Labour must be deeply gratified (but please, not smug) with the latest Roy Morgan poll which shows that if an election were held now a Labour/Green alliance would win easily. And the poll was taken before John Banks was ordered to stand trial for knowingly submitting a false expenses return, and his subsequent stand down as a NACT Minister so we’ve yet to see if John Key’s ‘blancmange’ coalition will wobble right off the plate.
So the stars are aligning for David Cunliffe but if a week’s a long time in politics a year can be a lifetime. Apart from the tremendous boost since the leadership contest Labour has scored few real hits on its own merits. It embarrassed itself with the housing policy announcement using a 23 year old investor as its poster boy instead of a genuine family struggling to get a leg up on the housing ladder. But redemption is nigh with Nick Smith’s handling of the Ruritaniwha dam coming under increasing scrutiny with allegations that he misled parliament about the initial DOC report. His scalp must be tingling in dread anticipation; it would be a huge score for Labour to take down a minister. Yes, there’s a certain amount of Schadenfreude for the left to watch the government screw up all by themselves but it’s the Opposition’s job to bring them down through diligent research and smart politics.
It’s now up to Labour to set the agenda and look like a government in waiting. And setting the agenda means knowing as far as possible what’s coming up. If I were them I’d be having a serious look at what Private Members’ Bills are lurking in the ballot box – both Labour and Green. Cunliffe campaigned primarily on jobs, housing and power prices and that’s where he should stay.
This may not be a popular stance amongst the liberal left but I don’t reckon there’s a groundswell of support among blue collar workers or young voters for Iain Lees-Galloway’s bill to drop the drink drive limit. Most people I’ve talked to here in the provinces think it’s yet another nanny state intrusion into their private lives. (There’s better ways to deal with NZ’s binge drinking culture like, oh I don’t know…maybe forcing the alcohol industry to take some responsibility?) And you know what? It doesn’t matter a toss if National supports lowering the limit, it won’t take the hit. National ended up giving the green light to the Anti-Smacking bill – and yes, I’m using the Right’s handle deliberately as an example of Labour’s dismal management of the issue – and suffered no backlash at all, whereas Labour went into electoral free-fall even though it was Sue Bradford’s bill.
MPs use private member’s bills either to get PR oxygen for themselves and backwater portfolios or to get oxygen for an issue they care passionately about – Maryan Street’s euthanasia bill for example. Cunliffe wisely didn’t want mercy killing to dominate the election and he should think hard about other bills with the potential to steer Labour off message and into political quicksand.