NZ POLITICS DAILY: Shearer tries to impose discipline

David Shearer

Should politicians lead political debate or follow it?

Do political parties best serve democracy by "listening to the people" or by articulating their own vision?

These are two distinct approaches to the role of party politics, and it’s worth keeping them in mind when following the ongoing online discussion over Labour’s political direction.

That debate continues unabated at the moment, despite David Shearer’s (rather late) attempts to impose some leadership and discipline on his caucus. For the best summary of this, see Claire Trevett’s Shearer warns MPs: Stop these sideshows

The different political approaches boil down, according to political scientists, to whether politicians and parties should be "preference-shapers" or "preference-takers".
 
Much of the debate around the Labour Party – and all New Zealand parties – occurs within a mindset that assumes that political parties are "hostages" of the fixed ideological preferences of voters. Rob Salmond epitomises this, as does the Pagani approach.
 
This pragmatic view says that the vast majority of voters are centrist and therefore parties must cater to their ideological preferences. Parties do not exist to put forward policies to change the world, but to respond to the views of the electorate. 
 
There is a very different view of politics and the role of political parties. One where political parties represent particular ideological and sectional interests and put forward ideological programmes that they truly believe in. The parties (and their politicians) then seek to convince voters of the rightness of those policies.
 
This model believes that the ideological preferences of the public are far from fixed and are shaped by the actions of political parties. Parties are not hostages to centrist voters at all, but instead they have a role in convincing those voters of ideas outside of the swampy mush of the middle of the political spectrum.
 
The professionalisation of politics pushes the first approach. Winning popular support is the name of the game and it is far easier to pander to existing views and prejudices than change or shape them. The fact that nearly all great political leaders and historic political achievements are a result of the latter approach is irrelevant to those poring over the latest focus group transcripts.
 
This point is well made by Danyl Mclauchlan in his blogpost More armchair strategizing. He points out that while many voters like to consider themselves in the "centre", their actual views on issues like taxation are considerably to the left: "my hypothesis is that the National Party is really good at advocating for its core values.
 
"They didn’t look at this chart and think, 'well, we need to win the center so let’s endorse Labour’s policies of taxation and state spending because they’re popular with voters'," they thought "we need to get out and make the case for a low tax economy with less government, because that’s what we believe in". 
 
On the same theme, Jimmy Reid at The Standard believes that the core is missing from Labour’s strategy: "You can’t get people to think about policy unless they buy into the project. What is missing from Shearer at the moment is the articulation of Labour values. The articulation of a vision" – see: The wrong conversation.
 
Articulating a vision means leaving out the "dog whistle" communication says Mike Smith – the strategy of sending coded messages that play to prejudices that politicians don’t want to be seen to be overtly supporting – eg, racial prejudice or, say, beneficiary bashing – see: Dog-whistling.
 
Smith is worried that more is on the way with a rumoured undermining of teacher unions planned by Shearer in the near future.
 
There are alternatives to such tactics according to a post on the blog, Ideologically Impure – see: My struggle with Labour.
 
Here it is argued that "it should be easy for Labour to say, the needs of teachers and the needs of parents are the same thing: a great school system for our kids.  Teachers don’t want to see kids failing – who could ever want to see kids fail?  Parents and teachers aren’t enemies, they can work together towards a common goal".
 
Of course, there is another view that is even more challenging to Labour activists. The reality is that the last two Labour governments were, respectively, right-wing and centrist. Many of the progressive gains that Labour trumpets from the Clark-led era were either directly or indirectly the result of external pressure from coalition partners on the left.
 
When that pressure was removed towards the end, Labour drifted, achieving little except power for its own sake. A centrist strategy probably doesn’t reflect the party’s activists or core support base, but it does reflect what their MPs deliver when in government.
 
In the meantime, Tova O’Brien reports Cunliffe shaves the beard – should Shearer be worried? and TV3 has a video of how Labour MPs react to anti-Cunliffe claims.
 
Other important or interesting political items yesterday include:
 
The Law Commission’s Harmful Digital Communications  report on cyber-bullying has the support of those struggling with youth suicide and school bullying but has some worried. New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties member Thomas Beagle writes in the NBR  that the creation of new offences and bodies with the power of censorship is always a worry: "It is proposed to make something illegal on the internet that wouldn't be illegal if it was published in some other way. Does it really make sense that the same message might be legal on a billboard in the middle of Auckland but illegal if it was then posted to the Trademe Forums?" – see: Rushed cyberbullying proposals doomed to fail. David Farrar raises similar concerns and gives his views on all the major proposals – see: A Communications Tribunal for the Internet?
 
David Farrar also blogs about how the proposed MMP changes will affect National. Although they may well have prevented National holding power since 1996 if implemented then, he thinks the proposed changes will actually be to National’s advantage in the future – see: The politics of the proposed MMP changes. The Electoral Commission has failed to justify its proposal for a 4% threshold says Pete George – see: Strong case for 3% MMP threshold
 
Debate over whether teachers and doctors should be compelled by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect has resulted from the release of submissions to the government’s Green Paper on Vulnerable Children, reports Simon Collins – see: Information-sharing to protect children has popular support. The police see the issue differently, saying "the main problem was inadequate resources to respond to reports".
 
The government is accused of rushing through a select committee report on the asset sales to avoid admitting the accuracy of a report showing publicly owned power company prices were cheaper than those of privately owned generators – see Adam Bennett’s Ministers dismiss energy pricing analysis.
 
A vote on reform of alcohol laws is likely next week – see John Hartevelt’s MPs to vote on alcohol purchase age
 
Fran O’Sullivan says Chinese get message: We're open for business, but the Greens and other opposition parties are sending out a very different message when it comes to land purchases – see APNZ’s Farmland foreign ownership bill to be discussed
 
There is a distinct waning of support for our role in Afghanistan, says Russell Brown – see: The question of Afghanistan becomes more urgent.
 
Finally, while John Key may think his son’s baseball match is headline material in New Zealand, Nicholas Jones has helpfully compiled a list of possibly bigger headlines the PM may have missed while watching the game – see: Key goes in to bat for 'big news' NZ sport.
 
Bryce Edwards

 

Content:

 
Labour Party
Claire Trevett (Herald): Shearer warns MPs: Stop these sideshows
Mike Smith (The Standard): Dog-whistling
Jimmy Reid (The Standard): The wrong conversation
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim Post): More armchair strategizing
Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim Post): Quick waffles about political positioning
Robert Winter (Idle Thoughts): Discipline and the Labour Caucus
Ideologically Impure: My struggle with Labour
 
Vulnerable children
 
Cyber-bullying laws
Andrea Vance (Stuff): Proposed laws target cyber-bullying
 
MMP Review
David Farrar (Kiwiblog); The politics of the proposed MMP changes
Pete George (Your NZ): Strong case for 3% MMP threshold
Robert Winter (Idle Thoughts): Maori Seats?
 
Other
Lincoln Tan (Herald): Fast food giant faces union action
John Hartevelt (Stuff): MPs to vote on alcohol purchase age
Fran O’Sullivan (Herald): Chinese get message: We're open for business
Chris Hutching (NBR): Lefties ginger up asset debate
Anne-Marie Emerson (Wanganui Chronicle): 'Beast' moving into Turia's street
Kate Shuttleworth (Herald): Turia: 'Beast' move causing extreme concern
John Armstrong (Herald): MPs bask in reflected glory of Olympians
Stuff: Today in politics: Wednesday, August 15

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4 Comments & Questions

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First things first Mr Shearer! And that is; you need to have credibility in the eyes of those you want to discipline. *sigh*

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... AND credibility in the eyes of the electorate and country.

Labour don't have any. Labour's MP's and their rorting, unethical, corruption displayed over selling citizenship (for a miserly $15K no less!) all ensure NZ doesn't want a socialist political party to once again over-tax hard workers to fund pet ideological policies, programmes and election bribes from our hard work.

Compound Labour's out-dated and irrelevant philosophies with the fact that their bully-boy union cohorts operate on an "extort until our ransoms are met" type philosophy - and NZ doesn't want or need a Labour government to do exactly what they've done in the past and like how they operate in Aussie...

Nz wants and needs credibile, ethical, honest politicians and Labour and the unions are the complete opposite of this.

Shearer - go back to the UN - at least there your colleagues attempted to be on your side...

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It takes at least a whole term for a new MP to decide whether they want to spend the next decade or more in the bear-pit that is parliament. It is not everyone's idea of fun!
Before then, it takes a number of years to get used to the arcane and infuriating sub-culture that is local politics (of any party). That is where your mettle is tested and you through boredom, exhilaration and humiliation as part of a forging process.
Another preparatory stage us actually living in the country for a period before entering parliament.
Unfortunately Shearer has not had the benefits of these preparatory stages.
The decision by Goff, King, Mallard and Pagani to make Shearer the face of Labour was flawed at every level.
Shearer lived overseas for most of the period 1995 to 2009. He had no local party experience in Mt Albert before he was shoe-horned in by Goff. He had two undistinguished years on the back-benches before being shoe-horned in as leader when Parker fell flat on his face.
The current situation was very predictable.

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It soooooo wonderful watching the Socialist Party and all in self destruct. They are totally irrelevant to the majority of citizens. Until they ditch their 19th Century philosophy and join the 21st Century they will continue to be irrelevant

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