In New Zealand politics National and Labour are not separated by a left right dividing line. Instead, this line runs down the middle of the Labour party.
In 2013 it was revealed by party constitutional reform, partial restaints on caucus power, David Shearer`s departure and by the leadership contest involving Jones, Robertson and Cunliffe.
The Labour right were curtailed but far from defeated. As of now there is an uneasy truce between the two sides, the division is submerged by David Cunliffe`s authoritative leadership. Gaining office is no longer a remote possibility. Behind the two major parties of course is the ruling class establishment. In election year they can choose from two options depending on how events unfold.
Option one is to support the Key government; the economy is doing well, steady as she goes, don`t put it all at risk by electing a Labour-Green coalition government etc. However, if National`s poll ratings dip and a change of government looks likely then option two will come into play, namely, support the Labour right and marginalise the left. The codeword here is `responsible government`. If voters want change then the dominant political bloc must remain in charge.
Behind the partisan party rhetoric mainstream National and the Labour right are indistinguishable from each other. Jose Pagani`s recent political column in the New Zealand Listener illustrates my point. If one forgets the author`s name and background then it reads like a National aligned piece. Under Cunliffe, she claims, Labour has developed an `assertively anti-development tone`. There is no evidence cited in support of this proposition. And, no clear definition of `development` is put forward. Instead,`development` is counterposed to `social issues`, a much inferior term which, in this context, evokes economic ignorance. David Cunliffe`s supporters are described as `vocal and militant` yet they are not identified, a familiar right wing tactic.
A keyword analysis of Pagani`s column would look like this; `development` and `pro development` equals good,`Cunliffe`,`vocal and militant supporters ` and `social issues` equals bad. Now, if Pagani`s political background is, in fact, taken into account the left-right division in the Labour party becomes abundantly clear. There are several litmus test questions which will help us track the intra-party struggle between left and right.
- Will the `working-for –families` support package be extended to beneficiary families in Labour`s manifesto?
- Will public debate concerning the TPPA be openly encouraged?
- Will a set of shared policy positions with the Greens be openly articulated (as opposed to muddling through in the hope that New Zealand First will beat the 5 per cent threshold to become a viable coalition partner)?
- Will Labour`s leadership agree to some electoral accommodations with the Mana party?
If most of these questions are answered in the negative then the Labour right will have prevailed before the election campaign begins. Until then, the questions outlined should be put to your local Labour candidate or MP. Where do they stand? At this stage the Labour right preference for muddling through won`t work.
John Key commands the apolitical world of the Labour/National swinging voter, a change of government requires the electorate to be politicised. And, for this to happen poorer non-voters must be encouraged to the ballot box with policies that will help them financially. These might include increases in the minimum wage (not just for state employees), extension of the working –for – family package to beneficiary families, tax rate reductions for the lowest paid and a restoration of Adult Community Education funding which National removed in February 2010. The Key government, in my view, is vulnerable in the following areas.
First, equality of opportunity and basic fairness. The existing tax system is highly regressive, increasing the rates for those on high salaries would bring in the tax revenue necessary to provide the less well off with a chance in life. The increased revenue needs to be targeted for specific policies and projects such as re-establishing night school classes and contributing to the community reconstruction of east Christchurch.
Second, the economic sovereignty issue is also a government weak point. Steven Joyce`s recent decision to award an $8 million Tokelau ferry contract to a non New Zealand boatbuilder should be exposed as part of a pattern. Under National offshore cut throat companies win, New Zealand businesses and workers lose.
One final but crucial point. A Labour-Green government will not prevail unless they win the media battle. On the positive side the objective is to help voters envision David Cunliffe as the new Prime Minister. The Greens need to identify key portfolios and position their top performers as shadow Ministers in waiting. On the negative side the Labour and Green strategy should be to paint John Key as vague and forgetful , a clever juxtaposition of the appropriate television clips could really do the trick. Television clips of Judith Collins, Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges appearing as mean and irrational can be added to mix. No shortage of material here. Dystopian images of what New Zealand might look like after an extra term or more of National government would also help. A deep sea oil drilling disaster ,the end of Kaikoura`s whalewatch business, rivers further polluted by dairy effluent, New Zealand`s clean green image in tatters, is this the country you want to see? The negative stuff could be driven through social media as the television campaign positively highlights the new government in waiting. If none of my suggestions transpire then the Labour right will have succeeded, David Cunliffe`s leadership notwithstanding. Their success , however, will make it easier for John Key to win a third term, at which point the Jose Pagani`s of this world can blame David Cunliffe and say `I told you so`.