Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Labour's 'palace politics'

Su'a William Sio's public attack on Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill has led to questions about the Labour caucus' discipline and leadership. Photo / File
Su'a William Sio's public attack on Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill has led to questions about the Labour caucus' discipline and leadership. Photo / File

Labour's 'palace politics' is endangering their activist base, many of whom now have the ability to publicly express their frustrations. While the behind-the-scenes attacks on David Cunliffe have angered some, Shearer's latest speech and Su'a William Sio's public attack on Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill has led to questions about the Labour caucus' discipline and leadership. 'Where's the leadership?' asks one of a number of guest posts on The Standard, saying that Su'a William Sio's public outburst would never have happened under Helen Clark, and if it did he would have been 'clarifying' his comments by midday. See: Labour, WTF? - a collection of posts.

Scott Yorke senses 'a leadership void at the top' that can't control rogue MPs, and he questions why business groups and rural voters are being prioritised over the traditional urban Labour voters who didn't show up at the polls in 2008 and 2011. Yorke is voting with his feet (at least as an active member) - see: Why I'm Out. Greg Presland (Anything But Constructive), Robert Winter (Labour: stop the playground politics), and the other Standard blog posts all express frustration at the lack of MP discipline and the apparent political direction in which Shearer is headed.

Gordon Campbell links Shearer's latest speech with animosity towards Cunliffe: 'What are we meant to take from this? That the leader of the Labour Party will stand shoulder to shoulder with them pointing an accusatory finger at those slackers on sickness benefits? .... Perhaps this is why Labour hates David Cunliffe so much. Didn't he say earlier this year that one reason Labour why lost the last election was that on important issues, it sounded too much like the National Party?' - see: Labour's recent bout of mid-flight turbulence.

The end of mass-based political parties (Labour's membership has declined by a factor of ten in a generation) along with the trend towards presidential style, personality-based campaigns, has lessened the influence of party activists on their elected representatives. This has been compounded by the massive change in how parties are funded. Raffles and cake stalls can't compete with corporate donations. All donations are dwarfed, however, by the massive backdoor state funding through Parliament, firmly in the control of MPs. Palace politics has suited the media as well - focusing on a few individuals is cheaper and makes it easier to generate copy and pictures. For the spin doctors it makes it much easier to control the messages and images - politics is reduced to question time at 2pm, media statements, photo ops and long lunches with the press gallery. All very convenient and cosy for everyone.

There are a few flies in the ointment, however. Ideology and political principles are drained as the hired guns focus on the whims of a small group of swinging voters and the result is bland and, in the end, counter-productive. 'Labour-lite' and 'National-lite' are leveled as insults, but are not proof of a national consensus over policy.

Contrary to what some MPs may think, they can't actually run their campaigns with just parliamentary staff. For all of the massive financial, media and technological firepower of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, a huge amount of effort was put in organising local supporters to talk directly to voters in their neighbourhood. It wasn't motivated by a deep rooted commitment to activist democracy but rather the simple truth that direct one-on-one contact is still incredibly effective and powerful. A leader can only shake so many hands, though. Labour needs committed foot-sloggers, and lots of them. Given the massive fracturing of modern media, the direct personal approach (in person or via social media) is possibly more important than it has been for fifty years.

This rapid change in media consumption habits and influence is possibly the biggest problem for the professional politicans. No doubt Labour will miss Scott Yorke's help with the next pamphlet drop, but far more damaging will be his public despair at Labour's leadership and direction. When echoed across many blogs, tweets and Facebook 'likes', posts such as Yorke's Why I'm Out have real power. Shearer's 'guy in my electorate' who resents beneficiary bludgers may not read the Imperator Fish blog, but those who do read it represent a lot of pamphlets delivered, doors knocked, voters driven to polling booths and discussions with friends about who to vote for. Some of them may even be sickness beneficiaries.

Other important or interesting political items today include:
• Despite being less divided than National over the issue, Labour is taking the heat over differing views on Louisa Wall's bill - see Claire Trevett and Isaac Davison's Same-sex marriage bill may harm Labour: MPs.

• No Right Turn questions the assumption that the Pacific Island community are opposed to the bill - see: Dump Su'a William Sio.

• Meanwhile John Key's mind is made up on the issue, irrespective of what a poll in his Helensville electorate says - see RadioLive's Poll won't sway Key's vote for gay marriage.

• It's too late to stop the next deployment to Afghanistan says Vernon Small and we are actually more in danger of 'mission creep' than a withdrawal - see: NZ pullout from Afghanistan a tricky mission.

• There will inevitably be more casualties according to journalist Jon Stephenson who has researched and written extensively on New Zealand's longest war - see: TV3's NZ soldier deaths 'unlikely to be last' - Stephenson.

The Waikato Times editorial breaks ranks with the metropolitan dailies, saying that re-considering the deployment does not dis-honour soldiers who have died there - see: Rethink on Afghanistan.

• It was a less than convincing performance from the Minister of Education yesterday as she promoted the Government's plans for making national standards available to parents - see: John Armstrong's Minister for looking silly carries day.

• We get China's (less than perfect) locomotives and wagons and New Zealand sends them our public servants. Maybe some of the redundant rail workshop workers in Dunedin can retrain as policy analysts.... see: Stuff's NZ public servants may be sent to work in China.

• An elite police force was needed to find Kim Dotcom and prevent him destroying evidence. How did they find him after 13 minutes? They asked his bodyguard - see David Fisher's Elite force in dark in Dotcom house raid.

• The Auckland Council wants to be able to control pokie numbers and thinks the pokie trusts need cleaning up, but don't want the hassle of distributing the pokie proceeds see: David Fisher's Council backs pokies harm reduction bill.

• With the class war heating up, you can find out more about one of the warriors leading it at the moment, and what causes her to cry or go weak at the knees - see Sarah Daniell's Twelve Questions with Helen Kelly.

• Finally Lynn Charlton fears for the fate of 10,000 greyhounds that are 'missing' after their racing careers have finished - see: Greyhound racing is cruel too.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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