Little’s Labour is less weak, fake, divided, and stale

Andrew Little has led Labour for about a week, and so far he’s managed to address some of the party’s biggest perception problems. Since Helen left for the UN, the party has looked weak, fake, divided, and stale.

The power of plain English

The party has looked weak because it hasn’t been able to land easily understandable hits on the government (Shane Jones aside). The party has looked fake because two of its last four leaders have screamed inauthenticity. The party has looked divided because of near-constant caucus knife fights. The party has looked stale because many of its current MPs are leftovers from the Clark era.

Little has addressed the appearance of weakness by coming out swinging. He has hammered the Government over the report by the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. He hasn’t shied from calling out this government and he’s done it with enough fire to end up on the six o’clock news.

Little’s emphasis on front-footing issues helps shake the fakeness that oozed out of Cunliffe and Goff. He has distilled complex issues down to intuitive plain English. You don’t get much clearer than “cut the crap and apologise for running a smear campaign.” In doing so, Little has put National on the defensive, and is taking control of the discussion.

Mr Authenticity

Mr Authenticity

Little has addressed the perception of division with his caucus rankings and portfolio allocation. He has put a lid on dissent by drawing in some rivals, and driving others from the front bench.

Nanaia Mahuta has moved her up two places to number four, likely due to her supporters putting Little over the line. He has also disrupted the rival Gracinda power couple by pushing Jacinda Ardern down the list and bringing Grant Robertson up. Little also gave Robertson the Finance portfolio, which will ensure any serious Labour policy has Grant’s fingerprints all over it. It also gives Grant a prestige bump, and will hopefully keep him too busy to get up to mischief. There is less time for scheming when you are buried beneath Econ101 textbooks.

Similarly, Little has addressed the perception that the party is stale by pushing all former leaders and Clark era MPs down to the middle of the list. David Shearer might feel a little aggrieved considering his work in foreign affairs, but Little needs to put distance between himself and former leaders. Tough luck David(s).

The exception is the capable Annette, King of Rongotai, but I doubt she will be deputy for too long. She gets a sunset spot as deputy leader, and then I suspect she’ll be put out to pasture. Additionally, Party president Moira Coatsworth has quietly resigned. It’s not obvious how much say Little had, but the move helps refresh the party.

Another quiet change was Chris Hipkins. He has kept the Education portfolio, but has picked up the role of Spokesperson for photo-bombing. Since then Chris Hipkins has been promoted to the Labour website homepage, and continues to appear behind Little in press conferences. If Hipkins carries on this way, he could potentially be in the background of a Labour Prime Minister! Here’s a few shots of the man himself.

Hipkins on Labour's homepage

Hipkins behind Little on Labour’s homepage

Hipkins in Parliament on Monday 24 November

Hipkins behind Little in Parliament this week

Hipkins behind Little at a recent press conference

Hipkins behind Little at a recent press conference

Hipkins behind Little in next week's Women's Day article

Hipkins behind Little in an upcoming Women’s Day article

Hipkins after uploading his personality to a computer and hiding his tracks by using a Sigourney Weaver vocal track

Hipkins in 2805 after uploading his personality to a computer with a Sigourney Weaver vocal track. There is no end to his cunning.


Voters and values, loyalty and leadership

This is the second post in a series contrasting Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs with the careerists Robertson, Ardern, and Little. In this post, I’m looking at who effectively represents Labour values.

People like Tau Henare argue that Māori MPs should be promoted because Māori voters stayed true to the party. But is this necessary?

On the one hand, there is the argument that loyalty should be rewarded. On the other, there is the more Machiavellian view that the party can safely ignore loyal voters, since they won’t stray. Ethical? No. Good politics? Arguably, yes. Resources are scarce, and it makes sense to allocate them where they can attract the most votes.

I agree with Tau Henare’s proposal, but not his reason for proposing it. Labour’s high performing Māori and Pasifika MPs should be promoted; not out of loyalty to voters, but because they better represent the party’s voters and values.

The difference is subtle: the former rewards a past action; the latter acknowledges and responds to a present reality. Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs know their communities, and are better than the careerists at articulating those mythical Labour values.

Well, I thought they were mythical, until I listened to the maiden speeches of MPs Peeni Henare and Jenny Salesa. Henare and Salesa outlined Labour values in clear terms, and tied them to Labour’s past achievements, current Labour policy, and the Labour Party itself.

The speeches are solution-oriented and people-focussed. Salesa in particular speaks clearly and convincingly of the values Labour is supposed to be about: community, fairness, Continue Reading

Quiet successes, noisy failures

Since the election, there has been a lot of commentary on how Māori and Pasifika voters ‘stayed loyal’ to Labour. Some have even called for a Māori leader/deputy leader.

Regardless of who wins the Labour leadership, the party should give senior positions to Māori and Pasifika MPs. Not because they are Polynesian, but because they performed better than some of Labour’s leading lights, and can effectively and believably represent Labour values and Labour voters.

The leadership candidates

In this blog I will outline the strong performance of some of Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs, and contrast them with some of Labour’s current crop of careerists, namely Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, and Andrew Little. I call them ‘careerists’ because they have followed the conveyor belt(way) from student/union politics, to positions as party staffers, to parliament (with a gap year or three in the public service). In the next post, I will compare Labour’s Polynesian MPs and careerists to see who best represents Labour voters and Labour values.

Quiet successes: Labour’s Māori and Pasifika MPs

An alarmingly large number of Labour supporters think their electorate MP won a hard-fought victory, but their Māori electorate MP only won because of a weak Māori Party. I understand why the party members wouldn’t want to celebrate the success of Māori and Pasifika MPs too loudly; to do so would make some prominent MPs look average by comparison.

Obviously, there are external factors beyond the control of MPs, and any win or loss is the result of both push and pull factors. But the performance of other political parties/candidates is only one side of the ledger. Labour MPs should not be separated from the party’s performance in their electorate. The decline of the Māori Party is a factor, but we shouldn’t overstate it. To do so diminishes the hard work of Labour’s Māori MPs.

The Labour MPs in the table below managed to increase the total party vote and mostly hold their vote share constant.

Screenshot 2014-11-10 22.55.01

Labour’s Pasifika MPs held off raids by Colin Craig and National, while Labour’s Māori electorate MPs fought off an established Māori Party and a well-funded Internet-MANA Party. In particular, Kelvin Davis managed to defeat an extremely well-funded Hone Harawira, despite reluctance from his own party.

Of course, the elephant in the room is election turnout efforts. It’s difficult to determine what role the get-out-the-vote strategy played, but considering how poorly Labour’s main election strategy fared elsewhere, I don’t think we should write off the MPs’ party vote gains.

Noisy failures: Labour’s leading lights

The table below looks at election results for Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, and Andrew Little (David Parker is omitted because he didn’t contest an electorate in 2014). Since these MPs are the leading lights of their party, I’m looking at their recent results, rather than just the last election.

Screenshot 2014-11-10 22.12.05

In both total party votes and party vote percentage, Robertson, Ardern, and Little fare badly. In pre-Robertson Wellington Central (2005), Labour had almost 50% of the party vote, yet in 2014 the party came a distant third with 23.78%. Similarly, Auckland Central under Jacinda Ardern and New Plymouth under Andrew Little both shed over 10% of the vote since contesting the seat.

Robertson, Ardern, and Little presided over disproportionately large losses in vote share, yet they have flourished. Why are they currently the future leaders/deputies for the party if the party vote has crumbled around them?

They are ranked so highly because they are masters of the inside game. They know the strategies and tactics that help them climb the party ladder do not win general elections. Their skill is not winning broad support, but manoeuvring within the party.

So what about Nanaia Mahuta for leader? If the leadership race was determined by increasing the party vote, she would win by a landslide. Unfortunately, Nanaia’s charisma does not match her experience in ministerial and spokesperson roles (she may have blossomed on the campaign, but I haven’t seen it). Also, despite her experience, the commentariat wrote her off shortly after she announced. The highly questionable tone used by the media when discussing her campaign has undercut her chances.

Screenshot 2014-11-11 00.12.50

The next blog: Labour voters, Labour values

The ability to win votes is one aspect of a good leader, but not the only aspect. The next post will compare Labour’s Polynesian MPs and careerists to see who best represents Labour voters and Labour values.

Inside the minds of our minders

In the course of writing a couple of blogs about Grant Robertson (here and here), I’ve repeatedly come across the image below:

Screenshot 2014-11-03 19.06.09

I’m not sure why, but I find the image disturbing. Maybe it’s the mediocre photoshop job or fact that their smiles look like blatant photo smiles, or maybe it’s the odd line in the background; something looks a bit off.

Something about this picture makes Grant and Jacinda look like they were designed by aliens to appeal to humans (assuming they are not reptilian shapeshifters themselves). What on earth were they thinking when this picture was taken?

This got me thinking: what was going through the heads of National MPs when they had their official photos taken? Because some of them are pretty average.

So without further ado, here are some official pictures of National MPs wth their actual thoughts at the moment their picture was taken:

"People DEFINITELY know who I am."

“People DEFINITELY know who I am.”

"Real smiled, Paula. They have to be authentic. Judith Collins. Judith Collins. Judith Collins."

“Real smiles, Paula, they have to be authentic. Go to your happy place. *Judith Collins. Judith Collins. Judith Collins*”

"No, the job was Shane's idea, I swear"

“No, the job was Shane’s idea, I swear.”

"I have literally no idea what I am doing here."

“I literally have no idea what I am doing.”

"And then I told them I was a blue green!"

“And then I told them I was a blue green!”

"I can't believe I'm the Minister of Trade and people still make fun of my last name."

“I can’t believe I’m the Minister of Trade and people still make fun of my name.”

"I can't believe there are no teachers to make me wear a tie! I'm DEFINITELY voting National when I turn 18."

“I’m TOTES voting National when I turn 18.”

Screenshot 2014-11-03 22.15.17

[incomprehensible language spoken only in the depths of hell]

Give us some substance, Grant.

I want Grant Robertson to win, but it kills me that he is saying nothing of substance. On Q and A this weekend, he was clearest when discussing ‘consequences’ for disloyal MPs. It really says something that his only clear-ish comments were about caucus knifings.

While Grant has a slick campaign, he seems to think he can win without actually saying anything. Look at his five commitments:

White on red was not a good choice.

White on red was not a good choice.

What does any of this actually mean? I have no idea. You don’t get much vaguer than ‘Listen to what New Zealanders are saying about their hopes and aspirations’. Like the oxymoronic ‘Labour values’, these five priorities say nothing. This lack of substance is alarming.

The same goes for Grant and Jacinda’s campaign slogan ‘New generation to win’. The slogan reeks of focus-group testing and writing by committee. It says nothing about their approach, just that they are new-ish and want to win.

What does any of this mean?

Sentence fragment (consider revising)

This is candy floss politics. Lots of colour, little meaning, and kind of enjoyable if you don’t think about the crap you’re swallowing. But you don’t win elections by regurgitating buzzwords and smiling sweetly, unless you’re John Key. And Grant is no John Key.

Although, kudos to Grant for choosing Jacinda for deputy. She has great name recognition, appeals to the party’s troublesome base, and has support in Auckland. Of course, Grant can’t actually appoint a deputy; only caucus can do that. But never mind, it was good politics.

Although I’m a little concerned that between them they haven’t really done much, especially Jacinda. She had social welfare under Paula Bennett. I don’t recall her landing any significant hits, but I’m open to being proved wrong. Surely she should’ve been able to find a kiwi battler who can’t afford their something-or-other because of National’s benefit cuts.

Her greatest achievement seems to be leading the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), and almost winning Auckland Central. Although she’s not too proud of the socialist part, because she refers to IUSY as “an international political organisation with consultative status with the United Nations“.

Screenshot 2014-10-19 20.08.04

Grant, on the other hand, has won his safe seat three times, but presided over a decline in Labour’s vote. Under Grant the party vote has dropped from 14,244 in 2008 to 9,308 votes this year. But he got himself re-elected, and that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

No, it’s not. The party vote is.

I’m not a fan of Grant, but I want him to win. He represents Labour’s career insider faction at it’s purest. Like so so many Labour MPs, he went from student unions to the public service to parliamentary staffer to MP. He supports filibustering, which is basically sabotaging the mechanics of government.

But I want Grant to win because I think he can unite the party. And lack of unity is Labour’s fundamental problem. As I’ve already argued, I think Labour’s vocal base will fall in line and thus allow the party to convert blue votes to red. And without doing that, the Left cannot take power.

So good luck to Grant and Jacinda, but please make your waffle and deflections less obvious.