Historic Labour Husting meeting: A Personal view
By Bruce Taylor
Democracy in action
Over three hundred Labour Party members and union affiliates from the surrounding regions crammed into the Horowhenua Events Centre in Levin on Saturday 31 August for the first ever Hustings Meeting in the Labour Party leadership contest. In fact, it was a first ever for any political party in Australasia. People were excited about the opportunity to hear speeches followed by a question and answer session involving the three candidates – Grant Robertson, Shane Jones and David Cunliffe.
Outside the venue people queued to join the party or to renew their membership. They were part of a genuinely democratic process of debate and then voting for their choice of party leader. The electronic and print media were also there in large numbers.
Skilled communicators on show
People were not disappointed by the quality of debate on Saturday. We were privileged to hear an electrifying set of addresses and answers to some difficult questions, such as “What are your weaknesses?” All three candidates displayed their impressive credentials as communicators and their ability to think on their feet. At the end, it was clear that each of the three contenders has the potential to be a very good leader. It is hard to choose amongst them!
No one came away from the Hustings Meeting negative about the process. Done correctly, this United States style primary will be a unifying process and give a big boost to enthusiasm and commitment to the party. The leadership debate, in my view, signifies the transformation of the Labour Party into a modern, inclusive and electable progressive political party.
What of the rest of the day’s programme at the Region Three Conference of the Labour Party? Well a lot was packed in! There was debate on amendments to the ground breaking Policy Platform and on other policy proposals from branches. The Policy Platform will be a high level statement covering the Party’s values, vision and priorities which will answer the perennial question, “what does Labour think about …?” The platform will be binding on the party, including the caucus, and will only able to be changed at the conference.
Several front bench MPs spoke about new Labour policies, such as Jacinda Ardern, who addressed the question “Kids – are they really our future?” and outlined Labour’s policies to benefit children. David Parker explained Labour’s plans to reform the electricity industry and really bring down power prices which, since 1990, have risen much faster than any other developed country. James Sleep, an eloquent young unionist (Service Workers Union), spoke persuasively about the Living Wage campaign and showed how there is widespread support for the proposal.
There were also sessions on the new organizing party “hubs”, which are designed to move resources where they are most needed, and the proposed changes to candidate selection rules for the Party list and for electorates. These rules and the Policy Platform will be debated and adopted, possibly with amendment, at the national conference at the beginning of November.
Turning a corner
In my view, we are at a turning point for the party. Membership is up considerably on this time last year and public interest in Labour has been heightened by the current “leadership primary” and vote. I experienced amongst party members at the Region Three Conference a renewed enthusiasm and a determination to take the fight to National and win in 2014.
Bruce Taylor is Chair of the Waikanae Branch of the Labour Party