The Labour Party has been accused of internal bickering and crisis-level disunity this week. Hayden Donnell sets the record straight.
Look, there’s no denying it’s been a bumpy week for Labour. After RadioLive maestro Willie Jackson was lured into the party with a promise of a high list spot at the 2017 General Election, web sleuths somehow unearthed a three-year-old recording of him saying rape victims “shouldn’t be drinking anyway”. That turn of events, which nobody could have predicted or planned for, prompted some within Labour to express a range of views about Jackson’s suitability as a progressive candidate. Now some people are saying ”Labour is not unified” or “Labour is fucked”.
Labour is not “fucked”.
Labour is fine, provided you ignore the fact the party’s spokeswoman on family and sexual violence hired a private PR firm to issue a statement protesting her leader’s decision to sign up Jackson. Some said it was unusual for a sitting MP to employ a PR firm to criticise her boss; that her move was indicative of a bubbling cauldron of disappointment and anger within Labour’s ranks.
They’re wrong. Employees often hire PR firms to criticise their bosses. Real Housewife Julia Sloane hired a PR firm to criticise her employers after she was filmed using a racist slur. The Real Housewives is a successful TV franchise. The Labour Party is a successful political franchise.
On a personal note, just this week I engaged a team of public relations professionals to craft this statement regarding Spinoff senior editor Toby Manhire.
It’s equally important not to think about the open letter circulated by Young Labour earlier this week, which was allegedly signed by hundreds of party supporters and officials. According to the fake news team at Newshub, it cited four major concerns about Jackson:
- his “abhorrent” Roast Busters interview
- a lack of “courage to fight homophobia”
- his advocacy for charter schools, which Labour want to abolish
- that his selection would create a greater gender imbalance in Labour’s caucus
That gives the impression there’s some kind of internal squabble going on. But people often write things they don’t mean. I once wrote in a CV that I was a “good team player” – a demonstrably false statement. Piers Morgan famously tweeted “I want to die”, yet remains stubbornly alive.
Before we go on, please do not look at this meme from the pro-Labour meme artists at Backing the Kiwi Meme.
Or this status on former Labour MP Maryan Street’s Facebook page, which is just a normal personal observation and nothing to do with any simmering discontent about Labour backing away from its commitment to a gender-balanced caucus so it can sign up an alleged rape apologist.
Also don’t read this column, which invokes Biblical commandments and tragic Greek mythology in an effort to describe Labour’s situation.
Please also ignore all the tweets.
Did you see that Chris Trotter and Bomber have come out in support of Jackson? They wrote off opposition to him as “identity politics”, persuasively arguing that it’s impossible for someone to care about minorities, women and the economy at the same time. You should read their columns. After all, when have Trotter and Bomber ever backed a losing political candidate?
Even if there have been a few disagreements, Labour aired those out at a meeting aimed at discussing “the Willie Jackson issue and Poto Williams decision to speak out against him”. It was a good meeting, in which all the problems were solved.
Ignore the shit flingers at Newshub, who claimed Williams had gone into hiding afterward.
That’s plainly ridiculous. Williams didn’t go into hiding. She just refused to comment after being reprimanded over her behaviour in front of her fellow MPs, many of whom also issued a firm “no comment” following the meeting.
Williams later issued a genuine apology, something she was in no way asked to do by party leadership. “It’s caused some distress to party and colleagues and I do regret that,” she said.
The main takeaway from all of this is that Andrew Little’s leadership is strong and not in question. There’s no suggestion that he failed to properly canvas his MPs before deciding to woo Jackson. Little’s response to accusations of disunity within his caucus was so convincing that Susie Ferguson asked him the same question about it four times in a row on Morning Report on Wednesday.
Here is an edited transcript.
FERGUSON: After yesterday’s caucus meeting, is everyone totally on board with this?
LITTLE: Everybody is totally united and focused on one thing – and that is about changing the Government.
FERGUSON: Mr Little, don’t you have a problem here with an open revolt?
LITTLE: Everybody is totally united on a team and a strategy to win Government. There is no open revolt.
FERGUSON: That’s not answering my question, how many people do you actually have actively supporting Willie Jackson coming into the caucus?
LITTLE: Everybody is totally supportive of the strategy we have to be in Government on September the 23rd this year.
FERGUSON: Is your leadership on the line here?
LITTLE: No not at all. I guess the media will do their usual sort of stuff but Labour will do what it takes to win.
These are the kinds of desperate pivots back to key talking points that New Zealanders are crying out for from political leaders in the age of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It’s like the old protest chant: “What do we want?” “Heavily workshopped political messaging.” “When do we want it?” “Spread out over a slate of strategically arranged media opportunities.”
The main thing they definitively show is that Little is not under any pressure. There’s no indication he’s frustrated, strung out, mad at his so-called allies. That’s nonsense. Does this look like the face of a man barely restraining a tsunami of rage to you?
No. Labour is upbeat.
Labour is positive about the issues that matter to ordinary Kiwis.
Labour is unified.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.