...because Labour needs to change, not the voters.

 

The Labour leadership contest has changed the Labour party because Shane Jones stood. 

He’s been fearless. And, yes, sometimes crass. But he has looked outward, away from internal squabbles and said what needed to be said; if Labour is to appeal to middle New Zealand, then it can’t say ‘we want your vote but not your values.’  

To all those commentators who sneered at Shane’s style, who do they think the Labour party represents? If the party is not appealing to those in the RSAs, marae, pubs and to those browsing in Mitre 10 at the weekend, it isn’t a Labour party. 

Shudders flew down spines when Shane said, ‘People need to remember that the word Labour means work.’ For many inside Labour, this was heresy. For many of Labour’s lost flock, this was a statement of the obvious they have waited to hear.

There’s been a lot of talk about unity. Unity has to be earned. First you need a red meat contest of ideas about how to translate Labour principles in to policies.

David Cunliffe’s version of unity has been to double down on the policies that have been unsuccessful in the last two elections in the hope that a more assertive defense of them will convince more people to support Labour.

What Jones is doing is more interesting. He says if Labour is unpopular it’s because we are not being true to our values. Voters actually like our values and our principle that anyone no matter what family you’re born into, should have access to the same opportunities. Labour is only unpopular when it takes entrenched positions that are unfaithful to its core principles. 

Jones sounds refreshing because he is brave enough to name where Labour has gone wrong and that’s precisely why some people, who he has mischievously called intellectuals, have disparaged him. The whole point of entrenched positions is that they’re painful for the party to change. But the party won’t succeed until it confronts the need to change.

The contrast between all three candidates was clear in the way they handled the sacking of David Cunliffe’s campaign worker, Jenny Michie.

Grant Robertson saw nothing wrong with his supporter, MP Claire Curren, tweeting a claim that Jenny Michie ‘dog whistled’ to homophobes. This is the politics of personal demonisation. Banishment is the only politics left when you refuse to debate ideas. 

Cunliffe buckled under the pressure and fired her, indicating that he thinks unity is achieved by silence rather than argument

Jones called Claire Curren out. 

I know Jenny. She is no homophobe.

She was a victim of a political technique where people are taken out rather than ideas refuted. 

Labour needs to be a broad-based party, valuing a diversity of opinion and promoting people because they are good advocates rather than because they picked a side in a spat.

Parties need to be able to debate ideas without banishing and demonising those with whom they disagree. If you don’t have a contest of ideas you can’t be sure your own ideas are good ones. 

Shane has courageously spoken out for what he thinks needs to change. That’s been valuable to Labour because its demonstrated that the party is broad based. He has made sure the race has been a contest of ideas. And he’s spoken out for the people whose votes labour has been trying to attract while the party simultaneously rejects and even trashes their priorities.

 

Comments (24)

by Alex Coleman on September 13, 2013
Alex Coleman

That’s been valuable to Labour because its demonstrated that the party is broad based.

 Except that there is no room it for liberals of course. They will be not wanted. That would be how much of Labour's current vote? Half? At least?

 

 

by Tim Watkin on September 13, 2013
Tim Watkin

Which begs three questions from me Josie... I can agree the party needs some change, but why Jones-style change? You talk about leaving Labour values behind and some of the biggest criticism for Jones is that he'd do just that. Two, what about Jones' weaknesses? He can be brilliant, but also sloppy and, as you say, crass. Could he be a PM? And third, who's your second preference for (assuming Jones drops out first)?

But what if Jones squeaks into second, maybe ahead of Robertson? The ABCs could rally behind Jones and... Unlikely, but just wondering.

 

by Brendon Mills on September 13, 2013
Brendon Mills

So Josie -- do you want Labour to be more or less "National-lite"?  Which is what the last Labour government was -- tinker round the edges but keep the over all fundamentials (free market, job insecurity, increased private provision and ownership).

by Bruce Thorpe on September 13, 2013
Bruce Thorpe

To call Jones "fearless" kind of smacks of the claim that populist talkback hosts speak the truth that others dare not.

I think his contribution to the public debate as a dry economic thinker and as a Maori  and a witty,earthy. and entertaining third wheel, he has been invaluable, extending the dialogue and engaging the public.

He has also been hamming it up a bit as a rogue and a bloke, which has been mostly good fun and beneficial to the atmosphere, but he has not shown the qualities of a party leader and a prime minister-in-waiting.

The only possible reason to be voting for Jones is to distort the real competition between Cunliffe and Robertson.

Surely his actual candidature,i.e. his contest for votes, can only be seen as an attempt to divert some preference votes.  

by Josie Pagani on September 14, 2013
Josie Pagani

So Josie -- do you want Labour to be more or less "National-lite"?

No Brendon I don't, because National are wrong about all the important issues. I don't agree the last Labour government just tinkered around the edges either. I think it was the most progressive government of my adult lifetime and Labour people should defend its record of reducing unemployment to record levels, growing the economy and creating strong social services. You have to stop seeing any call for change as code for being more like National. It's absurb to say that's the only way to change. But you also have to answer a hard question - why are people who believe in Labour values of fairness and opportunity not voting Labour?

by Josie Pagani on September 14, 2013
Josie Pagani

Tim - my second preference was Cunliffe. He has also presented a coherent and passionate defence of Labour principles. I find Shane's defence more convincing because he's reaching out to the 'lost tribe' of Labour voters and saying 'we hear you'. Cunliffe's prescription is still playing too much to the base and looking inwards. But it's been a genuine debate.

It's no accident Tim, that Maori are so supportive of Shane because he speaks with an authentic Maori voice  - something Labour has lacked at leadership level. He sounds like NZ in a completely comfortable biculture way, and I think the Labour party has failed to realise the power of that. Maori look at Shane and see the first real possibility for a Maori PM. That's huge. Then they hear some high profile Labour commentators sneering at Shane, and wonder if Labour really is the party for them...

by stuart munro on September 14, 2013
stuart munro

Looks like a desperate attempt to avoid engaging with the economics to me - which is what ABC was all about in the first place. Sorry Josie, same old same old, nothing courageous there.

It's not that it's not an appealing schtick - but Shane never showed up with a lost tribe behind him before, and to get one he might need to put in a little groundwork himself.

Your bi-cultural package is a marketer's dream. That ought to ring all kinds of warning bells. Sure, he could remake himself as a pretty good leader, but he hasn't yet. Queue him for 2017 to get a movement behind him, and get him to read Ha Joon Chang so he stops applauding kicking away the ladder and he might do very well. But he's not job ready now.

by Nick Gibbs on September 14, 2013
Nick Gibbs

I agree Josie. Jones has brought in some much needed ideas. Especially the acknowledgement that Labour can't ask for votes but decide not to represent the values of those voters. Its this sense of entitlement that is destroying the electibility of Labour.

Sadly I can't see anything changing this in the near future.

by MJ on September 14, 2013
MJ

Both John Key and Winston Peters bring the 1970s blokey nostalgia, but they bring a heck of a lot of other things and their appeal to the 1970s nostalgia is filtered through the realities of the past 40 years. They are canny and cunning.

Jones has yet to convince a lot of Labour that he's the goods. We haven't seen that much of his ideas, we've seen some colourful invective and not a lot in the way of past record pointed to.

He could be a part of a winning Labour team, but the impression is that he is a guy who really needs to buckle down and get into his work- to use the blokey cliches of our day.

As has also been pointed out, there isn't a heck of a lot of evidence that Jones is popular with voters- the Maori party has been on the back foot, but he hasn't been able to land the knock out blow in his electorate or party vote.

by MJ on September 14, 2013
MJ

People need to remember that the word Labour means work.’ For many inside Labour, this was heresy. For many of Labour’s lost flock, this was a statement of the obvious they have waited to hear.

Is this part of the strategy?

I agree with Shane- it was something Michael Cullen said too. The first statement is a good one and one that is not lost on many many hard working Labour supporters. The second two are unproven assumptions and I don't think Labour supporters begrudge those who are unable to get work the support of our community.

Labour values are work hard if you've got work and help those who haven't to get it, so our commnity is full of people who can support themselves and feel valued. Work (tackling unemployment) has to be part of the platform. More Paula Bennett rubbish, though, absolutely doesn't.

You would think the next government might have to ...um..think biggish and pick some winners....

by Lee Churchman on September 14, 2013
Lee Churchman

I don't, because National are wrong about all the important issues.

From your various columns I've read over the years, it's kind of hard to see why you think this. Perhaps you could explain why.

by Josie Pagani on September 14, 2013
Josie Pagani

Lee  - Here's why I think National are wrong;

Because I beleive in strong social services funded by progressive taxation. I beleive in an interventionist government that thinks it's the government's job to intervene in the market and secure higher wages; a government that sees it as its job to pull the levers of the economy to direct investment into the productive sector, create jobs, fund R&D. I beleive in a government with an interventionist plan for growth, rather than a job-free, growth-free plan to sell off strategic assets. And I believe in the fundamental Labour mission of fairness and opportunity for all. I believe in a government which is on the side of wage earners rather than entrenched privilege. That's what fairness actually means. If all of that means 'national lite' to you, then you're setting the bar too high. What I'm saying represents mainstream social democratic thinking, from Ed Milliband to Julia Gillard and Hollande. If you're criticising these left leaders as 'national lite' then you're criticising the mainstream of social democracy. You're welcome to do that of course, but don't pretend your views speak for the bulk of Labour thinking  around the world, or that the arguements above are some kind of coded signal for a lurch to the right in the Labour party.

by Alex Coleman on September 14, 2013
Alex Coleman

That's great Josie. But surely that sort of language should how that message is sold. Instead, people get the impression that you think the message should be sold with rhetorical attacks on benfeciaries; and not just sidelining indentity issues, but being dismissive of them.

So I repeat my question from above. Why should liberals vote for a Labour party that would be trying to get votes by kicking them?   

 

Liberals are by and large supportive of all those things you talked about. If there is a block of people out there who are also supportive of it, but 'who wont vote for gays, or intellectuals' or whatever, then the party needs to sell the piositive things to them better. It cannot, and will not, win by alienating the core of those who currently support them.

by Lee Churchman on September 14, 2013
Lee Churchman

What I'm saying represents mainstream social democratic thinking, from Ed Milliband to Julia Gillard and Hollande.

I think you're conflating mainstream social democratic thinking with establishment "social democratic" thinking. I don't think that's at all reasonable.

Miliband, in particular, has recently revealed himself as yet another in a long line of tiresome UK Labour welfare bashers, which is insane given that the UK's economic problems were caused by those in the City and not those collecting a benefit. Sounds like Tory lite to me.

Thank you, no.

by william blake on September 14, 2013
william blake

So far the leading left wing politician to beat is Russel Norman, after seeing Norman and Shearer at the Auckland Town Hall last month it was little surprise that he threw in the towel shortly after.

Of the three contenders Cunliffe is the only solid, left wing seasoned politician who can think when under pressure, funny looking bugger but.

Jones IS the intellectual here, very smart man but I think the porno business has kicked his career into touch. 

by Tim Watkin on September 14, 2013
Tim Watkin

Alex, I'll have a go at answering your question (in a tactical sense and one that may annoy you, so be warned!). If your metaphorical liberal wants a centre-left government next year, he/she has to look cleary at the current political conditions and reason out what's achievable. You don't reach your liberal nirvana in one step. Tough economic condition remain and a centre-right government has maintained impressive levels of popularity despite looking more sloppy than in its first term. 

So that centre-left government cannot assume National will shed support; someone will have to take voters of it. By and large that won't be the Greens or Mana. NZF is utterly unpredictable. So Labour has to shoulder the burden of winning over centrist voters. That may mean "kicking" some of those liberals (where else are they going to go? Not away form the left coalition) and making soothing promises to some in the more populous centre.

It's a numbers game. So take the lesser kicks from Labour or the bigger ones from National – that's your liberal's choice. (I'm just laying out the theory here, not necessarily advocating it! I mean, a truly transformational leader could lead the country to the left and change the conversation, but I'm not yet sure any of these three are that).

by Matthew Percival on September 15, 2013
Matthew Percival

@Josie as I read your piece on what sort of a government you are looking for I believe National ticks almost every box.

Progressive Tax System - Yes

Interventionalist - Yes (Auckland Convention Centre, Bluff Smelter, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery)

Direct Investment into Productive Sector - Yes (removal of LAQC and building depreciation, mixed model ownership to encourage share investment)

Plan for Growth - Yes (You do realise the mixed model ownership funds go into the future investment fund to be spent on a variety of projects that will create employment?? I see you struggle with the concept that selling 49% of an asset does not cede control of the asset!)

Fairness and Opportunity for all - Yes (Interest Free student loans, grants for business, ease of setting up business, ease of tax system)

On the side of wage earners - No (A government should be neutral between employers and employees)

I'm sure John Key is looking forward to your vote in 2014!!

by Josie Pagani on September 15, 2013
Josie Pagani

Tim - But I don't believe that going after votes in the centre-left means a watering down of Labour principles. It's not just a numbers game. It's a principled positioned. That's my point -  that Labour values are popular, so when the party's not popular it's the party, not the voters, that is out of step. The Labour party is failing to convince the public it'll deliver on our values. Martin Luther King was truly transformational because he pitched his radical message to end segregation and deal to poverty, to middle (white) America - not just black Americans. He got 'Waitakere man' on side! By doing that he brought about the end of segregation, and persuaded President Johnson to increase the minimum wage and wage war on poverty. In contrast the apparently more radical black fist and the talk of seizing power from Black Power failed to notch up any gains. Which was the more radical movement? Going after the votes of working New Zealanders who have abandoned Labour is the moral and right thing to do because it's where Labour belongs. 

by Josie Pagani on September 15, 2013
Josie Pagani

Matthew -  The fact that National has swallowed its ideological distaste for intervention in the market, and done something about the ChCh rebuild and the Ak housing market is a victory for the left. No National government would get rid of the welfare system (even if they want to reform it), or change the 40 hour week or make people pay for hospital care or secondary schooling. All things introduced by Labour governments that have become part of our national identity. It would be political suicide to ditch any of these. So in that sense you're right - John Key hasn't touched some Labour legacy stuff. He's even left WFF alone. He's kept Labour's progressive approach in tact. But are you seriously saying selling the assets is a growth plan? No jobs will be created as a result of the sales, no new sectors supported, no R&D. Where's the growth? That's my point - National has failed to come up with a vision that would lift the economy and create more high value jobs. And handing out sweetners to your mates (Rio Tinto, Sky City) isn't evidence of a government intervening in the market for good. It's evidence of backroom deals. It's the difference between supporting a sector (the film industry) and giving a multinational company a tax-payer funded hand out (Warner Bros).

The differences still remain. Left governments see it as our mission to shape the future and change the status quo. We always think things can be better. National and right wing governments tend to want to protect the status quo.

by Nick Gibbs on September 15, 2013
Nick Gibbs

@Josie: But are you seriously saying selling the assets is a growth plan? No jobs will be created as a result of the sales, no new sectors supported, no R&D. Where's the growth?

No new growth will be created through asset sales? Look at any multinational company. It is large there only because it looked to aquire capital from the markets. Mighty River Power will do the same. That is, look to invest new capital in innovative projects that create wealth, jobs and income. Markets aren't all bad.

by stuart munro on September 16, 2013
stuart munro

@ Nick - where is the growth? All this austerity, asset stripping and spying are painful and unpopular - but you assert that they create wealth and jobs. They never have before.

Average out GDP gain under Bill English, and you'll get a growth figure on a par with pre-Glasnost Russia. Markets as run by the Gnats underperform state control. Pitiful really.

by Andrew P Nichols on September 16, 2013
Andrew P Nichols

I have met SJ on a number of occasions. When I first bumped into him at Min for Env. he exuded mana, However, as a pollie he comes across like Bill Shorten one of the two candidates to replace Kevin Rudd - working class bovver boy rightwinger. He would have been a disaster for Labour's chances as they have to accept they need a sound working relationship with the Greens - FACT. Slagging them off as Jones does (his comments over Northland mining proposals made him sound ignorant) will only help the Nats. Cunliffe will have to keep a tight rein on Jones behaviour in this regard.

by stuart munro on September 17, 2013
stuart munro

What I'm saying represents mainstream social democratic thinking, from Ed Milliband to Julia Gillard and Hollande. If you're criticising these left leaders as 'national lite' then you're criticising the mainstream of social democracy.

Perhaps. But these leaders have proven incapable of sustaining the popular vote. You may attribute that to character flaws, but a healthy policy package should only require healthy human leadership, not celebrity or unobtainable standards of personal virtue. Maybe the "centre-left" position just doesn't offer enough to enjoy pre-Thatcherite popular support. Personally I'll vote Green before light blue.

 

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Alwin Spencer

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