s lives, not an entertaining diversion. The (many) media commentators who treated the last election as if it was a rugby game get a lot of the blame for Nationals win. After all, it’s nice sometimes if a different team wins. *It isn’t nice when the Nats get in and people’s lives are wrecked*.
There is a massive opportunity here. For many years, corporate capitalism has been sold to us as the only way society can be organised. People were pushed into working long hours in sh*t jobs in the hope that at the end of it they’ll be able to live off their house “investment”. Governments, including the last Labour one, favoured the minority of asset owners over the minority of wage earners (make $40k working – 33% tax, make $400k from house inflation – zero tax).
Corporate capitalism is now finally failing in a clear and obvious fashion. Banks are being forced into public ownership, house and share prices are collapsing and soon we’ll be seeing high profile corporate failures.
The approach of the Nats, and currently of Labour, is to shovel more money from wage earners to the asset rich in order to try and fill the gap.
Labour could take this opportunity to produce a completely new set of policies:
– cooperative ownership of firms by workers and customers, starting with the existing SOEs
– a bottom-up system of community democracy that allows people to band together and choose to a substantial extent how they govern themselves. (Both on a conventional geographical basis and through other affinity groups such as iwi).
– a tax structure that favours wage earners, not asset owners
– the removal of much of the structure of social control employed by government to channel people into being good workers for the corporate system.
However, Phil Goff isn’t going to do any of this. He isn’t even opposing the Nats properly. It’s not that he’s that right-wing, it’s just that he’s useless and has no ideas (mind you, nor does anyone else in Labour, it seems).
It should be about policy for people, not tactics and personalities.
Rich, couldnt agree more. I get the impression that Labour thinks it lost because it wasn’t enough like the National Party.
IMO there’s no party in parliment thats comitted to changing the current system, which with the current crisis is proving that it doesnt work. Who do you vote for when Labour has become another free market party?
You might not like it, but you’re arguing for a very loose version of the Hurricanes Game.
Right you are. But sport is a useful metaphor in describing complex strategy.
Labour and its allies failed to convince people of that. The point is that National did what they needed to deserve to win. You might not like it, and might not think it was nice, but a larger proportion of those who voted on November 7 (purportedly) disagree. That’s all that matters. My post is about two intimately connected things: how can Labour develop a set of policies they can weld to a political strategy which will enable them to win elections and enact them. One is no use without the other. I hear idealistic Labour and Green supporters talking all the time about how it’s 100% policy, but the fact is that the world’s best policy will never gain widespread acceptance without an appropriate political strategy with which to implement that policy, because without the backing of a campaign, nobody will ever know it’s the world’s best policy. You get to prove it’s good after you sell it, not the other way.
We already are seeing high-profile failures, but they haven’t been translated into a repudiation of the political basis of that failing system amongst the public who are charged with the decision of deciding which system we use.
I’m certainly not convinced there’s a better system available to use than capitalism tempered by strong government regulation, relatively open and transparent democratic processes and general rule of law. Since this is the orthodoxy we have, the onus is on anyone wanting to change it to make a compelling case as to why it should be changed. No political party in NZ has even come close to doing so (though some worldwide have come close).
Perhaps it should be, but the simple fact is that it isn’t so. Political strategy, political marketing, campaign management, message discipline, personality politics, identity politics – these things aren’t imaginary, they win elections. If you want to take the high moral ground of the pure-policy-campaign, you need to find a way to translate it into electoral success. That’s the core of the Hurricanes Game: be creative, be adventurous, try things, fail, try again. But be under no illusions: nobody ever got substantive policy enacted without being involved in government, so unless you want your wonderful creative policy agenda to languish in the Private Members’ ballot, be prepared to campaign for it.
I would say because the National party were too much like them.
I agree, there isn’t. The Greens are the closest we have to that, and they have huge credibility problems because there’s no large-scale precedent for a lot of the policy they espouse – partly this is because they genuinely are a future-oriented party. Until they solve those problems (and partly, time is solving them), they will struggle.
Anything’s possible. Does this (just wait and it’ll all be sweet) form any sort of sound basis for a political strategy?
Given the popularity and feel-good, smiliness and wit of John Key, I’d say National will be in power for at least nine years, probably longer. Does Labour have anyone to match him at present? It’s all about charisma and Presidential style, not idealogies, for many of the voters.
So people don’t care about losing their jobs and houses if the leader has a nice smile?
Of course, if Labour produce polices that are a clone of the Nats, then it *does* just come down to who has the nicest smile, I suppose.
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Heh, I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy.
Just pointing out that what the Nats do (or don’t do) could have just about as much impact on Labour’s prospects as what they do (or don’t do) themselves.
Your comment has had me thinking.
Yes, quite, and I think this is a very open question – the two possible answers encoded in my formulation (though there are many more) are roughly: a. provide a moderating influence on the right within the same ideological framework; or b. forge a new ideological framework and challenge the right on different terms.
While I disagree with Fukuyama’s conclusion (that there’s nothing left to argue about), I agree broadly with his precept that ideologies other than democracy with reasonably free markets are so discredited as to be also-rans in the ideological horserace. That is to say, I think there’s plenty left to argue about within that ideological framework. However, and this is crucial, I think the dominance of this framework provides valuable opportunities for the emergence of new frameworks, one of which, as you note, is environmental. This means that while there remains plenty to argue about within our current system, it might not strictly be necessary to do so, and in fact it might be advantageous to cede that field and move the dispute to new terrain.
I disagree with your interpretation here. I think there’s a world of difference between `paternalism’ or `sheltering people from poor decision making’ and the sorts of policies we’ve seen enaced under the Clark and other social democratic governments. The purpose is to help people make good decisions, where possible to prevent them from making poor ones, and in the last place preventing those poor decisions which are made anyway from ruining lives where possible.
Yes. As the doctrines of Friedman and Smith and (sorry) Hayek seem likely to come in for a bit of a beating over the coming months and years, it makes a great deal of sense to cleave to Keynes, and this fits with the Labour party’s alignment post-Cullen in any case.
This is what I was trying to get at with the dichotomy: the formulation of sticking to the basics, dicipline, set-piece dominance, taking advantage of mistakes and infringing just enough to get away with it is a commonplace among many enduring, effective and successful organisations – sports teams, businesses, political movements, armies, etc. It does allow for change, but only within a narrow scope.
I guess the deeper question is: for a progressive movement, is it worth being electorally successful if you are then limited to only narrow change? Isn’t it better to burn out than to fade away?
I reckon environmentalism will be the next big paradigmatic `ism’ in the world’s political economy. The whole philosophical movement has been gathering support for decades, and has within the past few years broken through into political orthodoxy, though not yet in such a way as to stand alone. I think the first political movement to embrace it wholesale and adapt its principles and messages to a mass audience will be able to dominate the ideological and policy agenda such that other political groups will be forced to adopt their arguments or perish – but, and here’s a major but, only if they wait until it’s mature. It’s not currently. Argument is that a strong enough party could make it mature, though.
Hi Lew – thanks for the thoughtful response – I agree with a lot of what you say. There is probably still a strong debate within the liberal democratic playing field – and yes I agree Fukuyama is over-reaching a bit, but his work and the clash of civilisations by Huntingdon are probably the best books on politics and philosophy at the moment, personally I think the truth is a bit of both of them. Actually the Fukuyama and Huntingdon stories is probably a good way to view the playing field rather than just a Keynes v Freidman – the field is a bit more complex than just the economic debate, although it does have a big influence. Economics maybe either the size of the field or could be seen as the ability to introduce innovation to the team e.g. new boots, jerseys, poweraide and/or tactics e.g. flat defence which provides one team with an advantage.
Factors that will matter on the playing field then will be the importance of leadership. A debate of whether concentrated leadership vs diversity. That is do you have an inspirational leader like Tana for Wellington vs the world cup all blacks which had a team of capable leaders. Different external events may mean one style will be better than the other.
Taking your analogy further, what thsi means for labour beyond game tactics is; building strong player base for future teams, resources (possibly explains EFA scrap in face of declining long term union membership and splitting of union movement into low paid unions e.g. unite and professional practice bodies i.e. nurses and teachers), and knowledge. I don’t have enough of a hnadle on knowledge capacity of labour to make an informed comment. The retirement of Dr C at some point is probably going to be a big loss on the knowledge front. But I note from the election there is a few new MP’s how may take over from the class of 69 (Helen, Micheal, Goff, Hodgson, King).
On environmentalism – this is a wild card. Green party in NZ does not realistically connect with wider NZ. I get the sense that there is probably going to be a fracture within the NZ greens as they struggle to maintain the marriage. The divorce could be ugly.
The quetion will be what will be the coherent environmentalism story? Its is not likely to be Al Gore climate change as that is to polarising within the environmental movement – just look at the savaging given by some to David Bellamy. For many people David Bellamy was the face fo the environmental movement.
So a more cohesive view is needed I’d argue, partly pragmatic, acknowledging right of humanity to exist (some parts of current green thinkers are becoming close to proposing human generated die-out, which conjures up really bad historical analogies), use of incentives and the market to address negative externalities and encourage positive externalities.
Be interesting to see whether it is labour that takes this step or if national will. Alternatively there could be a different “green” party that works with labour and national parties, changing the game from two players to three. But I wonder if liberal democracy generally favours a two party system (labour/national, democrat/republican, opposition/government) and as such over time one of the three would eventually merge or spit and join the other two.
Interesting discussion. So on reflection of above, for labour an inital focus on building the team, some hard choices about leadership style – goff could be the man but does he have enough other stars working with him, or are they waiting for goff to trip and then take over?, reconnecting with the club and fans (National made inroads with the blue collar which hurts the heart of labour) this may mean a less university/academic/public relations line-up which does not connect so well with non-professionals. Whether right or wrong it is apparent people need to connect with the thymos a good example is sarah palin. regardless of what you think if her in the US she really connceted with the thymos of a significant group. The US election I think was a lot closer than people think with the rapid change in the economy giving Obama a new wind, when McCain had fought a great fight to keep it close despite the massive anchor that was Bush. Good to have the change but we over-looking the closeness of the fight for such a long time is an invite to hubris and the opportunity for your opponent to quickly ride a different wind change and roll over you (i’ve moved to sailing metaphors now).
Hi Lew, sorry I didn’t get to post on this when it first came up and thanks for the link off Just Left to the post. I’ll have a go at your four questions, noting that my views are my own and don’t purport to represent the Labour Party.
What should Labour do? We should follow an approach closer to your “Hurricanes Game” scenario. We should identify the constituencies which we want to build a coalition among that can hit 55-60% of the electorate, and build a policy agenda, comms strategy etc based on our Labour values to give that coalition something to vote for.
What will Labour do? I am sure it will be a mix of your two scenarios. I am of the mind we need to take the approach I describe, but I am just one actor in the Labour Party milieu, and nobody in the party is in a position to make a single decision about how to proceed.
How – well, an honest internal appraisal of what went wrong (done), rebuilding of the party organisation (beginning), decisions about the electoral coalition (pending), comms strategy (beginning), rebuilding relationships with MP and GP (beginning, from the looks of what is happening in Parliament), development of a policy manifesto (just about beginning), deciding our core focus and campaigning posture for the coming year or two leading to the election (beginning).
The broader project has to be about persuading the public to buy into our vision of a different and better society. To do that we have to know what it is, and to be able to articulate it to all the many audiences of prospective supporters in a passionate, relevant and worth-voting-for way.
Why? The Labour Party exists to build a social democratic society in Aotearoa. One that is characterised by a more equal distribution of income, wealth and power; a chance for everyone to make the most of their talents and abilities; an economy that is in balance with the environment and that provides the standard of living we would like to enjoy. Those things cannot be achieved unless a good proportion of the public come to want them. They aren’t going to be able to be pursuaded of the merits of that vision without a major party setting out to do just that. That is what Labour has to do in the 21st century.
Big job. Lots to do. Requires a different statecraft and set of campaigning objectives to those that we exercised in the fourth or fifth Labour governments. Learning what those are and bringing them into effect across our organisation is going to be a big challenge. It’s one we’re up for, though.
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