The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Can Labour be left again?

Recently I wrote about the current political vehicles for those of the Left persuasion as part of my eagerness to work out some kind of political future for myself and others with similar political concerns and predilections. Today I want to address Jordan's post responding from a Labour activist's point of view.*

Jordan outlines what he sees as Labour's Third Way solution to the problem, and asks three specific questions of people like myself:

  • What campaigning methods and communication styles do you think would develop public support for more progressive politics?
  • What key policy planks would you propose to distinguish yourselves from the moderate left?
  • How would you interact with the moderate left? A conciliatory or a hostile approach?
As the comments on his post are (unfortunately and typically) dominated by those not of the left-wing persuasion**, I'm responding here.

Campaign methods - a wide range of methods could be employed, to reflect the different ways that people engage in politics. Some are happy to go to a public meeting, others to sign a petition, many just want some information and to read the various arguments; there are of course many more techniques, tactics and strategies too. But what frustrates me about the current approach is that it seems Labour only properly campaigns, in a way that involves the public and doesn't just deliver the Good News from on high, when it isn't in government. This attitude needs to change. I know that when the Alliance was in government the grassroots activists were often pushing to campaign on this or that piece of legislation to put across the arguments and vitalise public support, but the leadership wasn't keen, they had Other Ways of delivering (which tended to fail). The Civil Unions Act is the one piece of legislation I can think of that Labour has treated in a campaign way, and of course that was a conscience vote and Labour itself maintained some distance.

One key part of successful campaigns is timing. You can't just strike up a campaign a month before the vote is on in the House and expect the public to fall in behind. A media statement is not going to create a groundswell. It's necessary to genuinely engage with actual people over a length of time - polling can only deliver so much, as countless election results have shown.

Another vital component is people - I have to say I'd find the Labour party a damn sight more attractive option for my active involvement if I knew that I'd be able to really campaign on issues I care about.

As for key policy planks, I'd see a commitment to a number of things as crucial.
  • Publicly provided, funded and controlled education - from early childhood to tertiary
  • Publicly provided, funded and controlled health - including primary healthcare and preventative strategies (eg Quitline, Plunket).
  • A social welfare system based on justice and fairness, and recognising the genuine levels of need of different people. Not just seeing those reliant on a benefit as worthless non-worker ants who are grudgingly given a subsistence level income. I think Working For Families has been a valuable step here, but so much more needs to be done.
  • Recognition of the Treaty commitments our nation is bound by and a meaningful ongoing education programme for all New Zealanders to overcome the misunderstandings and ignorance of the past.
  • Brave, forward-thinking, stances in the areas of gender, sexuality and racial equality - the PaEE audits are a good start and the Civil Union Act was a triumph.
  • A fair taxation system which is truly progressive, not truncated as our current structure is. We should turn our thinking on its head - raise the tax we need to fund the vision we have for our country, not limit our policies in an inevitable race to the bottom on the tax issue.
I'm not saying all of these things would have to happen overnight (and in fact I suspect I could come up with a longer list if I thought about it for a bit longer) - but a commitment, and the framework of a plan (a vision even!) to progress towards these stated end-goals would seem a minimum to me (even if the fruition of these plans is a decade or more away). It's also part of being honest with the electorate. By stating these things clearly and openly then voters can make an informed choice, can weigh up how long things might take with the possible plan for the meantime, and also parties can't rely on voters crediting them with a vision they don't actually hold because they never go into detail.

I think Jordan knows me well enough to know that for the most part I am personally reasonably concilliatory towards the moderate left. Actually I consider myself to be just to the left of moderate left, although of course that's all a matter of subjective judgement. However I acknowledge that there is a level of hostility, including at times from me. For me, and possibly others, it rises out of frustration over the vision thing, which I've written about before (probably more than once).

There is also, I feel, a certain arrogance around some in Labour, that they are the One True Left of Centre Party and the rest of us should just Grow Up, Get Mortgages and Get Real. I've received a fair bit of nastiness from people who have assumed for various reasons that I am in Labour and are then Very Very Disappointed to find out I'm not. It's the sin of hubris, and it pushes people away and makes them wary of working together. I think some of it comes out of a deep defensiveness many Labour activists feel about the Fourth Labour Government (particularly the older ones). Perhaps there needs to be some process of reconciliation before we can get past these barriers?

I don't know if acknowledging all that history counts as hostility. Maybe it does. But I think it's fair to say that the hostility isn't necessarily just from my corner of the playground...

So how do we move forward from here? I called this post "Can Labour be left again?" because I was thinking about how welcome these ideas and thoughts would genuinely be in Labour. Perhaps some of the Labour bloggers and commenters out there (many of whom I consider friends in all of this) would care to share their thoughts?

* I'd also like to post in the near future responding to Sanctuary's thought-provoking comment on my Whither the (parliamentary) Left post, but that will have to wait until I have more time I'm afraid.
** My perception is that rather than debating the issues on Jordan's blog, these commenters are instead looking for an opportunity to rip Jordan limb from limb as the local representative of Labour who they can take their hate out on without risking repurcussions for themselves.


Gerrit said...

I think the taxation issue must be addressed in context with a balanced budget if the reforms you are envisaging are to be long lasting ones. To often the budget has not been balanced and the reforms are undone because there is not the money available to service them.

Another aspect of taxation must be the balance between the tax payers and the tax recipients. If there are not enough tax payers (who through overtaxation have either left the country or have given up and joined the ranks of tax recipients) then the tax distribution wont balance.

International competitiveness must be a rational in the tax regime.

Be interesting to explore the taxation, balanced budget question further.

Psycho Milt said...

You're very conciliatory toward Labour compared to me Span!

Span said...

Yes well I might also be labelled as further left than you PM?

Psycho Milt said...

That should make you less conciliatory towards the power-hungry buggers, surely? ;)

Span said...

Ooops, my bad. Must try harder to hate, grrrrr!