Labour's leaked review document has been panned for "stating the obvious". But it's worse than that. Although the review has come up with many mechanical issues that need fixing in the party, it has failed to properly examine the bigger picture problems facing Labour. This is best reflected in an extraordinary "review of the review" by Patrick Gower, in which he contends that the party is now "rotten to the core". He expresses his analysis in a must-listen six-minute conversation with Duncan Garner: Labour election report reveals a party "Rotten to the core".
Here's a transcript of Gower's analysis of Labour's incompetence: "Basically this report is a vanilla description of Labour's pathetic campaign... What it also illustrates is Labour is still leaking, Labour is still unprofessional, Labour is still engaged in bizarre ruling-by-committee. Labour wasn't ready for Government in 2014 and I can tell you from looking at this report and the dealings I've had with it at the moment, Labour isn't ready for Government any time soon".
Gower doesn't stop there, and argues that the Labour Party has transformed into a narrow party out of sync with ordinary people: "Labour can't even review their own disastrous campaign... This is a party with serious, serious problems. It's rotten to the core. Give up, pack up the Labour tent and go home. Because it's a shame for what was actually 100 years ago a fine movement that started. And it's just an embarrassment today. It's just a group of sectoral interests and chardonnay socialists that have taken it over and driven it into the ground".
Duncan Garner also extends this point, saying, "I've wondered for some time whether Labour is just a special sector party for special interest groups, rather than a mainstream party". He adds that he genuinely doesn't know what the party stands for anymore.
Gower also discussed the Labour report with Paul Henry - see the three-minute discussion: Where did Labour go wrong at the last election?. Gower criticises the proposals of the report, suggesting that the recommendation for Labour to focus more on the Treaty of Waitangi is unlikely to help at the next election.
You can also watch Gower's more informative 6pm news coverage of the report: Where Labour went wrong - election review leaked.
John Drinnan's media column today is a reaction to Gower's acerbic analysis - see Gower's paddy party payback. He labels Gower's analysis "tabloid" and an "extraordinary overreaction", despite the fact that Gower's analysis is compatible with any serious analysis of Labour's problems. As I expressed on Radio NZ's Panel yesterday, Labour is facing an identity crisis - listen to the seven-minute discussion, Labour election review.
Avoiding Labour's big problems
Gower's analysis might seem overly harsh, yet some Labour insiders and leftists have also been providing trenchant criticisms of the review. To read the most comprehensive and incisive commentary on the leaked Labour document, see Patrick Leyland's Reviewing the review. Leyland declares the review to be "a waste of the envelope it was written on".
Perhaps the most important criticism in Leyland's blog post, is that the review doesn't actually focus on the issue at hand (reviewing Labour's 2014 election campaign): "most of the focus of the review instead seems to be the party's organisational structures". This sums up the paucity of the review nicely, as it meekly focuses on the more technical issues, rather than anything ideological or important to understanding Labour's huge defeat.
This doesn't mean the report is without merit. It is obviously correct to identify Labour's problems with fundraising, communications, disunity and its general disorganisation. But there were bigger problems at play - namely Labour's lack of purpose or identity. The review could have asked: What does the Labour Party stand for nowadays? What is distinctive about it? Who does it represent? What alternative does it present? But it wouldn't have found any clear answers - just as the public probably didn't see any convincing answers to these questions when considering whether to vote Labour last year.
Some similar points are also made by blogger Danyl Mclauchlan in his own review of the review - see: Thoughts on the leaked Labour Election Review. Mclauchlan says: "That's probably the reviews biggest failing. It looks for quick fixes - mostly organisational - rather than systemic sustainable change to what is clearly a troubled party with a toxic culture in its caucus. There's plenty of other points, but most of them are either obvious or meaningless twaddle. It seems like a very poor document after eight months of work from the party's intellectual brain-trust"
He also takes issue with the review document's sole attempt to deal with Labour's ideology. The review says: "Labour must emphasise its values (fairness, social cohesion, freedom of choice and action) as it differentiates its values from those of its opponents, as values earn trust from voters". Mclauchlan rightly replies: "How do those values differentiate Labour from any other party in Parliament?"
This weakness is also mentioned by John Armstrong: "The review covered the mechanics of winning elections, not the ideological stance Labour adopted in last September's contest. There are no blinding insights or magic bullet solutions" - see: Ghost of Cunliffe stalks insipid review.
Armstrong explains the report's conservative and diplomatic orientation, saying "If the review has failed to delve very deeply into the party's recent past there is further very good reason. Labour does not want to fracture the calm Little's leadership has secured".
Labour's sector group "problem"
Gower and Garner's critique of the influence of Labour's sector groups is one that is likely to continue to dog the party and is not easily resolved. The review report itself makes some comments about the advantages and disadvantages of Labour's unique sector group and union relationship, but much of this is a mixed message, with confusing, contradictory and diplomatic proposals.
There are parts of the report that appear to question the place of the various sector groups in Labour. Claire Trevett also quotes the report author Bryan Gould as criticising their influence on the party list: "I think there are too many vested interests that determine positions on the list" - see: Labour risks 'political oblivion' - review into failed election campaign.
Furthermore, Trevett reports: "The review said it was questionable whether the purpose of the sector groups, such as for women, Maori, Pasifika and rainbow, in attracting voters was still effective. It said the use of unions for campaigning should be reviewed after "mixed success" and individual union members rather than delegates should have voting rights".
In another sense, the Labour review suggested that the party put a greater emphasis on the Maori sector. Jane Patterson reports: "The review team found the number of Maori seats provided one of the 'few bright spots' for Labour in the 2014 election. It said the party needed to learn the lessons of that "relative success" and apply them to the 2017 campaign. It recommended Labour respond by providing a higher profile for Maori members and activists in the party and lending a more attentive ear to both Maori interests and advice" - see: Problems with election campaign identified.
The report's suggested move away from reliance on trade unions also comes with a recommendation to be more pro-business. This already seems to be underway - see the very good recent pieces by John Armstrong - Labour rings changes by schmoozing big business and Tracy Watkins - Andrew Little's Labour of love.
If the unions are going to have their power reduced in Labour, it's their involvement in helping select the leader that needs to change, according to Chris Keall. He asks: "Did the introduction of a primary system to select its leader help or hurt the party? That question was not confronted as the report stuck to bland generalities. The answer is, yes, it did stuff Labour's chances" - see: Labour review needed to ask one question.
There are plenty of other organisational recommendations in the report that will cause great debate in the party. Perhaps the most controversial proposal is the one to establish a Vetting Committee for the Labour list. One long-time Labour Party member is horrified at this idea, suggesting that it will just give existing party elites even more chance to mould the caucus in their own image: "How does it not simply entrench the problem that the party elites are determined to shrink the talent pool to include only people they would be happy to invite around for dinner? The solution to a lack of internal democracy is not to create an undemocratic entity that takes even more power away from party members" - see Phil Quin's The Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea at the heart of the NZ Labour Gould Review.
If some of today's acerbic analysis is "too tabloid" then there's plenty of other analysis and recommendations around at the moment for Labour. For example Michael Cullen has given a speech on what Labour needs to do to reclaim its dominance of New Zealand politics, which boils down to three rather Blairite values: choice, aspiration, responsibility - see the transcript of his speech: Political Strategy for a Progressive Majority.
In reaction to this, see Chris Trotter's Lessons for Labour from John Key, as well as an earlier column, Labour must look beyond the metropolitan elite.
Or you can go with humour - see Scott Yorke's The Plan to Return New Zealand Labour to Government in 2017.
Finally, to see how cartoonists have been portraying the Labour Party, see my blog post, Cartoons of the Labour Party in 2015.
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