I want to start by saying that I support gay marriage and, if I had been in parliament, I would have had no hesitation in voting in favor of Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill. It sits perfectly with the Labour values of fairness and equality.

Despite that, I am not happy about it!

In a role I held earlier this year I wrote a strategic document in which I warned that Labour must not get sidetracked from going hard on the major issues that New Zealanders are telling us are important to them.  The National government have a proven ability at creating side issues in order to deflect media and public attention away from the issues that matter.  Labour MUST NOT get sucked into the game of responding to these periphery and/or manufactured issues because it would risk losing focus, momentum and credibility.

Little did I know that it wasn’t the Nats who would create the side shows (how ever worthy they may be), but Labour themselves.  Louisa’s Bill was ill-timed. I believe it’s the sort of Bill that a Labour government introduces in its first year in government (the fact that it was drawn out of the ballot was unlucky for Labour).  For the past month or so this issue has been at the forefront of the mainstream and social media.  In the meantime, the state assets sales programme is in trouble, farms have been sold to the Chinese, educationists decry the rise of charter schools, the poverty gap is increasing at an alarming rate, Kiwis are heading to Australia in record numbers, our unemployment rate is climbing, and there is at least one dreadful health story a day that should be in the papers.

Both David Clark’s $15 minimum wage bill and Clayton Cosgrove’s bill on state asset sales were both drawn in the same ballot as Louisa’s bill (how many knew this?). Both these bill’s represented headline Labour policies at the last election, and were very popular across a wide range of voters.  These are prime examples of Labour concentrating on issues that matter to a significant number of good hard working Kiwis, yet many of those same struggling Kiwis have no idea that we are still fighting hard on their behalf. Both issues have, by-and-large, been lost in the melee caused by the marriage equality bill.

The genie is out of the bottle, so what has to happen now? Louisa has to hold back. The vast majority agree that her bill is morally right and should be passed into law, but now it needs to take a back seat and let the issues of health, employment, education and finance come to the fore, otherwise there won’t be anyone left in New Zealand who can afford to get married.

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  • Jackp

    Being an ex National supporter, I was looking at voting for Labour. Stewart, you are right. The timing couldn’t have been worse for this same sex marriage bill to come up. How many will truly be affected by it, 10, 20 50? What concerns me most is the economy,selling of assets to foreigners and selling our sovereignty to the United States. There is too much at stake right now and gay marriage won’t have an impact on my life. Mr Nash, it is good to see a labour supporter say that and I agree with you 100 percent. I live in Napier and Mr Tremain is following National’s line and is not expressing his supporters interest. He’s a loaded gun sort of speaking. I was thinking if there should be an Independent candidate for Napier.. someone who actually does represent the people. I don’t trust Labour but they would be better than National at this time.

  • http://www.recessmonkey.org.nz/about/#chrisr Chris Richardson

    To the anonymous commenter who is no doubt eagerly waiting for their comment to come up, you are free to name yourself as ‘Anon’, but not using a fake email address. As such, your comment has been moderated.

    As for the content of your comment, the quote you refer to doesn’t exist, and it completely misrepresents the points made, both in the original post, and the comments…

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  • Joy

    I agree with Stuart. Labour are in danger of alienating a huge part of their base support over this issue at a time when we should be sticking to our core values, AND the electorate is distracted from Nat’ gov’t policies. Success in politics is measured by getting elected to government. Being the good guys is useless without power, if our supporters don’t vote labour in 2014 because of this issue then we have all lost. Read “Deer Hunting with Jesus” by Joe Bageant to see why workers are voting against their own interests in the USA. The parallels are obvious.

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  • Alex Coleman

    Stuart, I’m glad to hear that you support marriage equality and feel that such support fits perfectly with Labour’s values. I also agree with you that on the face of it Labour should be making more headway on other issues given the Govt’s shambolic performance. I also agree that opposition is frustrating and that being on the government benches should be a priority.

    I disagree quite strongly however with your thoughts around strategy.

    We all remember how vicious the battle over civil unions was, and how the then opposition used that fight to frame Labour. Brash ran on his ‘mainstream’ dogwhistle, the right wing bloggers had a field day of bigotry and name calling. We all remember this.

    But what has changed? I do not think that the change we have seen from National, (John Key and Judth Collins, for goodness sake), and the right wing bloggers on this comes down to a simple change of hearts from them on this.

    The difference is that they are in government now. The right fights on these issues when they are in opposition. When a left wing government is in power, these issues are the best tool a right wing opposition has for wedging support away from the government.

    When in power, right wing governments don’t want a bar of culture war issues. The conservative base is satisfied with right wing governments just being a breakwater. They don’t seem to demand that liberal reforms be rolled back. By raising these issues when in opposition, liberals can get reform done and have the government be in a position where it isn’t in their interest to make a big deal out of it. The govt is having to defend its own liberal voters here, without alienating their own conservative base. The conservative left voters who would possibly be swayed away from Labour over this have already gone (or at least stayed home).

    The ‘distarction’ and the sucking of media oxygen is happening becuase of intra-left squabbling, which is very sad to see.

    To my mind, wht it comes down to is that if Labour cannot win the votes of those hurt by right wing economic pollicies in spite of being liberal on social issues, then that just means that it’s Labour’s work on the economic issues that is at fault. It’s not that the social agenda is too forward, it’s that the economic agenda isn’t clear enough. If people felt that labour’s economic stuff was a damn sight better than National’s (and they should because it is) the concerns over liberal social policy wouldn’t get a look in.

    In short, I think we must be able to walk and chew gum. The economic team shouldn’t be complaiing that liberal reform is being done, or using that as an excuse for not getting traction ( which is how it sometimes appears). A Labour party worthy of the name would be immune to attacks from the right on social lieberalism grounds. For this reason:

    When a right wing politician tells a working class person that Labour doesn’t have their interests at heart because of marriage equality, that right wing politiciam should get laughed at for being obviously wrong.

    If they are not obviously wrong, it is not the fault of the social liberal part of the platform

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  • Stuart Nash

    Kate, you missed my point completely (so perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough). In politics being in government is everything. Being in opposition is mindblowingly frustrating because the ability to influence serious policy is… zero.

    While a party can NEVER betray its philosophies and principles, in opposition it must always look to maximise opportunities to prove to the voting public that it is on top of the issues that matter: or at least show that it understands the issues and has a plan as to how to deal with them. Only by proving competence will a party achieve electoral support (and fair enough too).

    At the moment this govt should be in trouble: asset sales programme is in a shambles, the education policy is a mess, the economy is going from bad to worse and far too many people are giving up and heading overseas, and yet Labour’s commentary on these very important issues is lacking. This is, in part, due to much of the media oxygen being sucked up by an issue that really doesn’t address any of the concerns listed above. In my personal opinion, the strategy (if, in fact, there was one) around the Marriage Equality Bill was totally inadequate.

    Politics isn’t a game because the outcomes affect so many people’s lives – and the social and economic damage being delivered by this government’s policies is huge; this is why I really do want Labour to pick up the proverbial ball and start running with it.

  • Kate

    I wish Labour people like you would realise that you don’t need to be a social conservative to win back the provinces. It’s the economy stupid.

    Your position that you support marriage equality but think its bad politics is so unprincipled. Also, aren’t you a relative insider? I would have thought these types of political positioning discussions are the very ones you should be having behind closed doors because to voters they smack of treating politics as a game and only addressing human rights issues when it politically suits, so expedient and arrogant.

    • http://www.recessmonkey.org.nz Chris Richardson

      Kate, a bit close to the edge with regard to our rules, but as you are new, we’ll let that slide.

      This is not about being a social conservative, and neither is it about playing games. It’s easy to look at this issue in isolation and out of context from the current polls, but that would be disingenuous.

      What Stuart is saying is that, in terms of strategy, Labour got this wrong. As political parties we have to compete for air time in the media, and air time on the issues that can win us the next election. Otherwise, we are consigned to opposition. Simple fact is, you can do more in one day of government than you can in three years of opposition, so we need to be in government.

      You could view this post as constructive criticism on how Labour can make more impact in the polls and score more hits on a struggling National government, so we can ensure fairness and equality for all Kiwis as the next administration. You may consider that unprincipled, others consider it pragmatic. That’s a debate we need to have as a party, and not behind closed doors.

  • Therese

    I think many gay people would argue that this IS a major issue for them, having felt like second-class citizens when it comes to our marriage laws.

    I agree we need to be tackling some of the huge issues that will potentially (probably) cause irreversible damage to NZ – financially, socially and environmentally. However, I’m baffled as to how we do this given the lack of, and often negative, media coverage when it comes to Labour? Or any opposition party for that. Perhaps one way of combating this is to jump on the band wagon and promote issues when we can? Simply, each time a journo is discussing this bill with Louisa, or anyone from the Labour Caucus, she/they remind them of them of the other issues that you have suggested.

    Stu, you also mentioned this was ‘ill-timed’. It is a tough one and when things are simply being drawn there will never be a chance to ‘time’ it nor control what is happening in the current environment. I don’t think time is on our side Stu and may not be for a while yet.

    I have a background in theatre and one thing I’ve learnt is you make use of every situation, if you falter you keep going, you keep your audience engaged and onside from the moment the lights come up, timing often goes out the window so you have to find other ways to make it work. Just a few thoughts.

  • Rob Pharazyn

    Interesting comments…and I agree with the strategic aspect of what you’re saying, Stuart.

    Unfortunately, all this Louisa Wall bill is doing is continuing to alienate mainstream NZ ( silent majority) who see Labour as a bunch of social engineers/nanny state with a rainbow agenda… The semantics of the same sex bill are irrelevant… Perception is 9/10th of the law these days and the perception is that Labour are not in the game….

    Shame about Labour totally losing it’s way as we need an effective opposition that can counter the Nats clever “show pony” potlitricks… but until the Labour caucus comes to terms with the fact that Kiwis voted them out and it wasn’t a case of not understanding what labour was trying to do or how wonderful they really were… They just fell into the trap of believing their own edicts and hubris did the rest…

    A wilderness experience can be useful if a lesson is learnt but no sign of it yet… (and I don’t mean you, Mr Nash :-)

    Bite the bullet Labour. Forget the dramas and petty sniping and unleash the attack dog, Cunliffe… and please spare us from ever being confronted by G.Robertson as an opposition leader.