Thoughts on Labour’s review

by Jake Quinn

So Labour’s launched its internal organisational review. I don’t think the review should be a public spectacle, only political hacks and journalists care about an internal party review. It’s never going to be a vote winner, it shouldn’t try to be one.

What should the review be? The first thing I’d ask would be “how would National do this?”. Their review under Michelle Boag, following their devastating 2002 loss, was highly effective for them. It brought in swaths of higher-than-the-usual-calibre candidates and set them up well for 2005 and 2008.

A big part of National’s renewal process was getting in fresh candidates from outside the usual channels, and this needs to be a focus of Labour’s renewal process too. Labour should be focusing on constant MP renewal. There needs to be a shift from the idea that (unless you are truly incredible) being an MP is a job for life. It shouldn’t be for the vast bulk of people who try it. Once you’ve served (or tried to serve) your purpose you need to be gone, by lunch time.

Labour’s list selection process has been described (admittedly by me) as an exercises in incumbency protection. Sitting MPs should not be protected simply because they are MPs, merit based selections to list spots must rule. Similarly, staffers from Wellington shouldn’t be getting high spots simply because they’re well-connected. Strong smart activists and philosophically aligned community members and business people need to be the ones getting the winnable list spots.

I think it’s helpful if people are from a community when they run in it, this brings the community with the candidate. It brings their family, cousins, their school mates, local business people who know their families, their community networks, their social capital, with them.

MPs should get punished for poor performance. I don’t need to name names but there a few candidates that probably did worse than the national “swing” against their party in the 2011 election. This shouldn’t be rewarded with being able to contest the seat (or any seat) at the next election. Basically, if you do worse than the swing you shouldn’t get a chance to try that again. There is probably someone more in-tune with that community sitting on your campaign team, on the local DHB, in the mayor’s office, local chamber of commerce or wherever.

The review should obviously focus on increasing party membership. With strong and new MPs and more members donations will naturally follow. It’s near impossible to increase membership when you are not popular. But this term, leading up to 2014 when Labour should be able to form the next government, is the time to do it. People will be far more willing to listen, sign up, and donate, in the next three years than they were in the last six.

Organisationally, there are other issues that people more in-the-know than I, can talk about. These are just my views about the selection process and the need for change. It’s not the only thing that needs to be addressed, but it is a biggy. I’d also like to see the party membership, perhaps through their regional executive committees, have a meaningful role in the leadership selection.