The Labour Party leadership contest is hotting up. Far be it from the Alliance to give Labour advice on choosing leaders. However, the Centre/Left is coming off a crushing election defeat, and crushing election defeats are something the Alliance does know a thing or two about, unfortunately. We have been crushed by Left, Right, and Centre over the past decade.
We believe now is a golden opportunity to take stock and perhaps change direction. One thing that has emerged from the election is that the Centre/Left needs to work together, or at least work out ways to rub along – not try to run each other into the ground. Trying to get enough votes to govern alone is counter-productive.
There are a lot of dead rats to swallow. But a dynamic, credible Centre/Left with a clear vision for a New Zealand and a world that works better for everyone will be the result – a Centre/Left that voters can embrace.
American-style personality-driven politics as practised by the National Party does not have to be the norm for New Zealand. It suits the media and big corporates who supply most of the funding, for US election campaigns anyway. But the US is a two party system. New Zealand voters have chosen MMP; they want parties to work together.
Many activist groups working on social issues have indicated they prefer to work with a range of political parties. They believe that aligning with one party can be perceived by a public that is more politically savvy and cynical than perhaps political parties appreciate, as just way of promoting that party, rather than a genuine attempt to address a problem.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a large number of voters split their two votes between two parties. Young people in particular have indicated that they don’t want to choose between parties so they don’t join any. Allowing multiple membership might encourage greater interest and involvement in politics and facilitate working together. Political parties could consider allowing members to belong to more than one party, provided they do not want to stand as candidates or hold office and the parties were not totally incompatible.
The Centre/Left could sit down together – even very minor parties like the Alliance – and put their goals and their policies on the table. Where parties agree entirely on policies the same policy statements could be used by all parties. Capital gains tax is one that all Centre/Left parties could have developed and promoted together.
There will be many times when parties will have to agree to disagree and policies will differ. One example could be progressive taxation. The Centre/Left on the whole favours progressive taxation but the Alliance is probably the most committed to it and our tax rates will be more progressive than others.
However, by offering a range of options we are giving voters a range of choices. Obviously the party that gets the most votes on the day gets to call the shots. That need not preclude other parties from promoting their own policies, provided they do this in a positive way. In fact, having a more radical version of a policy put out by a minor party could work in everyone’s favour. The policy has a test run without major parties suffering any fallout and it gets the voting public used to the idea so that in future it could become mainstream.
Parties should also identify one or two policies they would demand be implemented in return for support on confidence and supply e.g. universal free health care, free education, a living wage as minimum wage. Voters can vote for Centre/Left parties with confidence, knowing that the tail will not be wagging the dog and those who are passionate about a particular issue know what they have to do with their votes.
Then there are the issues of the future that no party currently has the answer to, e.g. the impact of technology on employment. Is it going to be possible for everyone to have a full time permanent job for life, and if not, how can we ensure everyone has a decent standard of living? Such issues need to be widely debated if solutions are to be found.
New Zealand politics should not be about party leaders with the ‘X factor’ like top models or pop stars – show-pony figureheads who can belt out a preprepared script and look good on TV. The Centre/Left could unilaterally reject this model. The Greens, Maori Party, Internet Mana, and Alliance already have with their male and female co-leaders.
We don’t need another hero. We need a whole lot of people working together to develop a positive vision for the future – for everybody. We have the people. We just need to get out of our silos and make it happen. Now is the time.