Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Advancing the agenda

Tony Milne (formerly of I See Red) has an interesting speech up on Scoop on the subject of “Renewal” - The role of Young Labour in a third term Labour-led Government. Much of it is concerned with Young Labour and how it must be the driving force to renew Labour in office, providing it with new policies and broadening its support base. But there's also a fair bit on the broader progressive agenda and how to support this as well. Here, Tony has three key ideas:

  1. Building a (progressive) mass movement: The long term trend in New Zealand and in many western democracies is one of declining party membership figures. This is often taken as a sign of growing disinterest in politics. But at the same time, there has been a massive increase in the membership of "issue" NGOs such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, and massive support for single-issue international campaigns (look at Make Poverty History, for example). And these are inherently political causes. So it's not politics people are turning away from - but parties. Unfortunately, Tony misses the chance to address the causes of this problem (parties being seen as undemocratic and isolated from the people they supposedly represent) in favour of pushing for a membership drive and building closer links with other progressive groups. From the other side of the fence, those progressive groups themselves should be looking for ways in which they can use Labour and other parties as vehicles, without being fatally compromised or coopted.
  2. Leading the political debate on "the next generation of issues": This is framed mostly in terms of Young Labour leading the rest of their party - but that leadership could also come from outside. Labour (and every other party) will develop policies on these issues, and their agendas will shift in response to public pressure, perceived need, and whether they see a policy niche to exploit. We should be trying to pull those positions in our favoured direction.
  3. Building an ideas infrastructure: This has been something I've been pushing for a while: over the last 30 years, the American Right has built an array of think tanks to spread and frame its ideas and influence policy. The American left's inability to keep up has left them at a significant electoral disadvantage. In New Zealand, the right already has a head start (Maxim, the Centre for Independent Studies, the Business Round Table and all their little single-issue spinoffs like the Road Transport Forum). If we want to avoid the same fate as the American left, we are going to have to match them. Unfortunately, Tony is talking to Young Labour, who don't have any money, and so the best he can suggest is supporting their "summer school" and an internal party debating group. While this is better than nothing, I'm not sure that talented amateurs are going to cut it in the long run.

There's also one key piece of advice which applies regardless of where you stand:

each of us, including me, often feels a strong sense of frustration at the speed of chance, and that our ideas whether policy , or structural, or campaign, aren’t being implemented.

There are two responses.

Moan a lot. Get despondent. Possibl[y] even give up and leave.

Or respond by talking and influencing those who are in a position to make a difference, and most importantly, be the change that you want to see.

If you see a problem, help fix it.

If you have an idea, just do it. Or find someone else who is passionat4e about it, and get them to take charge of doing it. Otherwise my message is simple, it won’t happen.

This is precisely what I've been trying to do here, though encouraging lobbying and submissions on legislation - and I'd encourage everybody else to do the same. Politics is a participate or perish game; nobody will stand up for your ideas but you, so if you want to have them taken into account, you need to voice them somehow. What I'll add is that things are so much easier with friends, and simply asking may strengthen your voice significantly.


iS: Does the Maxim Institute count any more? It's just closed its Chch offices and while it has two new employees, it has retrenched somewhat, and even ACT's Richard Prebble expressed concern about its narrow focus on 'moral' issues...

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 10:17:00 AM

Not so much anymore - but it certainly helped out the right while it lasted. And the gap of their decline has been neatly filled by the CIS.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/12/2006 11:34:00 AM

i/s - of course I have a lot more ideas around the ideas infrastructure stuff, but it wasn't for general consumption (i.e media!). Happy to discuss with you!

Posted by Anonymous : 4/12/2006 12:40:00 PM