Future Lefts – Striding On
Future Lefts – Striding On - Vol 3. No. 4.
:: Contents ::
Editorial: Reflecting on Last Time, The Remarkable Story of Tamaki, Successful Planning Weekend, What Opposition?, Striding On - A Justification of Gradualism, Quote of the Week
:: Editorial – Reflecting on Last Time ::
So we all know, now, that two years eight months to the day (27 Nov 1999 - 27 July 2002) it was first elected to Government, Labour was returned to the Treasury benches for an historic second term.
That common place assertion, widely heard in Labour circles, is worth pointing out. Those who describe themselves as being on the left of the Labour Party family can occasionally be heard asserting that 1999 was the first time a left wing government had been elected since 1972. That was twenty-seven years before 1999 - and thirty years before today.
If one applies the same selective kind of memory, one might state that this year saw the first re-election of a 'real' Labour Government since 1938 - sixty four years ago.
And even if you acknowledge the 84-90 Government as a recognisably Labour administration, this year still only saw the third re-election to Government in the Party's history, and provides the second occasion when the forces of the opposition were so disparate and dejected that there is the real possibility of another victory in the next election.
So, historic? Yes, it is.
The curious thing about it is how normal things feel. For those used to being in opposition, which the left had been in New Zealand for a very long time, 1999 was magic. I was only 21 at the time, and had only been involved in the Party for a few years, but you could feel the enormous sense of "finally" in every corner of society. The sun seemed brighter. The grass greener. The sky more blue. That kind of thing. Life was good in the summer of 99-00.
This time, it's different. Nobody really thought (not even the National Party, as their post election review has made clear) that there would be a change of government. There's a curious sense of continuity. Parliament has started up again. Executive Government is back at work. Helen Clark is still Prime Minister and Michael Cullen has received a welcome promotion. Mr Anderton is still there. While the new Parliament is a more unfriendly place in many ways than the last, it still has confidence in a Labour administration.
So it is my pleasure to tell you, dear reader, that the overwhelming feeling in Labour today is "let's get on with it." The legislative backlog caused by the Greens' bizarre aversion to urgency can begin to be moved along - and last week saw some of that. Labour Party organisations report activity sustained at historically high levels, defying expectations of the usual post-election slowdown. One might, indeed, copy the British Labour Party slogan from 2001, "The Work Goes On."
We're back in action, as the saying goes. Young Labour itself had a successful planning weekend as reported below. This term we will be focusing more on policy than in the past, and taking a more active campaigning role in support of both the Government, and in support of key principles that Labour and Young Labour stand for.
Keep your eyes open.
Till next time, Jordan
PS - this is published while Australia and the world are still reeling from the bomb blast in Bali. Future Lefts condemns the senseless violence the attack demonstrates, and pays respects to the dead and injured, particularly the yet- unnumbered New Zealand casualties.
:: The Remarkable Story of Tamaki ::
Election night was more exciting for some than others, and few stories around the country beat that of Leila Boyle's experience in the formerly true-blue Auckland seat of Tamaki. Leila, who was on Young Labour's executive until this year's AGM, came close to toppling Clem Simich from Rob Muldoon's former stronghold in Auckland's eastern suburbs.
It was the closest result achieved by any of any of the Young Labour candidates at this election, and the outcome was a testimony to a strong team and a hard- fought campaign. Leila herself takes up the story:
"The election result saw Labour winning the party vote in Tamaki and Clem Simich's majority slashed to just under 1200 votes which was about a quarter of the majority of 4911 from the 1999 campaign. I was ecstatic about this result and my electorate committee and campaign team were thrilled.
"The party vote result shows that Labour has the right message for Tamaki. My team and I could tell by talking to people throughout the electorate that we had a good chance of winning and we did where it counts, the party vote. Our outcome was built on the good result achieved by Labour at the previous election.
"We expect this trend to accelerate as we focus over the next 3 years in further building our organisational strength in Tamaki. People from throughout the electorate participated in our campaign and the Tamaki Labour Party will be focussing on keeping people involved and our profile up. We welcome suggestions from new members and supporters about what they would like to see Labour in Tamaki doing over the next 3 years.
"I would like to thank all those who worked hard for our superb result especially my very committed and hardworking campaign team and my supportive electorate committee. It has been a real pleasure campaigning in Tamaki hearing the support for our government and our Prime Minister."
:: Successful Planning Weekend ::
Young Labour's Executive met in Wellington at the end of August to consider the state of the organisation and put some plans together for the coming parliamentary term.
A wideranging exploration of our strengths and weaknesses, potential for development, and priorities for the future was managed with good humour and even laughter by one of the more cohesive Executives in recent years.
While the specific contents of the plan are *of course* highly secret, all will be revealed in due course in Future Lefts. The underlying focus of the youth sector's activities will be a continued push to make the whole Labour Party more accessible and relevant to young New Zealanders, by changing the party and being more active within its structures.
Being in Government poses challenges for the sector that we have still not adjusted to. In particular, recognising the line between public debate and damaging dis-unity becomes more important. Coping with and responding usefully to the huge amounts of information available in Government is also a challenge.
With a larger and more diverse membership base than ever, Young Labour is in a position to meet the challenge posed. Young Labour stands as the only non- student based youth political organisation capable of really affecting policy in favour of youth. That responsibility is not lost on us.
You can also expect to hear about a series of events and campaigns over the coming months.
Keep your eyes peeled!
:: What Opposition? ::
Since Parliament resumed, it has been a bit of a mystery to gallery-watchers just who the opposition to the Government actually are.
Examples include the following:
* Winston Peters and Simon Power (National's next leader but one) sit next to each other giggling in Parliament, but they also attack each other. But Winston has stopped wearing pinstripe suits, in case they clash with Simon's. Future Lefts thinks this is cute but reminds both MP's that they are in different parties.
* New Zealand First pretends it is the opposition but it doesn't understand 98% of what Government members actually say, so it is left to National to do the work, and Winston to take the credit.
* Who leads ACT anyway? Future lefts is much more impressed with Deborah Coddington than the rest of the right wing's new intake, and are keenly awaiting her leadership bid. Because Deborah is much better at articulating ACT's loopy policy positions than Richard could ever be, we anticipate falls in ACT support. Though then again, new brooms do attract some interest.
On the more Government benches:
* United Future is in a formal agreement with the Government, but plans to vote against some of its legislation.
* The Greens are in a less formal coalition with the Government, and won't support it on confidence and supply, but plan to vote for some of its legislation.
It's enough to confuse anyone.
:: Striding On - A Justification of Gradualism ::
One of the common questions Labour Party activists get asked by those further left is "why do you bother with that ^@#%!# party? It's so right wing!"
Having to face this question always makes you think about why you are in a centrist party if your views are on the more radical edges of it. But it's a fair question.
(Unfortunately, when you ask people in some left wing parties why they prefer to oppose everything than engage in governing the country, they tend to get a bit upset.)
My response typically goes like this: changing society through politics is a gradual process. While the left as a whole shares a vision of a more equal and inclusive society, there seem to be two streams of thought about how to achieve it:
* the Blitzkrieg approach. Do as much as you can as fast as you can. Stuff the consequences.
* the Gradualist approach. Move as fast and as far as you can without pissing everyone off, and losing the next election.
I dare say the difference between Labour and other left parties is that most of us are firmly in the Gradualist camp.
If you think about it, you can quickly work out why. The people who are most vulnerable to right wing policies are typically those with least voice in society. Their interests are hurt most by conservative and right wing governments. Parties that claim to represent them should be careful about not moving so fast they lose touch with the electorate as a whole, and thus get thrown out of power.
There is also the point that rapid, radical reform generates resistance. It can crash through, sure - look at what happened in the 1980's - but it generates social damage, as that time proved all too well.
Some people would counter this by saying you need to campaign hard to push things through. An argument I have sympathy with, but would answer by saying that that is the role of social movements (unions, NGO's, campaigns etc) more than it is of political parties. Labour can increase the pace of reform if the centre of New Zealand politics moves left. That requires campaigns of all sorts - from all movements - but it cannot be forced from the centre alone.
If there's a lesson, I guess it is one about patience. Sure it would be nice to build a worker's paradise in a day, but what is the point if you are simply causing a firestorm to come and destroy it at the next election?
Either we proceed at a modest pace, or we end up powerless. The crucible of Opposition may be satisfying for those who enjoy railing against National governments, but it does nothing for our people. And surely, that is what should count - our supporters, not our egos.
:: Quote of the day ::
Helen Clark, on being told that New Zealand First wanted to be asked about joining in coalition arrangements, and was offended at being left out:
-- Editor: Jordan Carter < mailto:email@example.com >
Any submissions, feedback etc, should be directed to the Editor.
While this newsletter is a mouthpiece of Young Labour, any views expressed here are not necessarily those of New Zealand Young Labour, or the New Zealand Labour Party.
Young Labour - www.younglabour.org.nz (c) NZYL 2002