Megan Woods on the situation in Christchurch

Labour’s energetic new MP for Wigram, Dr Megan Woods, made a fascinating presentation to Labour Summer School on rebuilding Christchurch, and the relevance of hope to the people of Christchurch.

It really amazed me how much new information she had. So many stories, both positive and negative, seem to be slipping under the radar. She talked about the work of various third sector organisations which have sprung up or morphed from earlier entities. Things like Rebuild Christchurch, Greening The Rubble and Gap Filler, which are all doing interesting and inspiring work.  There are also many things that the state can and should be doing, or doing better. I’m not even going to attempt to cover them here. Despite Megan’s excellent hour-long seminar, I now feel that I know even less about the Christchurch situation.

The relevance of hope was something that was easier to grasp. I’m sure we all know people who have left Christchurch, simply given up. It’s not hard to see how that could happen. Strong, inspiring community leaders are going to have a very important role to play. Though she was too modest to say so herself, I know that the work of the MPs of Christchurch is going to be such an important help to their constituents.

I’m glad that David Shearer’s first visit as leader was to Christchurch, that we’ve appointed a fierce community advocate in Lianne Dalziel as our Canterbury Earthquake spokesperson, and that we have a great team of local MPs and activists in place in Christchurch. These people need to know that we’re doing all we can for them. And I genuinely think we are.

As an aside, Ruth Dyson mentioned on Twitter this afternoon that city councillor Tim Carter has called for the government to replace the council CE, Tony Marriott, with a statutory manager. I think local government politics in Christchurch are going to be just as interesting as central government. If anyone who is following these issues wants to write about it for The Progress Report, I’d be very keen to hear from you.

Improving Labour’s leadership selection systems

Another very interesting session today, facilitated by Deputy Leader Grant Robertson and complemented by a very well researched presentation from Trevor Mallard.

Grant spoke in favour of opening the leadership election process to include members. Obviously in a forum like Labour’s Summer School, the participants were very much in favour of this. He did also offer a word of caution – we only have to look at the Republican primary to realise how an internal free-for-all can be so damaging.

Trevor laid out four potential ways the leader could be selected…

  1. A new leader may simply emerge informally, possibly from outside of Parliament.
  2. An electoral process where the leader is selected by caucus.
  3. A process where the leader was selected by conference or a specific leadership conference, presumably through conference’s delegate system.
  4. The direct election of the leader through a ballot of members – and there are many ways this could be done.

Note that none of these options are fully fleshed out, and different permutations of one or more of these options would be possible. Our current leadership selection process fits firmly under the second category, where as the British Labour Party and Canada’s NDP use a combination of the third and fourth options.

The feedback from the members was near universal. We need to establish a set of criteria as to what the leadership process needs to achieve and then evaluate our options against them. Of course, we all wanted the membership to have a say, but there was also a recognition that MPs, given their insider knowledge of caucus, must continue to play an important role, and we also need to consider how our affiliate members are engaged in this process.

It was a very thorough, positive debate, and people on all sides seem to keep the positives and the negatives in mind. Good stuff.

My own personal view is that a model similar to the one the UK Labour Party use, with an electoral college system divided between the Parliamentary Party, the membership and the affiliates, would be suitable. We would need to tweak elements of it to meet the New Zealand conditions.

The last point to consider is how we achieve change, particularly with the ongoing organisational review. Grant made the point that changes to the leadership selection system cannot be made in a vacuum. Opening up the selection of leader will bring with it a can of worms we only just began to see with the 2011 leadership contest. We cannot be afraid of constructive dissent. We must be able to be confident to disagree with each other without devolving to personal attacks.

If you can’t laugh at yourself…

Cactus Kate is giving Danyl McLauchlan a run for his money when it comes to NZ political satire with her latest post.

She’s been “leaked” a copy of the Labour Camp schedule for the weekend. It’s rather good.

A personal favourite…

5.15PM Rebuilding Christchurch

Megan Woods, MP for Wigram.

Megan will speak about Christchurch and the relevance of hope in the rebuilding of our entire electorate organization down there after the decimation on 26th November where even Aaron Gilmore whopped our arse in the Party vote.


The Third Way and Labour’s review

This morning we kicked off with a fascinating talk from Progress Report author Hayden Munro about the Third Way and how we should consider it, particularly entering into the party review.

He covered the work of Al From, who in Hayden’s opinion is the most important figure on the left for the last half century.

From was very deliberate in his re-working of the Democratic Party in the US. He felt that the party organisation was essentially moribund, and made it his mission to change it. By effectively changing (traditionalists would say hijacked) the party through its own reviews and re-organisations, he was able to influence candidate selections and ultimately policy.

Hayden has promised to write a post for The Progress Report summing up his talk, so I won’t spoil the story for you.

However, Hayden’s talk set the stage very nicely for the next speaker – Labour Party President, Moira Coatsworth.

Moira spoke about the nuts and bolts of Labour’s organisational review. She set the started by stating that all organisations should be continually renewing – which was good to hear. My personal belief is that this is particularly important in politics. One of my strongest criticisms of the 5th Labour government was a failure to renew, and I’d take a stab and say that the party was even worse at this than the parliamentary wing.

The review itself is still in its very early stages. Moira took feedback from the audience on the scope and nature of the review. She wants the review to be evidence based, looking at our sister parties around the world, and using real data. Good stuff.

It looks like the scope will be signed off very soon. The project co-sponsors will be David Shearer and Moira Coatsworth. They’ll establish a project team and nationwide consultations should happen in February and early March. It’s likely we’ll see a discussion paper late April / early May, with discussions at regional conferences.

We’re starting to hear signals that the review won’t be looking under every rock. There won’t be a line-by-line review of the constitution. I expect that we’ll be looking at how our organisation failed in 2008 and 2011 and the changes we need to make to fix those problems.

I’m sure we’ll be looking at some of the bigger picture stuff – leadership selections, the policy process, candidate selections etc. Some of this will be able to be addressed through internal policy and action, but any constitutional changes will have to wait until party conference in November.

There will be some who will be disapointed by the (potentially) limited scope of the review. I guess one of the key tensions is to ensure that the review goes far enough so as to ensure the Labour Party is transformed into the 21st century vehicle for the progressive left that it needs to be, without tearing itself apart or being bogged down in constitutional remits.

Personally I’m really looking forward to both the process and the outcome. It’s a very interesting time to be a Labour Party member.

Summer School Day #1

The summer school opened last night. Really good turnout, with members of all ages from every end of the country. David Shearer spoke briefly and he remarked that defeats always seem to bring out the biggest crowds. In my experience, the same was true in January 2009 after our last defeat.

It was very good to see David speak to the activists present. In his three years as party leader Phil Goff was never able to make it to summer school, and Helen Clark only managed it once. After the formalities were over he did circulate around the members, get their views and have some very good discussions.

There is pretty poor mobile coverage here on both networks, so apologies for not keeping you up to date. I have been tweeting this morning, and have a few blog posts up to date. Keep an eye out!