Labour Party member Phil Quin yesterday posted the contents of an email from party president Moira Coatsworth to members. His blog title? “Moira Coatsworth’s Orwellian Gambit“. One might think, from a title invoking Orwell, that Ms Coatsworth’s email contained some fairly strong stuff. Well, judge for yourself:
New Zealand Council last night agreed the following expectations for Party members.
Members should be cautious to ensure that any statements they make are factually accurate and fair. They should ensure that any public comment on the candidates, the Party and the leadership election system uphold the status of the Party and its chances of election to Government, and do not bring it into disrepute.
To my mind, Ms Coatsworth’s missive reads more like an appeal for polite, reasoned discourse, than a despotic crushing of free speech. As it happens, Mr Quin this morning recanted, posting on Pundit an admission that perhaps Orwellian was a rather silly word to use.
That was as far as the retraction went:
It was pompous hyperbole, a rhetorical misdemeanor, to deem Labour’s edict ‘Orwellian’. The decision by the New Zealand Council to specifically outlaw speech considered disrespectful or denigratory during the leadership primary campaign is merely heavy-handed, obnoxious and unnecessary.
Phil Quin will not be silenced, which is fair enough. He also appears to fundamentally distrust Ms Coatsworth and General Secretary Tim Barnett, which is, again, fair enough – they presumably belong to a different faction to Mr Quin, and factional infighting is certain alive and well in the Labour Party.
However, where Mr Quin goes wrong is his assumption that the public doesn’t care about disunity:
The source of Labour’s woes isn’t the perception of disunity but the stark reality of its disconnection with voters. Our problem is not too much debate, but too little — and now is precisely the worst time to tell members to watch their tongues.
I’ve previously noted that no matter how the Labour caucus gelled during the election campaign, it was never going to overcome the previous two and a half years of the party’s self-mutilation. Going feral in public may be highly satisfying for those involved, but it’s not likely to a) end Labour’s current factional war, or b) engender any modicum of respect for Labour from the voting public.
As an outsider looking in, I can only shake my head and wonder what precisely Phil Quin hopes to achieve by releasing his email communications with Moira Coatsworth. If it’s an attempt to undermine Coatsworth and Barnett, then it’s possibly a cunning plan. Beyond that, it simply feeds into the narrative that Labour are too busy fighting each other to bother attacking National.
The leadership contest is (another) opportunity for the candidates and their supporters to engage in a reasoned debate about Labour’s role in New Zealand politics and its future positioning. Attacks like Mr Quin’s are a less than constructive addition to the debate…