Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Real Deal: How Labour Could, Once Again, Become A Workers’ Party.

Trust And Identification: Labour’s politicians should look and sound like the people who vote for them. They should come from similar backgrounds and share many of the same experiences.
 
HOW MANY LABOUR MPs could make a reasonable fist of spelling out the priorities of a family with pre-school children? What about the thoughts of a young couple just starting out on their journey through life together? How many could summarise the views of a Tongan cleaner setting out for work very early in the morning, while her neighbour – a beneficiary – lies tucked up warm in bed? And the elderly: those over 70; how closely does the Labour Party’s world view mirror the attitudes of these New Zealanders?
 
A healthy Labour Party, with a caucus broadly representative of its voting base, could answer each of those questions with considerable confidence. It would know what each group was thinking because, within the ranks of its caucus, there would be MPs drawn from the same demographic slivers. Labour’s politicians would look and sound remarkably like them because they had come from very similar backgrounds and shared many of the same experiences.
 
It’s why National is so successful as a political party. It’s MPs don’t have to pretend to be members of the professional middle class, or farmers, or small business owners, or upwardly mobile tradespeople – because that’s exactly what they are. Representing such people, and defending their interests, is what National does. The ordinary voter looks at the National Party, at their MPs, and says: “Yep, they’re Nats alright, true blue through and through. When they open their mouths they sound exactly like the people who sent them there. They’re the real deal.”
 
Can the same be said, honestly, of Labour? Does Labour’s historical constituency: the hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders who live off wages; who struggle to pay mortgages or subsist on the old age pension; any longer resemble, or have anything in common with, the 32 individuals who comprise Labour’s current caucus?
 
How does a family, struggling to get by on or below the median household income of $68,600 per year, even begin to relate to a “representative” earning $109,580 per year (after tax but not counting allowances)? The quantum of parliamentary salaries, alone, constitutes a formidable barrier to the sort of trust and identification Labour MPs must have to be effective representatives of working-class New Zealand.
 
In their much derided review of Labour’s conduct of the 2014 general election, its authors draw attention to the parlous state of the party’s finances. So broke is the party that the reviewers felt moved to warn both the caucus and the organisation that if its financial situation is not improved “then it will continue to experience electoral failure and place the status of the party as a political institution of influence at risk”. Well, here’s an idea (hat-tip to Danyl McLauchlan). Why not make it a rule that a Labour MP cannot take home more than the average wage of, roughly, $45,480 per year (after tax). The balance of their income, $64,100, would go to the party. This would guarantee Labour an annual income, from its current 32-strong caucus, of at least $2,051,200 per year, or, $6,153,600 over the three year parliamentary term.
 
That’s not a bad war chest – and just think of the effect on Labour’s voters! Knowing that their MPs are unwilling to take home more than the average income earner. That they’re prepared to give up two-thirds of their salaries to ensure that, come election time, the party of the workers stands a fighting chance against the party of the bosses. That they’re not just in it for the money, and the perks, and the power. What do you think that would do for building trust and identification?
 
“But, what person in their right mind would agree to that?”, I hear you say. “How could you possibly hope to recruit competent men and women to stand for Parliament on an offer of the average wage?”
 
There are two replies to that question. The first points to the quality of the current crop of MPs. These are the product of Labour’s current, utterly Byzantine, selection process. The cynical horse-trading that goes on, as one sector group deals with another to “get their candidate up”, not to mention the bare-faced corruption in the credentialing of selectors, makes FIFA look like a paragon of democratic probity. Who would be willing to say that, in every case, Labour’s current crop is worth $109,580 per year?
 
The second reply addresses the need to attract MPs whose overriding motivation is to make life better for ordinary working-class Kiwis. People who go into politics not because it offers them a long and lucrative career, but because there’s something they want to do. It could be in education, health, the environment or the workplace; the important thing is that, for this sort of politician, the goal is everything. All the other political stuff matters only insofar as it propels them towards the place where real and lasting change can be made.
 
Candidates with concrete goals should not have to win the backing of jealous sector groups, or secretive moderating committees, but only of ordinary party members, in an organisation-wide ballot – after the fashion of the Greens. Consider a candidate like Dr Liz Craig, who, alongside her husband, Dr David Craig, has fought to put an end to child poverty for close to ten years. Every delegate to Labour’s annual conference knows Liz and David – and what they stand for. If Liz’s name had been on a ballot paper sent out to every Labour Party member, she would be in Parliament today. Not for the money. Not for the power. But for the kids.
 
And there would be more like Liz. A forestry worker, determined to introduce a world-beating health and safety regime, might be put forward by his union. A school principal, absolutely committed to the reform of our education system might throw her hat into the ring. Or, an aged care worker, dedicated to finally achieving equal pay for work of equal value. The list could easily be extended beyond the 120 parliamentary seats available.
 
And, as the membership and the public grew accustomed to a Labour Party made up of idealists and reformers, chosen transparently and democratically by those with the most to gain by empowering ideals and reforming this rotten economic system, then, very rapidly, Labour would, once again, look and sound like the workers’ party it was always intended to be.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 9 June 2015.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not a a bad idea to tithe them, but that rate is far too high.
No one with any ability would sign up.
Your description of Labour is entirely accurate (it could have come from Kiwiblog! ) , but indicates it is at the 'disband' point.

Brutus Iscariot said...

A very noble idea, that lies in the most preposterous realm of fiction.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the problem that Labour voters do mostly resemble the caucus, it just isn't a wide enough cross section to command a governing majority?

I wasn't sure Chris, whether you were suggesting "the professional middle class, or farmers, or small business owners, or upwardly mobile tradespeople" were workers Labour shouldn't even be trying to represent?

Heck, the next Prime Minister could be a former beneficiary and I'm not thinking of a Labour Prime Minister.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

How could you possibly hope to recruit competent men and women to stand for Parliament on an offer of the average wage?”
Most of them as very people have said, would crawl over broken glass to get that job. I'm not at all sure why, but there you go. Not a bad idea, but I think they'd want a little bit more than the average wage somehow. :-)

greywarbler said...

Very stirring Chris. I think, broadly speaking, that what is needed is fewer lawyers and university graduates who talk about best practice etc. I am tired of these middle class people who are more concerned about look and style and the current angst than getting service to the people where it is most needed.

I realise you used the median? wage as a talking point. But I think Green turn part of their salaries back into the pot, and if Labour actually cared about the Party trying to get into government to make real changes that would help the strugglers, they would do the same. I remember though Labour MPs being criticied as too keen to get into the corporate boxes for events, so it might be uncomfortable for them to be outside the sweetshop without the pennies.

It would be a nice sign if real Labour men turned up to Parliament in cardigans. That would give a finger to the snobby, the sneering, stylistas of the right wing persuasion, in or out of the Beehive.

Davo Stevens said...

If you check back on my responses you will see that I have advocated that Labour needs to get back to it's grass roots again. Start supporting the ordinary workers not the rich pricks but therein lays their problem. They must go to the same sources for money as the Nats consequently they who pay the piper call the tune.

Compulsory unions again would be a start and then get their finance from there. I know that the thought of compulsory unions is an anathema to the rightie wingnuts but it protects the workers from the exploitation that is happening now.

For years the MP's salaries were pegged to the average income and they got some reasonable perks as well. That way we got genuine people who weren't in it for the money unlike today.

Another suggestion that has been laid on me is that all potential MP's should spend two years on the benefit as their sole and only source of income. That would give them a grounding in what it's like at the bottom of the heap.

peter petterson said...

THOUGHT PROVOKING THOUGH.

RMJ1 said...

Hmm you are on the money Chris
A little of history- of South Auckland that is..
I grew up in Manurewa in 70's, worked at Westfield (Freezing Works that is) Ford , Formica went to University and now am an aged Kiwi in law in Australia.
Union then ..dead set was then and still am....
Worked with long haired then Phil Goff socialist repeat that SOCIALIST
..... you know Labour New right functionary who has amnesia about his antecedents.... as do most of them in the Parliament
I would not recognise the chap I worked with now and neither would any minimum wage worker in South Auckland today...but for that matter neither would most of that coterie who are an out of touch assortment in the tribe masquerading as Labour
in NZ.

THEIR REMOTE connection with Struggle St in NZ is an indictment of the MMP electoral system where you cannot vote out the dross. PATHETICALLY MOST OF IT NOW IS LABOUR.

So who represents the poor and marginalized and refugees who flee here now?
Not Labour. They no longer stand for working people, if anything.

Gerrit said...

Whilst tithing may fix the financial problem for Labour, it wont fix the distance that the MP's have placed between themselves and the Joe Average voter. Labour should limit their MP's serving in parliament term to 3 (nine years)

This means they will have worldly experience before entering parliament.

How can anyone (looking at Mr Goff as a prime example) spend over 30 years in parliament and still have any semblance of empathy with the voter?

greywarbler said...

@David Stevens Gerrit and RMJ1
I agree. Limited terms in parliament to three terms in a row - have to be out for two terms before being back again. Have to have had a near full time job before putting name forward, no boy/girl wonders.

Compulsory unions with some financial controls. Rises to not go above CPI annually plus 1% for uncounted inflation. Pegged salaries for MPs. I don't notice that the present are superior to the monkeys we had before when paid peanuts.

But don't throw off at MMP. That is most unfair, to blame it for the present situation. The business of rejecting MPs but them still getting in on the list could probably be solved by changing a small clause in the legislation, not throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
It is one thing that we have been able to prevail with, in our struggle to escape the grip of the neolib econo-missed. Listening to the OECD give a report on our degression and recommend we build more roads in Auckland reminds me of the effect of belonging to that club. As a commentator I think Todd Nial said, the government politely listens and then does its own thing - or similar.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" I don't notice that the present are superior to the monkeys we had before when paid peanuts."

On reflection, that's probably the best comment I've seen about New Zealand politicians for a long time. (Come to think of it some of them are the same people.) Wish I'd said it.

Anonymous said...

The Labour Party Members are all Labour pretenders some carry it off better than others, Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, Phil Twyford and Phil Goff should get Oscars.

Wayne Mapp said...

Chris,

A very astute observation of who the National Party is. Not the 1%, but a much wider group of New Zealanders. It is why the party has a membership of several tens of thousands.

And of course these are the groups who vote National, including people who have aspirations in this direction.

The electoral success of National over 7 decades should show that a large part of New Zealand comfortably identifies themselves in this way.

Davo Stevens and greywarbler, I would encourage Labour to go for compulsory unionism - it will pretty much guarantee National success at the next election. But I suspect Andrew Little is smart enough to know that such a policy would be electoral suicide. He only needs to look to the political attitudes of his own parents.

Jigsaw said...

I certainly agree that three terms should be the maximum for an MP then two terms away -well perhaps three terms in government.... We need fewer professional politicians. The ones Anomymous mentions above are all in that category and few of them seem to have much idea of the thoughts of average New Zealanders-lots of indignation but that's about all. Talk of ways of raising money for a political party makes you realise just how out of touch they are in no one wants to fund them.

Anonymous said...

If Labour can't get into Government (although once the economic shit hits the fan it will - 1935 didn't happen out of thin air) then they should concentrate on controling all the Councils. Let Central Government become so small that it destroys itself.