`Let's All Come Together As New Zealanders' *
Editorial: Growing pains, and Orientations LEC's - get off your backsides people! Student Loans Debacle - not good enough The News - they came, and we slew them mightily. Web site of the week
Editorial: Growing pains and Orientations
Well, it's that time of year again. Around the country political organisations like ours are thinking about O week on the campuses, and all those naïve new First Years who could be open to persuasion to our way of thinking. For Young Labour this marks the first year in a long, long time where university students all around the country will have some Young Labour presence.
Indeed, the growth in our organisation is at a point where we can claim in some areas to be the best organised and largest youth political organisation around. Particularly in the Auckland area, Young Labour is more active and better organised than any of our competitors. That can be nothing but good for Young Labour, and also good for youth in general.
Youth wings of political parties have a peculiar role. When successful, we provide a network of young activists; we spread our party's political message among others, and we provide a way to get future candidates and other activists involved. If we are not active or not focused on our role, then we can be worse than useless. Embarrassing the party, turning away potential activists due to infighting or incompetence, or simply becoming ignored within the party are all damaging possibilities that various youth organisations are subject to at some time or another.
It appears that currently none of New Zealand's political youth organisations suffer this fate, other than the perennial question of the student unions. Certainly Young Labour is currently united around a successful election victory. Membership is little short of booming, with members joining by post and by email from all over the country, with real interest only beginning to emerge in the last month or so.
The challenge of Orientation week is to gain membership. Encourage people who are interested in politics to join Labour. Only joining Young Labour is the way to affect the Government. Neither of our friendly parties on the Left have well organised youth sections, and we should make that point very clear at our O week events. This doesn't mean poaching people interested in other organisations - it means talking up our strengths.
Finally, it's been a slow news week, and `Future Lefts' is short as a result. I'm in Wellington for a conference and a holiday, and it's merely gone to prove that this summer at least, Auckland has the better weather. Hope you enjoy your week.
Old LEC's - get off your backsides people! Michael Wood, Auckland Young Labour
Well people, the glamour part is over; we've run an exciting campaign, won the election, and gone a long way towards invigorating Young Labour. Now the less thrilling, but equally important job of making our party an integral part of each community in New Zealand must begin in earnest. We, as young Democratic Socialists ignore this type of groundwork at our peril.
That means being active not just at the national level, but becoming involved in our local flag bearers: branches and Labour Electorate Committees (LECs). The problem here is two-fold and self perpetuating however. On one hand, local party structures are by and large, not inviting, and in some cases completely off putting for young Labour recruits. They have a reputation, sometimes deserved, and sometimes not, of being parochial, procedurally obsessed, septuagenarian talkshops. On the other hand, the week to week grind of being involved in local party administration is not necessarily inviting for young go-getters such as ourselves. So we stay away, thus perpetuating the problem of ageing, and uninteresting LECs.
The impetus for change must come from ourselves, if for no other reason that the fact that it will not come from elsewhere. If we are serious, as we ought to be about embedding our movement as an organic part of New Zealand society, then it is totally necessary to be active in leading debate and action in our communities. Like it or not, your local branches and LECs are the best means of achieving this. For a number of reasons, such as mobility, spare time, and the 'passion of youth', we as young Labour members are vital parts of this mission.
Further, as we enter a year in which the party can expect strong numerical growth, it is vital that we make the local party viable. If some LECs remain as moribund and ineffective as they are now, then there will be little point to a membership drive as people will turn away as soon as they catch sight of such organisations.
So the wakeup call must go out to all and sundry. Local organisations must snap out of their comatose trances and encourage existing and new people to actively take part. It isn't that difficult to set up a database, and make sure that we keep tabs on new and dormant members, keeping them from slipping away. Young Labour members need to make an effort too. Go along to your local LEC - if you don't like the way things are run, then make some effort to change them.
Further, we can invigorate constituency organisations, and give youth a more powerful voice by branch building. If you know of 10+ young Labour supporters in your area, then seriously look at beginning a youth branch in your constituency. If you're really keen, then try and recruit - maybe even go fishing at some local Seventh Form classes.
The time is right, people support this government in a way not seen in decades. The latest NBR poll shows our Labour led government as having made New Zealanders feel more positive about the future of our country than they have in aeons. If we can't invigorate our local party now, then there is something wrong with us. So get off your backsides; now!
Student Loans - not good enough
The disastrous administration of the student loans scheme this year has been a brilliantly bad case study of just how damaged the state sector is after nine years of incompetent national party administration. It also shows just how much Labour has to do to fix the problems we've inherited.
At Auckland University where I work over the holidays, we're having to tell students to come in to the University if WINZ can't confirm with them that their loans have been drawn down by the 21st of February. If they don't come in, we won't know that their fees will eventually be paid, and they won't be streamed into classes. Not only that, but this applies to all students who have applied for a loan in the past two weeks, because WINZ is taking three weeks to process loan applications from their hideyhole in Palmerston North.
The University of Auckland loans office used to do it in one day.
My view is that people who are being mucked around by WINZ staff, be it for loans or allowances, should complain - loudly. We'll be making strong representations to the Minister responsible, but to ensure there is no repeat next year, we need public pressure as well as internal lobbying. This screwup is unacceptable, and though it is obviously the result of National's past failures, changing the situation is our responsibility.
The News - They came, and we slew them mightily.
This week the only news of note was the resumption of the House, after a nice long holiday over Christmas and January. And the Opposition returned too, dullwitted, confused and slow.
This was best exhibited during Question Time each day. Only once was a minister under pressure, and that was a result of her own confusion over a simple naming mistake, combined with some intelligent questioning from one National MP. The Government is settling into power, and probably the most remarkable thing so far has been the pure lack of screwups. Helen Clark's management skills are simply blowing the opposition out of the water.
Also this week was a release of yet another appalling trade statistic. The merchandise trade balance was some $3.6b in the red, following a trend of a worsening trade balance since the mid-1990's. The only way to fix this problem is twofold: we need to start exporting more, and we need to import less where possible. In this context Labour's regional development policies, combined with Jim Anderton's commitment to driving economic development and employment to the top of the policy agenda, are of critical importance in closing the gap. This is one of the most important economic issues facing New Zealand. We owe over $100b overseas, and half of that was built up under the last Government. Turning that around means fixing the trade balance to start off with.
Finally, an NBR poll published on Friday showed that the new Government is doing well still, with Labour up six points to 45% support, and National down two to 29%. This 16 point gap is very good, but we can do even better. Possibly the most encouraging thing in the poll was the fantastic turnaround in people's expectations of the future. Over 70% of people think the country is heading in the right direction, a total turnaround from before the election when 70% thought we were on the wrong track.
It just goes to show that when the Government does what it says it'll do, then support remains with us. I look forward to opening up a 20%+ gap, as New Labour has done in the UK.
Web site of the week:
http://critique.net.nz is a web site run by two University students from Canterbury - Matthew and Andrew. It's a developing forum for critical thinking in New Zealand. Have a look around and tell them what you think. As they say, there's a lot of crap on the web, and only the development of sites like Critique helps one sort the good stuff from the dross.
Till next week,
* - Said
by Pinkey Agnew, aka Jenny Shipley, at a Marian Hobbs
campaign event, November 1999.