GUEST BLOG: Michael Wood – The Path Ahead



It’s well established that Labour has had a difficult couple of weeks. Getting back on to a successful path requires our focus to shift from looking inwards to outwards, heightened discipline, and inner conviction.

While my assessment of New Zealand social democracy and its future differs a little from Josie Pagani’s, her recent piece on what Labour needs to do to now makes some sound points. The first one is difficult for many of us to suck up, but she’s dead right – blaming and dissembling don’t help. Allegations of media bias or rigged polls might make us feel a little better, but they don’t win a single vote. Worse, navel gazing of this kind makes us look like losers.

Our movement has never won through moaning, we win by organising. If you don’t like the tone of the Herald – then organise 5 friends to write Letters to the Editor each week between now and the election. Not happy with the polls? Then contact your local candidate and offer to phone canvass or doorknock this week.

The focus of Labour and the left must be to look outwards – to face people and communities and engage. The genuinely undecided woman I came across on Twitter yesterday shouldn’t have been told she was ‘right wing’ by a left activist for daring to hold a different opinion on a single issue, but spoken to with some respect, asked questions, and left feeling like the door was open to talk again later. None of that requires compromising a single policy, it’s about being cheerful, positive, and outwards facing. When the going is tough it can be easier, even a little comforting, to retreat into a defensive zone, but to build a winning coalition of support we need to reach out and engage with those who aren’t yet convinced.
Discipline matters too. It always has. Reading Margaret Hayward’s ‘Diary of the Kirk Years’ recently I was struck by her description of the 1972 election victory as a sheer hard grind. We often think now of Kirk gliding into power on the strength of his magnified idealism and sheer charisma. It simply wasn’t so. After two election defeats as leader he and others doggedly worked to make sure that Labour was focussed on expressing its vision in a clear and concise fashion, without distractions or mis-steps. They pushed to victory 44 years ago with discipline and determination.

In 2014 the hard work has been done to develop positive and transformational policies. The core issues of work, family, and housing are established, and at a technical level the party’s systems are light years ahead of recent campaigns. The job of every person speaking for Labour between now and September 20, from senior MP through to newbie candidate has to be to rigorously focus on the key issues that we know to be relevant to voters’ lives, and to adhere to the policy positions we have all signed up to.
But underlying that discipline there needs to be an inner conviction, an absolute belief that we are part of a movement that can and will make people’s lives better. At the 1999 Labour campaign launch at the Auckland Town Hall, Helen Clark spoke of our ‘crusade’ to take New Zealand back. Every delegate in the Hall felt it in their bones. We would link arms, walk from that place and do what we had to in order to deliver a government with social justice at its heart.

In 2014 the task is the same and it can be done. We are one of the two big parties of New Zealand politics. Our ideas and policies are the ones that have shaped our country time and again over the past century. We have the ideas and inner resources to lead once again, we have partners to work with, and it is our responsibility alone to show New Zealand that we are ready to govern.


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Michael Wood is the Labour candidate for Epsom. He is an elected member of the Puketapapa Local Board, with a background as a union negotiator and retail worker. As co-Secretary of the Labour Policy Council he has been involved in the development of Labour’s Policy Platform and Manifesto. He has two young boys, a super smart wife, and loves cricket and Pink Floyd.



  1. Ha ha comedy Gold

    Labour can’t do anything remotely right present, hopeless leader, hopeless strategy.

    the only hope is to vote green or mana

  2. Trouble is Michael you have different factions of the Labour Party pulling the party in different directions and pulling the party apart. How can we feel confident that the candidates are moving in one direction. And I’m not satisfied. You’re telling us to get organised, why haven’t the so called party gotten organised. Sorry but the media does make a difference. Most people only listen to small sound bits and when they are constantly (unfairly) bombarded by how stupid, fickle, looney (take your pick) Cunliffe is then they are going to change their minds – like I have. I wait in vain for Labour to make a stand on something ‘hearty’ but nothing. I am not centre left. I am left. Surely getting party cohesion this late in the piece is… ummm a little too late? It should have been done and people told to pull their heads in when David Cunliffe was elected as leader. Telling us to get organised? The cheek of it.

    • You’re right Win but the article is still right too. If you want to win Win, all you can do is work hard.

  3. I think Josie Pagani’s analysis (in that link) is flawed.

    She seems to be arguing that the failure of Labour in the polls has something to do with the ‘militant rhetoric’ that Cunliffe’s rise to the leadership promised. This strategy has ‘failed’ and, hence, Labour is languishing in the polls. People who have proposed this strategy, she claims, simply have to face their failed strategy.

    The problem is that this analysis pays absolutely no attention to reality. Since that leadership election, there has been a deficit of ‘militant rhetoric’ (whatever that means) let alone ‘militant policy’.

    If raising the age of superannuation eligibility, introducing a capital gains tax, repeatedly assuring the electorate of ‘fiscal responsibility’, etc., etc. is a sign of militancy then all I can say is that Josie Pagani needs to get out more.

    It’s worth noting that the highest poll results for Labour in recent times came after a leadership election that was widely publicised, supposedly including – anomalously for Pagani’s analysis – the frequent use of what I presume Pagani sees as ‘militant rhetoric’ by Cunliffe.

    Even explaining that bump in the polls as being ‘despite’ the militant rhetoric (you know, supposedly there’s always a bump when the leader changes – except that’s not true; ask Jim McLay and Bill English) shows that ‘militant rhetoric’ is not in any sense poison to the public – unless Pagani believes that, without such rhetoric, the polls would have immediately sprung to beyond 50% for Labour.

    Labour’s failure in the polls, so far as I can see, tracks more closely its increasing tepidity in both rhetoric and policy. Speculatively, it seems to have been seen as a sign of weakness and lack of self-belief and, in addition, has opened the door to a straight personality contest (since policy and rhetoric are so bland) and a focus on trivial stories of general ‘incompetence’.

    Josie needs to reflect that, despite what people on some blogs may argue about the need for a more ‘red’ Labour this clearly has not eventuated in the manifest public face of the party.

    Further, no-one, apart from some commenters on the popular right-wing blogs who clearly pay little attention to actual policy, would ever argue that Labour is currently ‘militant’ let alone ‘radical’ or ‘socialist’ or, even, ‘social democratic’.

    In other words, Labour is failing because it has imbibed the kind of advice Pagani distributes liberally.

    • Hi Puddleglum – you’ll note that I didn’t endorse Josie’s analysis in full, and wrote about a couple of specific points that I thought were well made. I’m over sectarianism and am willing to listen to good points made by others on the left, even if I disagree with other aspects of their worldview. Cheers – Michael.

      • Thanks for the response Michael.

        Yes, a lack of solidarity is a big problem which is one of the reasons I took umbrage at Pagani’s analysis.

        The first point that you extracted from that analysis was that “blaming and dissembling don’t help”. Yet you did not appear to appreciate that her post was ‘blaming and dissembling’ about supposed ‘militant rhetoric’ being the cause of Labour’s poll woes. In other words, it was highly sectarian in content and, almost certainly, in intent.

        I don’t think her blaming and dissembling – with large numbers of members of the left as her target – is any more useful than that over media and polling bias.


  4. Seriously? The same Josie Pagani who is in Cameron Slater’s contact list appearing above Judith Collins, on his mobile phone??? Not sure if its safe to believe a so called “left” blogger who is more like a right.

  5. One thing people can indeed do is write letters to the newspaper. Said letter don’t have to be long or involved or contain heaps of information. They can be one or two paragraphs.

    Anyone wanting help with writing a letter to their newspaper can contact me, and I’ll help (I’ve written a couple of things in the past).

    email addy; fmacskasy at gmail dot com.

    Happy to lend a hand.

    As for unity in the Labour party – that might take a wee bit more effort.

  6. Published letters are great for getting discussion happening and that’s why people who have views who wish to heard should write . 200 words is a challenge that with practice becomes a discipline . Go forth write.To win an election you need to listen . Working people on Friday night or a Saturday afternoon go the their club or pub . These folk don’t make focus groups but their votes count if you want to win Look them in the eye and don’t tell them that their children will be working to 67 to pay for the rich buggers tax curs is one message that your would soon get .Another for the person who has been restructured out of a job and is now an independent contractor is ACC levies .Good luck Michael you are brave to carry that scarlet banner to Epsom .Those people will be bloody nasty

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