There’s been contrasting columns at the herald over the past two days.
On Tuesday there was Phil Quin: Labour’s pessimism ploy. (Quin resigned from Labour when the Chinese surname data was promoted).
Despite a considerable souring of economic sentiment, Labour, under Andrew Little, has barely moved in the polls since last year’s historic drubbing. His personal popularity lags behind predecessors David Cunliffe and David Shearer – and Little is more than 20 points adrift of where John Key stood at a comparable juncture in Helen Clark’s third term.
Little is no ideologue; nor does he play one for the cameras like Cunliffe. Instead, his animating worldview is one of pessimism. He is gambling that voters are change-averse, grumpy and fearful of the future.
- The CGT reversal was just the first of numerous maneuvers that reflect this downbeat assessment of the public mood.
- On the TPPA, Little’s Labour has adopted an unapologetically protectionist stance. It is no small matter for Labour to abandon decades of enthusiastic support for trade liberalisation, long seen by politicians across the spectrum as a key to New Zealand’s current and future prosperity.
- Labour’s release of leaked Auckland housing data in order to highlight the prevalence of Chinese-sounding surnames is perhaps the singular event of Andrew Little’s tenure to date (full disclosure: I resigned from the party over the issue). It was an audacious and high-risk gambit. Little himself conceded he knew it would attract accusations of racism – but public polls suggest it has fallen well short of being the game-changer Labour had hoped.
- Perhaps nothing showcases Labour’s defensive crouch better than its decision to oppose the referendum on the New Zealand flag. Labour’s historic mission is to forge a proudly independent national identity for New Zealand. It’s depressing to see Labour cede this turf to John Key for negligible political gain.
- Labour is mining economic anxiety for the prospect of electoral gain and, in the process, usurping National’s historic role of defending, by any means necessary, what constitutes the status quo.
- By playing up fears about the perils of globalisation or an impending Chinese invasion, Labour will encounter furious and vocal agreement. This shouldn’t be mistaken for a groundswell. Voters don’t reward parties who merely echo and reinforce feelings of despondency without offering real solutions.
Labour, in particular, thrives when it approaches the future with gusto, not trepidation. Merchants of doom and gloom might fill the airwaves, but they rarely win elections.
Yesterday Rob Salmond promoted an alternate view in Rob Salmond: The true state of Labour. Salmond is stated as a communications and analytics consultant, whose clients include Andrew Little.
Is the Labour Party pessimistic, or optimistic? Does it oppose change or embrace it? Is the movement marching forward or standing still? Answering these questions is important, because it helps us understand the engine room of the next government.
It depends on whether you see things from where Labour is trying to present itself from it’s communications team or how the puiblic generally sees Labour. The Standard has hardly looked optimistic about Labour’s chances for a long time, it doesn’t represent all of Labour’s emotions but it’s a significant view on the thoughts of the activist Labour left.
Take home ownership, the political hot-topic of the year. Labour leader Andrew Little thinks home ownership rates really can go up again in Auckland, and across New Zealand. I’d call that optimism rather than pessimism. To get there, Labour’s proposing big changes, for example a large-scale, government-led programme of house building, or big changes to our investment rules.
Labour have succeeded in highlighting Auckland’s housing issues but this has drawn attention to the problems with escalating values rather than promoting a difference under a future Labour Government.
The plight of regional New Zealand’s another example. Little reckons our heartland towns really can get out of their current funk, and become potent economic forces again. For me, that sounds like more optimism. Labour’s ideas for achieving that include major capital expenditure on rail links and ports. Doing that might also help New Zealand’s economy diversify, becoming less dependent on dairy as new industries grow.
Except that many regions aren’t in a ‘current funk’. Tourism, apples, wine, avocados, meat etc are doing better than ever. There are labour shortages in some areas.
This is where Labour is failing – they have been talking down the regions, talking down the economy, talking down the TPP. Tacking an ‘optimistic hope Labour can do better’ doesn’t negate the negativeness.
Once you look at real examples of Labour’s contribution to the public debate, it’s hard to see where the pessimism argument is coming from.
No it’s not hard to see pessimism.
Quin does, correctly, that Little’s decision not to pursue a Capital Gains Tax was motivated by electoral pragmatism. He also notes, also correctly, that Labour’s position on the TPPA is a skeptical “wait and see” at the moment, not a definitive yes or no.
These are certainly shades-of-grey positions, the signpost of a party cognizant of both its principled starting point and the limits of what the public actually wants. Serious political parties always care about both these things. But those premises don’t lead to Quin’s pessimistic, fearful conclusion.
These premises are meaningless waffle to most people.
Many commentators have noted Labour’s caucus is more united, more disciplined, than it has been since Helen Clark. For the first time in around six years, the leadership murmors have disappeared
Recent Labour related news has featured:
- Divisions in Labour over charter schools policy – Radio New Zealand – 31/08/2015
- MPs praised for defying Labour leader on charter schools – TVNZ
- Jacinda Ardern’s star still rising – NZ Herald
Quin says Labour “has barely moved in the polls since last year’s historic drubbing.” Labour got 25 per cent in last year’s election. Less than a year later, four of the five latest polls have Labour above 30 per cent. An increase of more than five points inside a year, with the Greens’ vote steady or slowly increasing as well, isn’t “barely moved.” It’s “solid early progress.”
It’s more like tenuous recovery from an embarrassingly low election result. It was thought that Salmond’s Chinese surname data waw an attempt to get a populist poll boost but it barely had any affect ap;art from annoying a lot of people on the left.
It’s a communication consultant’s job to talk up optimism.
That doesn’t mean the public see optimism or are optimistic about Labour’s next election chances.
Labour are still requiring the support of both the Greens and NZ Fiirst to look like they are able to form a Government.
Can Salmond sound optimistic about that?
Winston Peters looks more optimisitic about his chances of being the next Prime Minister than Andrew Little.
To actually look optimistic (rather than say you are optimisitic) voters need to see a Government in waiting that they think is viable and manageable.
I think Mr Salmond has a bit more work to do yet.