Why the Labour Party?

In November I attended a screening at Cambridge University of My Year with Helen, the documentary about former NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark running unsuccessfully for Secretary General of the United Nations. I briefly spoke to Helen after the screening. She appeared not to remember me, it was probably easier for us both.

I joined the NZ Labour Party in January 1997 at the age of 14. Within a year I had become very active in the party and spent many hours campaigning in the 1999 election when Labour came to power. New Zealand had since 1984 been a world leader at implementing a hard Neo Liberal economic agenda. Privatisation, user pays and free market deregulation were all the rage. As a teenager it became apparent that a widening gap between rich and poor was the inevitable result of this agenda. I decided the thing to do was join Labour and help change the country’s direction.

By 17 I had been elected chair of the Rimutaka Labour Electorate Committee. By 18 I was the Young Labour Wellington Representative. I was regularly attending meetings with MPs and was building a reputation as an up and coming Labour Party activist in Wellington.

But in 2001, things changed. After a year of Labour being in office, I started to become critical of the 3rd way and specifically the governments continued support for trade liberalisation. Conflict quickly ensued:

Read the story of how I publicly fell out with Labour here.

Sacked as the chair of the electorate committee and soon after from the Young Labour exec for opposing free trade deals that put 20,000 jobs at risk. Then 9/11 happened and the US led war on terror commences. I got dragged out of the 2001 Labour conference for interrupting Prime Minister Helen Clarks Speech opposing NZ troops being sent to Afghanistan.

Labour fires teenaged rebel

Above: Photo on the front page of the Wellington Evening Post under the headline “Labour fires teenage rebel”

Eventually I got expelled from the NZ Labour Party in 2002 for running against sitting Labour MP and Cabinet Minister Paul Swain in the Rimutaka Electorate. I got 376 votes, and Paul got significantly more.

Looking back, I managed quite successfully to gain the attention of the national media. Specifically my initial media release about free trade was 14 pages long, that it still got reported is quite a feat. Amusingly when a Dominion post reporter rang my home my mother answered. The reporter explained that I’d put out a media release attacking the governments stance on free trade and was scathing about government economic policy. Mums reply was “typical, mothers are always the last to know.”

Getting turfed out of Labour didn’t harm my prospects, in fact my lifted profile probably helped me get elected to student politics shortly after. Further in the short term it did help create some debate about both free trade and globalisation, and the connection between that and NZ aligning with the US to send troops to Afghanistan.

I don’t regret what I did, and on issues like sending troops to Afghanistan I still think the west’s intervention in that country was short sighted. But tactically I would take a different approach today. NZ Labour remained in government for 6 years after my expulsion, and attempts to build new political organisations in opposition to Labour on the left failed. Further the relationship between myself and Labour members in the following years remained quite strained, and there was fault on both sides. In student politics and in other campaigns certain opportunities were missed as a result. It wasn’t until 2008 that this started to change. Even today there are those who remember the events of 2001, and remain suspicious.

I remain critical of placing any party/tribal allegiances over policy. Political parties and organisations are a tool. Parliamentary Parties like Labour can help achieve significant social change. But they are only one way. Community campaigns, unions, lobby and other pressure groups are just as important in achieving social change.

Back in 2002 I was often dismissed a nutty or far left. Policies like free tertiary education, opposing sending troops to Afghanistan and ending youth rates for young workers are all policies of the current NZ Labour led Government. In 2001 these things were considered insane. Labour MP Trevor Mallard suggested I “lay off the hallucinogens, or take them, which ever is appropriate” in response to voicing such opinions.

Did getting kicked out help make things change? Or would I have been better off staying inside? It possibly made life easier for 3rd way Blairite types not having to face dissenting views internally? But possibly making noise on the outside was effective?

Fast forward 11 years to 2013. At a Mayday function I was asked if I would re-join Labour. My reply (after a few drinks) was that Paul Tolich who had helped drag me out of the 2001 Party Conference would have to come sign me up. The next day Paul Tolich turns up at the Public Service Association where I worked and signed me up. Unlike my 2002 expulsion, my 2013 re-joining of Labour was a low-key affair. My aim was to quietly slip back unnoticed, and avoid picking up any roles or responsibilities.

This wasn’t to last long…

In 2014 Labour suffered one of its worst election defeats in the Party’s history. A leadership election was held after former leader David Cunliffe resigned. Former trade union and student leader Andrew Little put his hat in the ring. Labour leaders in NZ are elected by party members, trade union affiliates as well as by MPs. Andrew had only just made it back into parliament in 2014 and was far from being the front runner for leader. I was asked to be his Campaign Manager, which I agreed to.

Andrew 1

Above: Campaign image used during the 2014 campaign to elect Andrew Little NZ Labour Leader.

Andrew narrowly won the leadership contest becoming Labour Leader and Leader of the Opposition. One of the reasons I supported Andrew’s Campaign was having worked with him before I’d seen he was a leader unafraid of making hard decisions. I also liked that he opposed raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, whereas previously the party had supported raising the age and alienated a number of voters.

After getting Andrew elected my involvement decreased. I went back to my work at the Public Service Association, and concentrated on other things like finishing my Post Graduate degree. While far from perfect under Andrew’s leadership, some important things were achieved. Labour managed to ban zero hours contracts from the opposition benches with the help of a strong campaign by unions and social justice groups. In 2017 Andrew stepped down as leader and was replaced by Jacinda Ardern who shortly afterwards became NZ Prime Minister. The work Andrew and his team did from 2014 to 2017 helped Labour get into government, even if he wasn’t leader during the election. Andrew is now Minister of Justice. He also is doing good work supporting the families of the Pike River Mining Disaster  as the minister with responsibility for this.

So from young up and coming Labour member, to kicked out and expelled, then returning and running a successful campaign for the Party leadership, my history with the NZ Labour Party has been eventful. Over the last 20 years I have certainly grown and changed, as too has NZ Labour. Now back in government, Labour have an opportunity to make a real difference both at home and internationally. I now watch with interest from London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cryptocurrency and the nation state

This is a topic I make no pretence at being an expert in. It has only been recently that I have started learning about Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. However in the short time I have been educating myself about this issue, I have made some fairly obvious but also quite profound observations. The rise in cryptocurrency occurred after the 2008 financial crisis, and in part was a response to a loss in confidence in traditional banking. Secondly as cryptocurrency increasingly enters the main stream, this poses a significant challenge to the nation state.

For those who like me are still new to the concept of cryptocurrency, below is a brief definition:

a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.
“decentralized cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin now provide an outlet for personal wealth that is beyond restriction and confiscation.
In an era where people can buy and sell all over the world from their smart phones, the internet has increased global transactions at a phenomenal rate. Cryptocurrency is the logical next step. Bitcoin has played a similar role in cryptocurrency to that which Napster played in the music industry in the late 1990s. Being the first out the gate Napster got bashed by the establishment. Ultimately however the music industry was never the same again.
Other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum may well surpass Bitcoin, as I gather builds in a programming language on top of the blockchain, allowing for far greater functionality, and the creation of executable ‘smart contracts.’ If one is looking for the best big investment, the time for Bitcoin has possibly been and gone. But other cryptocurrencies will likely rise in its place.
For libertarians, cryptocurrency is a wonderful development. An encrypted currency the state cannot regulate or track. While currency and banking regulation is not the only significant thing the state does, its certainly one of its major functions.
There has been attempts in the US and elsewhere to regulate cryptocurrency and in particular Bitcoin. The concern being that if all transactions are encrypted and cannot be traced, this technology can be used for illegal activity. While this is true, the same argument can be made for someone taking money out of an ATM machine. But the fundamental problem is regulating a currency that operates outside of the nation state.
The monetary system that we use today replaced barter just over two thousand years ago. Currency as we know it today was developed much later. For example the British pound was first established in the year 760. Cryptocurrency has the potential to be the biggest change to the way we use money in over 1000 years. The impact this could have on the nation state should not be underestimated. How do governments set monetary policy for cryptocurrency? What does the future hold for existing currencies? Will cryptocurrency replace them? Again, I am no expert at all. But its clear that these are huge questions. Its not clear that governments, or global governance organisations are yet seriously facing up to this challenge.
Predicting how things will turn out is always risky. Too many variables are at play, especially when it comes to technological developments. But as disruptive technologies go, cryptocurrency is likely to be one of the biggest in the next decade. If the nation state tries to resist or control this force with 20th century methods, it may come off second best.

Guns

Mexico has a reputation for being a dangerous place, especially when you talk to people living in the United States. It has a reputation for violent crime and drug trafficking and illegal migrants. A couple of years ago I travelled south across the border to the Baja Peninsular in Mexico. Below was the warning we were given as we headed south:

Guns in MexicoAbove: Advise given to Americans crossing the border to Mexico

While Mexico does have a reputation as being dangerous, for many Mexicans they equally have fears about their northern neighbour. Specifically they are concerned that the United States Government has failed to pass adequate gun control laws, and consider this to be very dangerous. The Mexican Government in the interest of public safety of heavily police the US border for guns. As the above shows, it severely punishes those who try to bring weapons into Mexico.

Today the news reported that 17 high school students have been killed in a mass shooting in Parkland Florida. There have been 291 school shootings in the United States since 2013. Today’s shooting is the 8th school shooting resulting in injury or death in 2018, 7 weeks into the school year.

Calls for US gun control laws are nothing new. After former Beatle John Lennon was murdered in New York in 1980 there was calls for tighter gun control. But the 1776 US Constitution second amendment protects the rights of gun owners:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This constitutional freedom apparently extends to semi automatic weapons designed solely for the purpose of mass killing. The fact that such weapons were invented long after the second amendment was written is irrelevant, apparently. That the perpetrator of this horrendous killing in Floria was not part of a ‘well regulated Militia’ again is apparently irrelevant. This individual had the constitutional right to own the weapon he used.

This highlights yet again the folly of having a constitution that fails to adapt and grow with the times. Specifically it has failed to protect American citizens from gun violence. The US could implement gun control. It isn’t an easy process, but it could repeal the second amendment. There is growing public support for tighter gun control in the USA. But weak political leadership has failed to put the US gun lobby in its place – that place being prison for aiding mass murder.

I don’t have much positive to say about the John Howard Liberal Government of Australia from 1996 to 2007. However the gun control laws this government implemented after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 are a model for the rest of the world. These laws require all guns in Australia to be registered to an owner. Gun owners are heavily vetted and any breach of the law will see all guns confiscated. When gun owners wish to get rid of their weapons, the state will buy them back at market value. The result has been a sharp decline in gun violence in Australia.

The counter argument to stronger gun control is that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. I can’t disagree with this. While strong gun controls laws are needed, we also need to look at why people commit these horrific mass murders. While stopping perpetrators gaining access to these weapons may reduce the number of fatalities, these people can still harm people with other weapons such as knives. We need to understand why people become so alienated and full of anger and hate that they would do these terrible things. The US need tighter gun control laws. But this is only part of the solution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideology

Ideas are great things. Having thoughts, opinions and analysing the world is very important. Having a set of theories or ideas based on material analysis, studying discourse or generally trying to interpret the world we live in is fantastic.

I would encourage anyone to read about philosophy, economics, politics, religion, sex (there is plenty of societal analysis rather than just hands on practical guides), class, race, gender or any other discipline or idea. People should read Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzscher, Ayn Rand, John Maynard Keynes, Michel Foucault, Emma Goldman, Vladamir Lenin, Francis Fukuyama, Rosa Luxemburg, Anthony Giddens….or whoever else.

Read, critique, question, analysis, compare and generally allow your mind to be open to new ideas. Don’t just read authors from your side of politics. Don’t just read from specialists in the area you are interested or work in. Read widely and broadly and open your mind. But whatever you do, don’t read these people like they have written some blueprint for life. Wealth of Nations is not an instruction manual on how to build society. There isn’t some pure interpretation of Das Capital that if everyone follows poverty will end. Reading and (attempting to) understand Foucault’s history of sexuality is great, but please don’t then reject all materialist analysis of economics out of hand (but don’t think everything is pure materialism either).

Reading works that have shaped human history is important. Understanding how and why these ideas shaped our world is essential. In doing so, also remember these works or ideas are placed within a time or place. Calling yourself a ‘Marxist’, ‘Keynesian’ or ‘Darwinist’ is just daft. These people were human beings who had ideas at a certain time. Here’s a thought, if the ideas you are taken by were written prior to the internet being invented, or the atom being split, then you might want to place them in their historical context. Further even if the ideas haven’t dated that much (some don’t), they still are just the idea of one human – and all humans get things wrong.

I write this because I find in politics, in academia and in many walks of life people get trapped into ism’s. Worse they put themselves into these boxes and subscribe to ideas uncritically. This is a theme I will return to in later posts, but its a trap I’ve fallen into myself. Very few people who’ve engaged in politics haven’t. Much of politics in the 21st century is still based on ideology and ideas, which were not intended to analyse the realities of the 21st century. I can hear the response now “oh yes the left do that” to be countered by “no the right are even worse”. Actually it happens across the spectrum. The spectrum itself is a construct of ideology. Dated, flawed, blinkered and narrow ideology.

We need ideas. What the humanity needs considerably more of is people who think, and think outside of the old boxes.

School uniforms and young Nick Kelly

I’m going to return to the earlier theme of this blog, the theme of why. Why Nick Kelly? Thats a fairly major existential question. I want to talk about about my background, and why I am the person I am today.

So we head to the year 1998. I’m a 5th former (Year 11) at Heretaunga College in Upper Hutt New Zealand. This is what I am up to:

Nick school uniformsAbove: Taken May 1998

I still admire 15 year old Nick Kelly. The world was trying to socially condition him, and he wasn’t putting up with it.

I had long hair, and when people mocked or told me to get a haircut I’d tell them where to get off. I questioned authority, and if it didn’t have a good answer I would give it hell.

At 15 I decided I was going to campaign against School Uniforms. I started a petition which in a few weeks over half the school had signed. Within a few months a number of parents had signed it. I built a website, got a couple of news paper reports and generally built a campaign. At 15 I was still new to running political campaigns. But I knew getting numbers mattered. And I got them. From this it gave the campaign a platform that the school authority had to respond to. The initial response was the principal telling the newspaper I should go to another school (nice). But when more parents and even some teachers signed, the Board of Trustees agreed to meet with me.

I remember at the time the arguments were that uniforms were cheaper. So I did a costing and found uniforms were double the price of equivalent clothing sold in town. Apparently it taught kids discipline – which teachers who’d taught at schools with no uniform thought was utter nonsense, so I quoted them. I was told this wasn’t an important campaign, “what about the starving children in Africa?” Hey great, you want to start a campaign about that go ahead, I’ll support you. But I’m running a campaign about this issue, if you don’t like this debate taking place thats your issue, don’t tell me I should do something else.

I also had an issue with the way gendered nature of uniforms. Girls forced to wear skirts, boys in trousers. At 15 I was fast becoming aware that society and in particular the school system tried to put people in boxes. Being made to dress a certain way because of your genitals is a prime example of this. I decided to turn up to school in a kilt one day, and another time in a skirt. The reaction this got from 1990s New Zealand teenagers wasn’t entirely open minded or progressive. School teachers had the good sense not to get involved. These actions inevitably led to questions about my sexuality and gender identity. Whereas the point I was trying to make was that clothing is just material. Society give these things social meaning, but we can chose not to view things in this way. At 15 I was yet to come across post modernist theories and idea of social construction, but was clearly exploring these ideas in my own way. Again, not all of my school mates were quite on the same page, but I had a car so kids still hung out with me.

My early campaign didn’t change the school uniform policy. Sadly a few year later the school scraped 7th form mufti, in a reactionary move in my view.

I still don’t support school uniforms. I no longer have long hair, but if I hear some old fart telling some kid to get a hair cut – I still think they should jump in a lake. 15 year old Nick Kelly was naive in some ways (I was only 15), but he fought for what he believed in. He also had learnt some valuable skills about running campaigns, which would serve him well in the future.

Last day 7th form

Above: Last day of 7th form (Year 13), our year might have gone a bit crazy 😉