NZ POLITICS DAILY: What does the Labour Party want to be?

Bryce Edwards
Shane Jones

Shane Jones’ shock departure from the Labour Party caucus has sparked a debate about the direction of the party. Divisions over the Labour Party’s ideological direction (or lack thereof) are not new, but have been brought to the surface because Jones has represented and voiced one possible direction. As John Armstrong puts it, the bitter debate on the left over the last week ‘was as much about Labour's direction as it was about Jones’ – see: Labour's brutal week reveals Achilles heel.

Shane Jones has become a lightening rod for the discussion about all that is right or wrong with the Labour Party, and about what it means to be leftwing in 2014. Most fundamentally, it has pushed the question about whether the party needs to focus on economic or social issues. Rightly or wrongly, Jones has become associated with those in the party who want Labour to concentrate on economics and everyday issues versus those who want to prioritise social issues. The caricature is of either ‘man bans versus jobs’ or else ‘enlightened human decency versus misogyny, sexism and racism’. It’s a dichotomy that is far from accurate, but it does represent something real about the battle for the future of the Labour Party. 

Labour’s Josie Pagani has been articulating the division between the two factions, arguing strongly for a more economic focus. In Michael Fox’s article about divisions in the party – see: Labour reels in Jones' wake – she is reported as identifying the divide ‘between those focused on social mobility and those focused on social engineering – "we'll make you better off versus we'll make you a better person," she said.  The Labour Party was there to support wage earners and promote better jobs and higher wages "and that's the thing that unites everybody".

Vernon Small also attempts to explain the division: ‘On one side there are the "good riddance to Jones" merchants who seem to believe the broad church party would have a wider appeal if its MPs came from a smaller chapel… On the other side are those who lament the loss of Jones' appeal to Maori, soft centrist or conservative National voters but use his supposed straight talking - too many "geldings" in the party etc - to attack identity politics’ – see: Church collapsed? Buy a house

Claire Trevett explains how Jones’ departure has fostered this debate: ‘Jones was seen as the last bastion of the centre ground for Labour as well as providing an important buffer from the view that the party was more obsessed with identity politics and political correctness than everyday grafters’ – see: Keeping up without Jones

There has been a tendency to see the division as being between the left and right factions of the party. Such a view has merit, but it possibly makes more sense to see it as a divide between those in the party focused on social liberal concerns, and those focused on economic and more traditional Labour issues. In political science terms, this divide is generally termed a materialist vs postmaterialist debate. 

Materialists are more concerned with economic issues, while postmaterialists are mainly concerned with focusing their attention and political policy on social issues. While materialists want to focus on the things that materially impact on voters, such as jobs, housing, the economy and the state’s provision of services including social welfare, postmaterialists are interested in social issues often related to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disabilities, human rights, and foreign policy. To see more about this argument, see my blog post, The Labour Party – divided between materialists and postmaterialists

The Herald newspaper editorial also summoned up a similar dichotomy, saying that ‘For Labour to entrench itself as a party of government it must determine what it stands for. And that must be rooted in its heritage, and the day-to-day reality of what matters to most Kiwis. Jobs, health and education - not GCSB protests and smartphone apps’ – see: Labouring under false impressions

An alternative schema is to conceptualise the factions as the ‘beer track’ (materialists) and ‘wine track’ (postmaterialists), according to Liam Hehir’s column Narrowing of the Labour Party. He says that the ‘wine track’ politicians are concerned with the ‘metropolitan middle classes… who are often relatively secure economically’ (Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern) versus the ‘beer track’ who are ‘economic battlers and their principal concern is the security and aspirations of their family and friends’ (Damian O'Connor and Shane Jones). 

Decline of the working class Labour Party?

There’s an argument that Labour has moved too far away from its focus on working people. Originally, of course, the party was created in order to put working people into Parliament, but it has allegedly come to focus more on putting middle-income professionals into politics. Shane Jones has been seen by many as a more visceral representation of the working class voter. There has accordingly been much angst about how Jones best epitomised Labour’s traditional target market: the ‘blue-collar’ voter. 

So is Labour leaving the working class behind? Narelle Henson thinks so, and puts the case strongly in her column Why Jones' departure hurts Labour. Here’s the key part: ‘The new norm for the party seems to be finding people who represent minority groups in society and trying to make them all get along together. Whether its the feminists, gay rights crowd, Maori, Pacifica, unionists or fans of the extreme left, the party seems to be focussing less on broad appeal and more on niche groups each with their own agenda. Just take a look at Labour's top 20 MPs listed online. They are hopelessly academic, aloof and disconnected from the people the party says it represents. How many former manual labourers are in its ranks? Damien O'Connor is the last man standing on that count. Yes, Grant Robertson worked a supermarket job to pay university fees, and Phil Goff did the same at a freezing works. But that's a different story from trying to raise a family, or pay a mortgage, on the minium wage. How many MPs in its ranks could even be considered working class? All I could find was a bunch of former lawyers, diplomats, unionists, professionals, and activists’.

For another critique of how Labour came to be more middle-class orientated, see the guest blog post on Kiwiblog: Why is Labour Struggling in 2014? An Essay on the History of Labour’s Predicament.

See also, Philip Ferguson’s Shane Jones and the nature of the Labour Party

Broad church and division

With bitter fights about Jones and the ideological direction of the party, Labour is in grave danger of appearing divided. John Armstrong makes this case most strongly, saying that ‘this week's very public exhibition of the disunity which flows freely and abundantly from the deep schisms within the party may well have proved to be sufficiently damaging to have put victory in September's general election out of reach’ – see: Labour's brutal week reveals Achilles heel. He paints a picture of ‘the outbreak of factional warfare in the form of the Labour left indulging in a danse macabre on Jones' still warm political corpse’. He also pushes rumours of internal National Party polling that supposedly show Labour on as little as 23% support at the moment. 

Tim Watkin also points to the danger of disunity: ‘But mostly the loss [of Jones] does damage via perception – the sense that Labour is a house divided and certainly not a government-in-waiting. Voters won't listen to its ideas about housing or tax or education if it doesn't think the party is fundamentally competent to run the country’ – see: Time running out for Labour

The postmaterialist liberals strike back

Why can’t the political left and the Labour Party focus equally on economic and social issues? Surely Labour should and does put focus on both the materialist and postmaterialist concerns of voters. This is the argument put forward by many social liberals in Labour and on the left. They point out that economic and social concerns are not mutually exclusive. 

For example, today Dave Armstrong argues that a focus on social issues can produce economic gains: ‘No one understands the necessity for cheap childcare and for women to be paid fairly better than a working class male with a family.  For those poorly paid men, income inequality based on gender affects their family pay packet. It's not a "boutique", "PC", "front bum" or "gelding" issue’ – see: Jones departure deals a painful blow to Labour. Armstrong also disputes the idea that working class voters are attracted to social conservative politics: ‘Some critics have been quick to justify Jones's "gelding" sexism by claiming he appeals to blue- and brown-collar males.  Where is it written that all these men hate gays and think that a woman's place is in the home?’

There are a number of critiques of Shane Jones which question how useful he was as a politician, and whether he really did resonate with working class voters. For example, Martyn Bradbury says ‘If ‘being a character’ means you are a sexist, anti-environmental head kicker, then we need far better measures of character. The idea that Labour will lose connection with the ‘working class’ because they don’t have an identifiably sexist MP is the projection of pundit bigotry, not insight’ – see: Whare of Cards – It’s a shame that Shane sold out to keep up with the Joneses.

For other strong critiques of Jones, see Danyl Mclauchlan’s The Beatification of St Jonesy, Tim Selwyn’s Shane Jones Nationalised and The Press’ Less than stellar political career

Labour’s minor versus major concerns?

Labour has recently been accused of being too focused on minor issues. This can be viewed as a way for MPs to avoid the big ideological questions confronting Labour. So we’ve recently seen Labour MPs speaking on out issues such as Nigella Lawson’s visa clearance, and Labour’s recent pre-Easter transport announcement. The latter was strongly critiqued by Manawatu Standard editor Michael Cummings, who says that while such announcements are ‘almost comically lightweight’, in contrast, ‘Every utterance by a Labour MP between now and polling day should be related to three things: economic and social inequality, the housing crisis, and why households would be better off if a Labour-led government was running the economy’ – see: Laboured with minor matters. The transport policy was also very cleverly parodied by Scott Yorke in his blog post A statement from David Cunliffe

The latest minor focus by Labour has been on the Hollywood Lego Movie’s joke about New Zealand – see Cherie Howie’s Film damns 'Middle Zealand'. One blogger compared the party’s concern over this with its lack of statements about the recent drone killing of a New Zealander – see Steven Cowan’s Down with Lego. For more discussion on this issue, see the Southland Times editorial Defamed by a plastic Gandalf and Matthew Beveridge’s Darien Fenton and “morons”

Shane Jones everywhere

There were plenty of interesting and important items during the weekend about Shane Jones’ departure from Labour’s caucus. Jones himself went on the weekend political TV shows – see The Nation’s 9-minute interview: Shane Jones and Kelvin Davis, and Q+A’s 12-minute interview, Shane Jones explains shock departure from politics

See also, Torben Akel’s 3-minute overview, The colourful career of Shane Jones.  

But possibly the most in-depth account of Jones was Jonathan Milne’s Jones: 'The right man in the wrong party'. This profile and backgrounder on Jones also includes two very useful quotes from the departing politician: 1) ‘I've never said this on the record, but I was deeply influenced in a positive way by the figures of the Lange Government. I didn't do my due diligence to discover how much the Labour Party had changed. And Opposition is a waste of my talent and skill’; and 2) ‘Might he make another tilt at the Beehive? "Possibly," he says. "Never rule anything in or out."’

Finally, for humour on Shane Jones and the Labour Party, see Toby Manhire’s RE: Shane - tsunami in the parliamentary pond and Steve Braunias’ Jones quitting Labour the best news in a long time.

Today’s content

Shane Jones and the Labour Party 

Dave Armstrong (Stuff): Jones departure deals a painful blow to Labour

Michael Fox (Stuff): Labour reels in Jones' wake

Tim Watkin (Pundit): Time running out for Labour

Vernon Small (Stuff): Church collapsed? Buy a house

John Armstrong: Labour's brutal week reveals Achilles heel

Claire Trevett (Herald): Keeping up without Jones

TVNZ: Shane Jones reflects on life as a Labour MP

TVNZ: Labour strongest it's been in a long time - party president

Jonathan Milne (Herald): Jones: 'The right man in the wrong party'

Herald: Editorial: Labouring under false impressions

Deborah Mahuta-Coyle (Herald): Maori votes worth courting

Fran O'Sullivan (Herald): Labour hopes money policy will deflect focus from Jones

NBR: Labour Party President says the Party is strongest it’s been ‘in a long time’

Rodney Hide (Herald): Reverse racism fails to raise ire

Ross Henderson (Stuff): Jones sells out to the capitalists

Taranaki Daily Times: Editorial – Labour treads water as Jones jumps ship

Michele Hewitson (Herald): Interview: Jacinda Ardern 

ODT: Editorial – Narrowing focus for Labour

NBR: Shane Jones farewells Labour, rejects ‘Green Gospel’

David Farrar (Kiwiblog):Jones says Greens are anti-industry

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Labour’s woes

Fundamentally useless: Only Robertson can go to the centre

The Standard: The strength of the left: working together…

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why Shane Jones won’t matter on September 20th and why Labour need to start talking about their first 100 days

John Sargeant (Stuff): Forget Jones, remember Jesus

Michael Cummings (Stuff): Editorial: Lessons from Jones' departure

Nelson Mail: Editorial: Flawed MP leaves Labour in a pickle

Radio NZ: PSA sees political interference in Jones' appointment

Isaac Davison (Herald): Parting shot undignified way to exit, says Turei

Jane Patterson (Radio NZ): Power play

Stephen Franks: The loss of Shane Jones is real for all of us

Danyl Mclauchlan (Dim-Post): The Beatification of St Jonesy

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Whare of Cards – It’s a shame that Shane sold out to keep up with the Joneses

Claire Trevett (Herald): Revealed: Shane Jones' secret fear

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): This is treason, sirs!

Toby Manhire (Herald): RE: Shane - tsunami in the parliamentary pond

Josie Pagani (Pundit): Here's what a real bloke sounds like

Tim Selwyn (Tumeke): Shane Jones Nationalised

Jane Clifton (Listener): Mr Untouchable

Ben Clark (The Standard): Politics bruises even Shane Jones

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Jones cites Greens influence as factor in departure

Herald: Turei: Jones 'won't be missed'

No Right Turn: An FPP politician in an MMP world

Matthew Dallas (Stuff): Jones' kiss-off leaves sour taste

Newstalk ZB: Turei shrugs off Jones' criticism

Claire Trevett (Herald): Cunning McCully's king hit neutralises Jones

Greg Presland (The Standard): Labour and the working class

Radio NZ: 'Harder job' after Jones' departure

Simon Prast (Daily Blog): A Big Hole

Rachel Morton (TV3): Shane Jones: Greens are anti-industry

NBR Staff (NBR): Greens too anti-industry — Shane Jones

Corazon Millar (Newstalk ZB): Greens take the high road over insults

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Whare of Cards – It’s a shame that Shane sold out to keep up with the Joneses

Sparrowhawk: ANZAC day, Shane and Māori leadership: do we really need another bloody hero?

Pete George (Your NZ): Poll pall for Labour after Jones exit

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Guest Post: Shane Jones, “Heretic Hunting” and Waitakere Man

Keri Molloy (Stuff): Davis steps up

Radio NZ: Davis prioritises Te Reo

Mike Dinsdale (Northern Advocate): Davis is a man on a mission

RadioLIVE: Teaching men to respect women a priority – Davis

Pete George (Your NZ): Soon returning MP Kelvin Davis launches

Matthew Beveridge: Kelvin Davis

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Davis’ priorities

Greg Presland (The Standard): To Robert Reid, respect

Steven Cowan (Against the Current): Down with Lego



Dougal McNeill (International Socialists): Anzac Day: Against the Carnival of Reaction

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A sacred day

Michael Cummings (Manawatu Standard): Relevance of Anzac Day grows

TVNZ: Gallipoli project will show 'futility of war' - Governor-General

Chris Trotter (Stuff): Government pulled patriotism over nation's eyes

Herald: Editorial: War needless, but values beyond debate are its legacy

Southland Times: Editorial: Anzac centenary lining up

The Press: Editorial: A day on which to remember

Dominion Post: Editorial: To remember, not celebrate

SA: Some thoughts on Anzac Day

John Minto (Daily Blog): ANZAC DAY Heroes

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): Justice for our boys

Chris Ford (Voxy): The Anzac Day blog - WWI conscientious objectors due an apology

Scott Hamilton (Reading the Maps): Blogging Anzac Day

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): Remembering the Dead and Thinking of the Living

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): A sacred day

Mark Hubbard (Life Behind the Iron Drape): ANZAC Day: A Post to Freedom Lost

Dougal McNeill (ISO): Anzac Day: Against the Carnival of Reaction

Rowan Cahill (Overland): The enemy within


Legal highs

Stuff: Legal highs to be banned

Lincoln Tan and Anna Leask (Herald): Mixed reaction to legal high ban

Isaac Davison (Herald): Families elated at legal-highs ban

Radio NZ: Ban on legal highs too little too late – Labour

Pete George (Your NZ): Politicians playing silly buggers on drugs?

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): And the winners of banning synthetic cannabis will be organised crime

TVNZ: Legal highs to be banished from shelves

Isaac Davison (Herald): Government to ban all legals highs within two weeks

TV3: Legal highs get blanket ban

Neil Reid (Stuff): Prostitution a new low for legal highs

Adrien Taylor (TV3): Drug Foundation: Legal highs ban could boost online black market

Ian Birrell (Guardian): How legal highs could be brought down to Earth

NBR Staff (NBR): Dunne won't rule out tax on legal highs

RadioLIVE: Yule: NZ needs blanket legal highs ban

John Roughan (Herald): 'Nice' law creating grim reality

Timaru Herald: Editorial: Get tricky with policy

Herald: Tourist city eyes ban on legal highs

Matt Rilkoff (Stuff): Synthetic highs 'legal but dangerous'

Adrien Taylor (TV3): Higher taxes for legal highs possible - Peter Dunne



Lynley Bilby (Herald): New liquor laws proving effective

Isaac Davison (Herald): Govt refuses to set minimum price on alcohol

RadioLIVE: Govt criticised over alcohol reform

TVNZ: Government shuns minimum price for alcohol

The Standard: Thanks for the Piss, Collins.

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): No minimum price for alcohol

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): Increasing alcohol excise is great, if you assume the right things

Eric Crampton (Offsetting Behaviour): On Stillman SHOREs



Rachael Goldsmith (Daily Blog): What’s up with the housing stories, media?

Radio NZ: Housing NZ not cash cow – minister

Simon Collins (Herald): Housing NZ cash cow for Govt: Labour

Andrea Vance and Michael Fox (Stuff): Nats milking Housing NZ: Labour

Radio NZ: Govt pressuring Housing NZ – analyst

The Standard: National’s cows coming home to roost

Stuff: RBNZ to get one big new tool under Labour

Ashleigh Stewart (Stuff): Tent family 'have themselves to blame' – landlord

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): What the story didn’t tell you

Tony Field (TV3): Labour to unveil plan to lower interest rates


Christchurch rebuild

Georgina Stylianou (Stuff): Rebuild friction rises to surface

Alan Wood (Stuff): Demand for skilled labour taxes supply

Radio NZ: Christchurch rebuild 'slow and confused'

NBR: Brownlee takes hard-hitting rebuild report on the chin



Gordon Campbell (Stuff): How the ACC dream was derailed

TV3: Bronwyn Pullar: ACC abused claimants' rights with consent form

John Gibb (ODT): UN response satisfies

Latifa Daud (Daily Blog): Why did it take the UN for ACC to do the right thing for people with disability?

Martin Johnston (Herald): Second ACC waiver form unlawful, lawyer says


National Party

Matthew Hooton (NBR): Joyce resurrects Muldoonist state (paywalled)

NBR: Steven Joyce responds to NBR article

Stuff: Nats eye Wigram seat

The Standard: Judith Collins: fudging evidence

Newswire: National selects Wairarapa candidate

Matthew Beveridge: Quality, consistency and the National Party.

Newswire: National selects 24-year-old for Clutha

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Scott wins Wairarapa


Labour Party

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): National Programming: The Changing Accents of Labour’s Leaders

Pete George (Your NZ): Smarmy and fake is hard to shake

Matthew Beveridge: Darien Fenton and “morons”

Pete George (Your NZ): Labour’s double edged social media



Isaac Davison (Herald): Countdown clues sought

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Responding to Tim Watkin


Maori politics

Radio NZ: Te Reo funding should be 'reprioritised'

Radio NZ: New deputy chair for Waitangi Tribunal

Bruce Moon (Breaking Views): Bruce Moon: Ngai Tahu’s river of cash


Sex offenders register

Stacey Kirk and Tessa Johnston (Stuff): Cabinet will decide on sex offenders' register

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Public access to sex offenders register ruled out

Rebecca Quilliam (Herald): Sex offender register will need iron-clad security - experts


Veterans Pension

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Labour being tricky again

Matthew Beveridge: Clare, Graeme and Veteran’s Pension


Climate change

Dita De Boni (Herald): The heat's on to make a choice

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): King Luddite and the Green Wave



Bevan Hurley (Herald): Radical took refuge in NZ

Karl du Fresne (Breaking Views): The quest for a better life

Matthew Beveridge: Gareth Hughes, the Greens, Internet Rights and Crowd Sourcing

Harry Pearl (Stuff): White power activist feeds homeless

Julian Lee (TV3): Exporters in the dark over new formula rules

Isaac Davison (Herald): Nigella visa ruling based on media

Brian Rudman (Herald): Speak up for our historic high-rise

Herald: The Insider: Keeping up with Jones

James Allan (NBR): The MMPs of being too popular (paywalled)

Wayne Brown (NBR): Trouble at the works (paywalled)

Rodney Hide (NBR): Cut out those who get paid anyway (paywalled)

Hemi Rolleston (NBR): Maori economy set to take off (paywalled)

Karl du Fresne (Listener): Gower power (paywalled)

Brian Easton (Listener): Hit ’em where it hurts

Listener: Editorial: Logic-free zone

John Drinnan (Herald): TVNZ tracks risky news

Simon Collins (Herald): Light shed on funding bids

Paul Easton (Stuff): Greens alarmed as axe falls on EECA staff

Natalie Akoorie (Herald): Families call for new rules to prevent forest deaths

Stuff: Today in politics: Monday, April 28

Southland Times: Editorial: Defamed by a plastic Gandalf

Dominion Post: Intelligence watchdog needs to bite

Beith Atkinson (Integrity Talking Points): By reneging on Open Government Partnership Australia makes New Zealand look good

Steve Braunias (Stuff): The secret diaries of ... Jesse Colombo

Martin Hawes (Stuff): Live long and prosper

Matthew Beveridge: Twitter Stats: 25 April

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): #smcakl in election year

Alanah Eriksen (Herald): CEO: My pay is ridiculous

David Robie (Daily Blog): A measured media brand of Pacific thoughtfulness, courage and balance

Tim Groser (Herald): China trade not our only option

Newswire: Govt urged to save timber industry

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