A note on Brexit and NZ Labour

I was a wee bit disappointed to see my former colleague Rob Salmond over at Public Address mischaracterising my post on Brexit as naysaying about New Zealand Labour:

…some in New Zealand think the no confidence motion in UK Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn shows how out of touch [the Labour caucus OR Jeremy Corbyn] is with the real needs of [UK Labour AND/OR the UK public]. They believe this regrettable trait is shared by New Zealand Labour’s [MPs OR activists], and that the relevant New Zealand folk should follow Corbyn’s lead by [standing tough OR sodding off] in advance of the next election.

Just to clarify, the point I was trying to make was put quite succinctly by Andrew Little in the Southland Times (disclosure: Andrew is an old mate of mine):

… there was an underlying sense that Brits voted to leave the EU because the system wasn’t working for the people.

Politicians didn’t understand what was going on in people’s lives, he said.

“The system isn’t looking after people and I think it’s very real here [in New Zealand] as well,” Little said.

Many people, particularly the young, living outside of London had low paid jobs which were not secure and many people were unable to afford their own homes.

“Those are factors in New Zealand today and if the political system  isn’t going to provide responses to that, to get people into secure and good employment, then we are going to alienate more and more people from our political system.”

This isn’t just an economic problem though. As I said in my original post, it’s a problem of engagement. It’s early days yet, but that’s a problem NZ Labour has been addressing better than most of its international brethren.

That includes the great work Iain Lees-Galloway has done with the unionised Kiwis and their families to put dodgy health and safety law under public scrutiny, and with other parties and unions to get rid of zero-hour contracts. It includes Poto Williams’ work with NGOs to grind the Government’s plan to charge for police services to a standstill.

It includes Annette King working with people suffering from health system underfunding and health organisations to make health spending a real issue (I doubt that Pharmac would be reconsidering Keytruda for melanoma sufferers if it wasn’t for that collective effort), and Sue Moroney’s stellar job working with communities, children’s advocates, and other parties to push the Government into extending paid parental leave and then into being clearly seen to veto even more. Oh, and Phil Twyford’s housing campaign that is slowly but surely drawing concessions from the Government on homelessness.

This is the kind of real-world change that social democratic parties can make when they open the doors to the outside world. And that’s just in opposition. And, as a great twofor, it’s also the kind of work that organically builds their mandate to lead and the networks they need to win.

Labour has always done best when it looks outside, not inside – long may they continue do so, and increase doing so.

UK Labour on the other hand, seriously, WTF?

5 Replies to “A note on Brexit and NZ Labour”

  1. “Not just an economic problem” Well, ok, sure. But there’s a perception – derived directly from the rhetoric – that like the Blairites in UK Labour, and Hillary Clinton in the US, NZ Labour feel there is mostly a perception problem, a PR problem, let’s call it an engagement problem – and NOT MUCH OF AN ECONOMIC PROBLEM AT ALL. (Sorry for the shouting.) Sanders and Corbyn are popular because they defiantly point at the elephant in the room: (hyper) capitalism is working brilliantly to make the ultra-wealthy wealthier, and f*%k things up for most people. That is entirely an economic problem. The government sets the economic rules, and since about 1986 in NZ they’ve been set to: let the rich take as much as they can, and stuff everyone else. If you don’t get that – if you’re not willing to say that – AND to propose changes, hard changes, and tough thoughtful passionately articulated ways of winding things in a different direction: yeah, people will be disengaged and cynical and feel they can vote for tweedledum or tweedledee and whoopdehoo, why bother. “Not just an economic problem’ seems so often to come out as: ‘Not an economic problem … ‘ And that just doesn’t cut it.

  2. Hi Robinson – I don’t mean “engagement” in PR terms – I mean it in a working with the electorate not for them sense (as per my last earlier Brexit post).

    I think if you look at the policies and statements from Labour you’ll see a lot that is about fair distribution and rebuilding civil society – free tertiary education, stronger Labour laws, KiwiBuild, etc. By showing these values through co-campaigning with other progressive organisations, rather than just telling people we hold them, we build much more trust and a stronger movement to support change in Government.

    It takes longer than a PR fix but it build a much stronger foundation for getting things done (and it gets a few good things done in the meantime). I think the Blairite faction of UK Labour could learn quite a bit from NZ Labour.

  3. Not ‘just about economics’?You can have all the ‘engagement’ in the world but until the broken economic model is fixed the mainstream parties have had it. Sorting out the economics may not be sufficient but it is necessary.

  4. Hi John – of course it’s about economics. That’s imperative, but for these changes to be lasting the progressive institutions that will fight for them regardless of who is in government will need to be engaged with and empowered.

    For example, one of the biggest mistakes I think the last Labour government made was focusing on legal minimums in employment law rather than trusting unionised New Zealanders with the legislation they needed to grow their unions democratically and effectively.

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