Well done NZ Labour!

You have no idea how glad I was today (sad, I know), when a friend sent me a link to a new page on the Labour Party’s website – 2014 Candidates. I’ll put a permanent link to it on my own multi-party 2014 Candidates page.

Not only does it list those that have been selected already, but it also has dates for nominations and selection meetings for every electorate in the country.

It might seem like a basic thing to do, but I’m very glad they’ve done it. Also – now we can smugly point out that Labour are the only party to have done this – there is no information on the Green or National Party sites about their candidate selections.

So well done to the NZ Labour staff that have pulled this together. Myself and many other members really appreciate it.

The Policy Implications of Lorde’s Grammy Wins

So Lorde’s won Best Song and Best Pop Solo Performance at the Grammys. This isn’t really a blog post about that as such: instead, it’s a shameless attempt to use this as an attempt to talk about cultural policy, because I think it is important to acknowledge the extent to which policy choices created the space within which Lorde has been spectacularly successful. Lorde hasn’t received direct state support, but has benefited from a series of policy choices. Chris Finlayson will no doubt tell you it’s all part of a #goldenage, but if it is, it is not one he has had a great deal to do with.

The first, and absolutely most important position (both as government policy, and as a societal ideal) is feminism, for reasons which, I am sure, don’t need elaboration.

But there were also more specific state choices. By the time Joel Little received his Grammy nominations, we’d spend $370,000 of NZOA money on his previous two projects, Goodnight Nurse and Kids of 88. (And let’s be clear, if you’d told me that Goodnight Nurse were incubating a future Grammy winner, I’d have laughed and laughed and laughed.) That state funding, quite apart from the value we got out of Goodnight Nurse and Kids of 88’s music, helped make sure that Joel Little could have a career where he ends up co-writing Royals.

When Labour came into office in 1999, we had made noises about a policy of introducing a youth radio network to sit alongside National Radio and Concert FM. In the end we didn’t implement it, choosing instead to trade it away for a voluntary NZ content quota on commercial radio. The NZ quota helped, along with the direct NZOA support, to protect an ecosystem, to sustain a New Zealand music industry. This meant that when the opportunity came along, there were professional, skilled people in place who could capitalise on it.

In future, what conclusions can we draw? Well, there’s the importance of nurturing and protecting developing artists, and making it possible to move through viable career paths. But I think the most important take away is that bold arts policy works. If you had asked what the point of the fifth Labour government’s music policy was, a teenage girl from Devonport beating a creepy rapey man from Hollywood to a Grammy with a song about inequality and cultural distance would definitely be one of the answers. That’s not to say that you can make Lorde happen by shifting levers in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage — but you can make Lorde possible, and more likely, that way.

The importance of accurate data, part 2

Sadly, this is a lot more tragic than the letter addressed to an ‘Unknown Asian’. Via BoingBoing

Officemax sent junkmail to Mike Seay at his address in Lindenhurst, IL, with the notation “Daughter Killed In Car Crash” under his name. Seay’s 17 year old daughter was killed in a crash last year. Officemax says it bought Seay’s name from a marketing company, and implies that the company had made the notation in its list. It’s not clear what marketing purpose this information was intended for (is there a sub-list for “bereaved parents” that’s rented out to grief counselors looking for business?) or whether this was a one-off in a data-entry department.


Doing politics

One of the most frustrating things that I’ve ever had to deal with when working with elected politicians is the excessive value that some of them put on some of the most ridiculous things. For example, how determined some of them are to put out press releases that no one will ever read, or the effort that some of them put into speeches in the House that no one (certainly not any undecided voters) will watch.

Of course, this is all part of the beltway echo-chamber, handily reinforced by people like David Farrar using number of press releases issued as a key performance indicator.

Which is why it is refreshing when you see an MP who is able to break free of what could be seen as traditional politics, and actually get out there and interact with the world like a real human being. I’ve got two recent examples I’d like to share.

The first is Gloria De Piero, a British Labour MP. From the Guardian…


A group of workers, in green and white uniforms, have gathered shyly, but De Piero doesn’t give anyone a chance to feel intimidated, shaking hands and gabbling away about waking up at 3am after working for seven years at GMTV.

She says she knows they probably don’t think much of politicians. “I’m not here to get you to vote Labour,” she says. “I’m not here to talk politics, I’m going to try and not talk too much at all. It’s about listening.”

For the next hour or so, other than prompting a few quieter ones to have their say, she is true to her word.

It’s this attitude that has made De Piero, who has spent several weeks meeting women across the age, class and income brackets around the country, such an asset to Ed Miliband. Her findings have played a key part in influencing the Labour leader, who made a speech on Friday positioning himself as the champion of the middle classes.

The second example is from closer to home. While the New Zealand Parliament is still in recess, and little has been heard from any of the major parties yet this year, senior Labour Party MP Phil Twyford is publicising a kayak trip around the Waitamata Gulf. In his words…

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, I’m pushing the boat out. I’m heading off on a 50 km four day kayak journey around the Waitemata Harbour.

It is part-homage to this amazing stretch of water we live next to. It is a thing of beauty, an extraordinary playground where we swim, fish, sail, and paddle right in the heart of this country’s biggest city.

The trip is also an investigation into the declining ecological health of the harbour.

The Waitemata, and the wider Hauraki Gulf, are facing big challenges from urban development. Fish stocks in general have not recovered from decades of plunder. Shellfish populations are under threat. Toxic metals from run-off are contaminating estuaries. Invasive species are on the increase. And too many of our beaches are unsafe to swim after heavy rain because of sewerage and storm water overflow.

It is easy to write off actions like these as stunts or PR exercises – but with more and more people feeling disconnected from politics and their elected representatives, I think there is a great deal of value in actually getting out there and behaving like a real human being.

More NZ Labour selections…

The machine of party democracy rolls on. While NZ Labour has confirmed a few of its early selections, the bulk are still to come.

I’ve updated my 2014 candidates page with those selections that have happened so far. I’ve also included Stuart Nash (Napier) & Janette Walker (Kaikoura) who, being the only candidates nominating for the electorate selection, will be confirmed unopposed shortly. I note that Invercargill has also only got one nomination in, and the candidate will be selected unopposed. I don’t know for certain who it is, but I’m sure the Labour Party will continue their fine tradition of failing upwards and re-select Lesley Soper for yet another failed attempt at the seat.

The nominations for the Labour candidacy in the vast majority of seats is over a month away – with a huge total of 50 seats closing nominations on the 28th of February. Spare a thought for the head office staff who will have to deal with that mess.

Before that, we’ve got nominations for Northcote closing at the end of this month, and Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa all closing on the 10th of February. Manukau East is sure to be a contest to watch with long-serving local MP Ross Robertson standing down, leaving the safest Labour seat in the country wide open.

Nominations have also closed for Maungakiekie, and I’m very pleased to be able to say that there are two nominations in the field, meaning that two-time loser Carol Beaumont has finally been challenged for her record of under-performance. I’ve got no idea who the challenger is, but well done whoever it is!

The next interesting selection to look forward to is Hamilton East. Nominations have closed and there will be a meeting in late January or early February. No doubt Sue Moroney will be pushing for a selection meeting after nominations for Hamilton West close, to reduce chances of her being challenged.

While Labour’s chances in Hamilton East are slim at best, it is a seat they have held before, and any candidate is likely to think they can win it at some point or other.

There are three contenders for the Hamilton East selection. Cliff Allen, Jamie Strange and Christine Greer. Strange stood unsuccessfully for the 2013 local government elections, which won’t be seen as a positive.  While Greer is working hard on the local members, she is still very new to the electorate and is likely to face an uphill challenge. It would seem that Allen is the front runner at this stage, though it’s very hard to pick.

And then, of course, you can’t forget the roller coaster ride that will be list selections!



The Honours List

There’s nothing really happening in New Zealand at the moment, so I thought I would write about one of the guaranteed news stories of the New Year, alongside youths behaving badly and the weather: the honours list. The list, as it always is, is a mixed bag. Too many lawyers, local body politicians and rich people, but on the other hand, services to ecclesiastical embroidery and hand knitted lace design make a welcome appearance — and why does Mary Harris only rate the QSO?

Left wingers tend to ignore the whole thing, as it seems a rather frivolous and mostly pointless exercise in Establishment self-congratulation. For us, a man’s a man for a’ that. And that’s fair enough — but we still shouldn’t desert one of the more prominent marks of official respect to a collection of fusty monarchists and preening, would-be lords. Instead, what would a progressive honours system look like?

Firstly, there’s a fair bit of administrative tidying up we could do, starting with the elimination of the monarchical basis of the system. At present, we maintain the absurd fiction that the Queen is the fount of all honour in New Zealand, and graciously bestows honours on her most loyal subjects. (This has the unfortunate side effect of leaving the honours system tied up with the royal prerogative, and subject to executive willfulness.) Instead, let’s put the honours system on a democratic basis, with a clear legislative underpinning that makes it clear that the people of New Zealand are the fount of honour, not the monarch. And that includes the removal of knighthoods and dameries — which, apart from anything else, are currently absolutely incoherent aspects of our system: Jim Bolger holds our highest honour, and isn’t a knight, but Michael Cullen holds a lower honour and is. Because PC. Or something.

As part of the legislative underpinning, we should establish a transparent, non-Cabinet process. In other Commonwealth realms, the decisions around honours are made by independent committees of civil servants and representatives of civil society. In New Zealand, it’s a group of Cabinet ministers. There’s no reason we couldn’t have a transparent and independent process here.

And let’s have more radicalism. The honours system talks about who we are as a nation. It’s a way of expressing our national aspirations. And so let’s try and push the honours system away from a backpatting exercise for the establishment, and try and challenge ourselves with our honours. Ed Milliband’s choice of Doreen Lawrence for a peerage was a great way of using the stodgy system against itself, as well as a due recognition of a commitment to justice just as real, and just as important, as any Judge of the High Court. We should look at the honours list and feel challenged, not smug.

Candidates for the NZ 2014 election

Given how slack the Labour Party and David Farrar have both been with promoting the candidates selected by various parties, I thought a decent thing to do sooner rather than later would be to keep track of who has been selected.

I’ve now got a permanent page (link at the top right of every page on The Progress Report) to keep track of the 2014 candidates.

Of course, I’m sure I’m already missing plenty. If you know of anyone that has been officially selected to stand, please let me know either via email (patrick.leyland@gmail.com) or Twitter (@progressreport).