RAM tapping grassroots to make its point

Published: Thu 24 Apr 2008 09:46 AM
RAM tapping grassroots to make its point
By Syed Akbar Kamal

RAM founder Grant Morgan
Residents Action Movement (RAM) a 5 year old political party comprising of people from grassroots that intends to lend support to Maori Party in Maori seats contesting the forthcoming general elections.
An expression of interest has been communicated to the Electoral Commission followed this week by a formal submission to be considered for an allocation of election broadcast advertising time and funds. RAM will join the 16 other parties that are in the fray at the hustings.
Until less than two months ago, RAM was a Greater Auckland council ticket with an informal network with no financial members. In February 2008, RAM shifted towards becoming a registered political party eligible to contest the list vote in parliamentary elections. In this short space of time, RAM has gone from zero party members to 500.
Going by its recruitment trajectory, RAM will reach 1,000 members within a few weeks. The tempo and extent of this growth in RAM's membership is an indicator of support by a sizeable sector of the public.
The emergence of RAM on New Zealand political firmament is expected to alter the equations in the voting bank for both Labour and National and given the MMP system the small parties particularly Maori Party stands to gain the most.
Chairman Grant Morgan who founded RAM in mid 2003 says "RAM will be supporting the Maori Party in the Maori seats in this year's election. We see the Maori Party as an authentic expression of flax roots discontent with corporate Labour politicians, and we wish them well."
Can the birth of RAM on Aotearoa’s political horizon be seen as the answer to the disillusioned grass-roots populace representing their voice in the parliament? RAM strongly feels there is a political vacuum that needs to be plugged to serve peoples’ interests.
RAM describes itself as a broad left party. “RAM is open to all people who put human beings and our environment before the "almighty dollar", declared Mr. Morgan.

Oliver Woods RAM co-organiser
Oliver Woods RAM co-organiser elaborates “it is now common to hear things like this: "The politicians are all as bad as each other." This is a popular way of saying that there's not much choice between Labour and National, and neither party enjoys great respect among grassroots people. This points to a political vacuum which needs to be filled by a broad left party which can excite grassroots people by standing up for their interests against the corporate agenda followed, to one degree or another, by both the main parties.”
Mr. Woods says “RAM is aiming to fill that political vacuum. We have a lot of ground to make up in other parts of the country. What is encouraging are the numbers of experienced political and community activists who are now signing up to RAM. Drawing on their experience means that RAM does not have to start from scratch. We already have the bare bones of a national structure in place.”
Identifying the leverage enjoyed by the party he said “RAM's biggest support bases are among Maori, workers, students, migrants, socialists, ecologists, Muslims, academics, and peace & justice activists.”
The reason why RAM entered the political arena seems to be the lack of inclusion of the popular will of the public in representing their aspirations by the majority parties compelling a creation such as RAM a space for them to be heard in corridors of power.
Speaking on indications of public support Mr. Morgan articulates “RAM accepts that council elections have significantly different dynamics from parliamentary elections. However, votes in council elections are an important and measurable indicator of public support which I believe should be given due weight.”
Dwelling on 2004 local body elections he said “RAM stood for only the Auckland Regional Council, fielding eight candidates for the 13-member ARC. RAM won a total of 87,000 votes. One RAM candidate Robyn Hughes was elected to the ARC.”
“RAM's average vote for each of our ARC candidates was 10,871. In 2004 every one of the RAM candidates got their deposits returned as they gained more than 25% of the winner's votes,” he added.
In 2007, RAM stood for seven ARC seats, plus six Auckland City Council seats and six ACC community board posts. While RAM lost ARC councillor, Mr. Morgan pointed out that this was not due to any significant loss of support, but rather to the right-wing vote uniting behind one opposition ticket whereas in 2004 they had been badly split.
RAM's average vote for each ARC candidate in 2007 was 10,899, a marginal increase of 28 over our 2004 average. Its support held up despite 2007's general swing to the right which disadvantaged RAM as a broad left ticket.
In 2007, like 2004, all of RAM's council and community board candidates got their deposits returned as they gained more than 25% of the winner's votes.
Mr. Woods eloquently summed up RAM’s showing “RAM won 87,000 votes in the 2004 ARC election, and over 100,000 votes in the 2007 council elections which saw a slightly higher average vote for our ARC candidates as compared with 2004.”
He proclaimed “this is a consistent story of significant public support for RAM in Greater Auckland over the last two council elections.”
When questioned about RAM’s reincarnation National Party leader John Key said “I don’t really know much about the party to comment but we live in a democracy where any political party are welcome to put their name in the hat and put forward their propositions.”
“New Zealand is a pretty fair minded people so they will take a look at what is on offer. Having said that it’s not to be under estimated that political parties are big complex machines that they are difficult to run and they take lot of resources. So from that point of view it’s always challenging,” he added.
Mr. Key stressed “from National point of view we are going to go like any other party into the election put forward good policies; we have got good people; we campaign very hard on issues like the economy, education, law & order that we think are crucially important to the development of this country.”
Green Party MP Sue Bradford acknowledged RAM aspirations and stated “the Green Party is always pleased to see democracy in action, and the decision of the local group RAM to form a national political party to contest the election this year adds spice and interest to the contest.”
“They have every right to take their point of view on things like high transport costs and rocketing food prices forward into the national political arena - and this can be a useful spur to parties like ours who are also concerned about the same issues,” Ms. Bradford added.
On a query to what impact RAM will have on the election scene, she answered “as with any other political party, how much difference RAM will make depends on how well organised they are, the quality of their candidates, how many electorates they stand in, and the number of votes they manage to garner on election day. They can also, if well organised and media savvy, help to influence the election in terms of what issues other parties pick up on as being important.”
She said “the ability and will of people to form political parties to express a certain point of view or range of views is an essential ingredient of our democracy - it is usually discontent or anger about an issue or group of issues that leads people to form a party and try to change society for the better, from their perspective.”
Minister for Education & Ethnic Affairs Chris Carter said “I keep a close eye on the concerns of my constituents in West Auckland. I also meet very regularly with constituents seeking assistance with a range of issues. As an MP and Cabinet Minister it is my responsibility to take these up in Government.”
“Labour has since 1999 been very active at supporting families and communities to improve their situation. Policies like Working for Families, Kiwisaver, no-interest student loans and reduced doctors’ fees are making a real difference for families every week - as is our record low unemployment and strong economy.”
Without directly referring to RAM Mr. Carter emphasized “these are the policies and record that I will be campaigning on this year. Like at all elections, I expect to face strong questioning from voters when choosing who they will support - but I start this year with a strong record to remind voters about.”
Mr. Morgan insisted on a need for a positive alternative to the Labour-National political twins who, despite ever-narrower policy differences, put corporate interests ahead of struggling families. The launch of RAM is the start of building a broad left party able to attract the mass support required to create much-needed change in our society. RAM, he says, will promote the interests of grassroots people who, under today's conditions, are mostly ignored and sidelined.
Revealing the party’s core ideology he pointed out “RAM is committed to a humanistic, co-operative, ecological, egalitarian and democratic society. Our manifesto, which will reflect these core values, will be collectively discussed by hundreds of people around the country over the next couple of months before being finalised at a national RAM conference this August in Auckland.”
RAM confirmed fielding candidates in the electorates of Auckland, Waitakere, North Shore and Manukau while remaining on the list ballot in the rest of the country.
RAM opposed the free trade agreement with China and is running a petition campaign to remove GST from food.
Syed Akbar Kamal is producer/director for current affairs programme Darpan-The Mirror on the World Wide Web.

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