Labour’s prospects after its (latest) leadership change

By   /   August 2, 2017  /   6 Comments

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Labour definitely couldn’t afford to poll any lower – without risking key senior MPs. So the departure of Andrew Little probably couldn’t damage the party any more than if he were to stay. Even though it’s extraordinary (but not unprecedented) for a leader to resign so close to an election, desperate times call for desperate measures.

A week is a long time in politics, and Meteria Turei must have thought the last ten days was an eternity. The media baying like hounds focused on her admission of non-disclosure of flatmates’ rent while receiving the DPB, deliberately took attention away from significant new social policy. The ‘benefit fraud’ story was picked at in every possible way, inflicted upon the public like Chinese water torture.

In contrast, the media pressure on and stare-down of Andrew Little, leading to his departure, was politics at the speed of light. Time always goes a bit crazy in an election year, and hyperbole, and character attacks on the left are de rigeur. Let’s not forget the Donghua Liu lies attacking David Cunliffe, that saturated the front page of the Herald during the 2014 election. We shouldn’t be surprised that Andrew Little has been undermined and resigned under pressure.

A steady hand on the tiller is required to navigate tumultuous political waters, full of snapping sharks, but it was apparent that for the time being at least, there wasn’t much public confidence in Andrew Little’s hands on the Labour Party wheel, and even he didn’t have confidence in his own.

Like many Labour leaders before him, most people admit Andrew Little is a ‘decent’ guy. He’s ‘a good unionist, sincere, a man with integrity’. But even as the media quickly zeroed in on Labour’s negative polls, Little scored his ‘own goals’ in admitting he was uncertain of his position as leader and by claiming that ‘you can’t form a government at 24% in the polls’. In fact, despite the decline in support for Labour in the latest polls, the chances of the current opposition parties forming a coalition (pending agreement with New Zealand First), increased while National’s support and chance of governing alone further declined.

After the third poll released last night showed a cluster of negative (disastrous?) results, putting Labour in the low 20% vote share, and ‘left wing’ commentators started saying Andrew Little could and should resign, his departure became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even then Andrew could have stood his ground and refused to buckle. ‘The signs are printed and already erected. The policies are sound. We have to stay the course’. Instead, another Labour leader bit the dust, his ‘lack of charisma’ failed to ignite the electorate, his confidence (never actually overwhelming) was mortally wounded. “In the interests of the party” he handed the reins to his younger, ‘more charismatic’ deputy, Jacinda Ardern. Another Labour Party leader is history.

Critics on the left and the right look at Labour’s dismal poll results, and the emergency change of leader and ask whether the Party is in terminal decline, in a death spiral, no longer relevant. ‘They’re on their fifth leader in nine years’. ‘They’re National-lite, not clearly distinguishable in policy or style – so why not just vote National? And if you want a party that’s strong on immigration, vote NZ First; or for environmental policies, vote Greens or maybe ToP’. Gone apparently, are the days of strong binary politics in New Zealand, and Labour’s a victim of the spread of choice across the broadly left and liberal vote. And after all, National and Labour are quite alike too.

Labour definitely couldn’t afford to poll any lower – without risking key senior MPs. So the departure of Andrew Little probably couldn’t damage the party any more than if he were to stay. Even though it’s extraordinary (but not unprecedented) for a leader to resign so close to an election, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Looking at feedback online in social and mainstream media, you might think that the appointment of Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis as leader and deputy, was an inspired move, that couldn’t have been planned better. Their appointment has given rise to optimism and positivity but concern about the timing. Without irony people are using the Little / Ardern tag line ‘A fresh approach’ to define what Ardern and Davis offer. Ardern is talking about values and hope. I saw a video where the caucus were actually laughing together and seemed unified and excited (maybe that was nervousness!). That all seemed unusual, and encouraging in itself. Jacinda seems to have got over her reservations about being leader and is rising to the challenge. Can you imagine the courage that must take at this time? Some suggest it’s ‘greatness, being thrust upon her’. Others say she’s jumping on a grenade, using her one (?) shot at leadership in a forced, false start that’s doomed this close to an election when the party is so far behind.

The new leadership team say they’ll take stock of the campaign and Party position for 72 hours. That’s prudent given the polls and the opportunity presented by the media attention and space to genuinely take a ‘fresh approach’. As leader, Jacinda will be more able to develop style and substance that’s more authentic to her, instead of the sidekick, trailing Andrew Little that she has been so far in this campaign. James Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party said Jacinda’s election drastically improves the chances of a rise in Labour’s fortunes and a change in government. Though the invisible wildcard in that picture is still Winston Peters not Jacinda Ardern.

The commentariat seem to love comparisons, and there are questions about whether Jacinda’s our Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, with potential to offer radical alternative policy options, or maybe just our Trudeau (a young, handsome, moderate left / conservatively progressive leader). There’s definitely an opportunity for Labour to step away from its current conservative incrementalism that still seeks to ameliorate the worst travesties of capitalism rather than remove them. There’s room for a seriously alternative, radical vision, that deals with the causes of entrenched poverty, inequality and environmental destruction that are intrinsic to the neoliberal, capitalist programme, at both national and international level.

Such a radical policy framework for the left could revisit business and capital gains taxes and operational settings, international trade and security arrangements, peace and disarmament, even changes in the definitions and ownership of property, fundamental improvements in the rights of nature and the environment, consideration of intergenerational equity. That’s what real change could look like. There could be an alternative agenda, but it’s highly unlikely. At more local pragmatic level, Kelvin Davis’ concerns about prisoners and prisons could be addressed by the decriminalisation of (natural) cannabis, but we’ll see whether they’re up even for that as part of a ‘fresher’ approach.

It would take some leader to carry such a different vision in New Zealand, and an increase of about 200,000 votes to get Labour to a strong enough position to implement such a plan. That’s a lot of change from the current Labour Party position and a lot of votes.

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6 Comments

  1. David Stone says:

    In the first day of her leadership Jacinda has shown that she is up to the interviews part of her job anyway. That’s pretty important right now.
    I think that it will be much easier for her to work with Winston than it would have been for Andrew. Andrew would have felt under constant threat of being upstaged in ways that won’t apply with Jacinda, she doesn’t seem to have a personal ego to protect so much though Winston will appreciate that she can give at least as good as she gets from asshole interviewers. She seems as good as he is. For this reason I think it is much more likely that an arrangement will be made with NZF whereas before I expected Winston would make a deal with the nats.
    D J S

  2. Geoff Lye says:

    Sure hope it happens because my young diabetic friend cant take this bullshit health systems underfunded cruelty much longer with out dying from it.

    By the way he is only 25 and been abused by not only winz but the health system from all directions.

    Any wonder he wants to give up.

  3. mosa says:

    The silent left majority is silent no more and are coming out of the dark and into the light and will support a change of government because they believe its now possible with the huge reaction to the Jacinda-Kelvin ticket and we had all lost hope that we could drive this National party out.

    The mood for change has been waiting for a circuit breaker or tipping point and that just happened yesterday.

    I am cautious and even excited that this could be the watershed election i did not think was coming for a long while and time is short before the general election but that will suit Jacinda down to the ground and allow her to command and set the agenda and seriously challenge these smart arsed arrogant pricks that run this country for their own and their corporate and property millionaire supporters benefit.

    She has got the attention of the country and is building her reputation every day and this election will be the most exciting since Helen won a third term in 2005 despite Brash and his viscous campaign.

    Hell it is going to be a cracker.

  4. CLEANGREEN says:

    Hi Christine Rose,
    “Ardern is talking about values and hope.”

    yes we can welcome this considering nine years has eroded those values with the slow selloff of our “commonwealth publicly owned assets” without publicly declaring it was under a secret austerity plan.

    So any values of restoring those lost assets back to the taxpayers would certainly restore some hope that we can again control our future with real hope.

    Ardern must denounce the selling of all these assets without our consent will gain her our solid support.

    She does have a road ahead full of interesting times.

    Winston has already talked of this issue with Corin Dann in Q+A two episodes ago and discusses that a employee buy-in is the method he prefers.

    We can assume it may mean the setting up of co-operatives of some form like Triumph motorcycles was in the UK or Harvey Davidson was in USA as both are now workers co-operatives and co-operatives are many already globally and in NZ already.

    Thoughful contribution thank you Christine.

  5. WILD KATIPO says:

    What I and many others are hoping for is this , – a return to what was once …

    … ” Free education , free healthcare , full employment and the maintenance of the welfare state, women’s rights , environmentalism , and Māori rights. A continuance of nuclear-free policy and opposition of military interventionism, progressive taxation , which would mean higher tax for wealthier people and lower taxation for poorer people. The removal of the Goods and Services Tax, as tax is unfair because the amount paid does not vary according to the purchaser’s ability to afford it ” …

    None other than the very policy’s of the Alliance party !!!

    And here’s a few others still popular these days :

    Bringing Treasury / Reserve Bank under direct govt control , dismantling of the effects of the Employment Contracts Act , trade tariffs to protect local industry and workers jobs , making welfare inflation adjusted ie : costs of living , full employment – as opposed to maintaining a pool of unemployed to keep wages low , compulsory unionism , govt backed union award rates ( and industry apprenticeship’s ) cessation of land purchase by foreign corporate’s ie : lease basis only , re-nationalization of our SOE’s – including much of our former media ,…

    Do all that ?

    And you might , – just MIGHT , start to see a return to our former social democracy and the prosperity we once enjoyed under it.

    * Oh , … and btw ,… making illegal the measures used formerly by lobbyists to attempt to stage a return to neo liberalism as unconstitutional , anti sovereign , anti democratic and against the NZ Bill of Rights.