Andrew Little has made a very good start to he leadership of Labour. He seems to be on a refreshingly sensible track.
Colin James writes in his weekly column The big Little start to Labour’s rebuild (emailed but also published in ODT)
Can Grant Robertson count? Will Jacinda Ardern stick it out? What does an Andrew Little smile look like? Where does a theology degree fit in politics? Does any of this matter?
Plenty think Labour is mere amusement or an historical relic awaiting embalming.
They might have cause to think again.
One cause is Little.
There is already a distinct change in Labour under Little.
He lost the party vote and the MPs’ vote to Robertson and is leader only thanks to an historical hangover, the “affiliated” unions’ privileged role. One-person-one-vote is not the Labour way yet.
But Little has quickly won authority.
In part that is because he came to the top job without a caucus factional taint.
That gave him the scope in last week’s skilful remake of the shadow cabinet to both contain resentment and open wide room for up-and-comers to prove themselves (or not). He pointed ageing MPs towards the exit.
The shadow cabinet looks to be a good start, challenging some to step up and suggesting some step out.
Next, he made the most of John Key’s tortuous mishandling of the report on Key’s office’s scummy dealings with an over-helpful Security Intelligence Service and his own chumminess with the nefarious Cameron Slater.
Key subjected himself to three days of Little’s jaw-jutted, union-boss sermonising. Ian Rennie got a deserved whack, too, from a bloke who knows employment law and practice.
He scored points here but he has to be careful on ‘Dirty Politics’ that could end up being as political quicksand if he agitates too much. If the other side of the story emerges (as Cameron Slater promises it will) Little will not want to be to closely associated.
Little looked the strong leader (as, by the way, he had in his presidential speech to Labour’s 2010 conference). Party faithful perked up.
By the end of last week he was shaping as someone they could back, whatever their disappointments. That includes Robertson and running-mate Ardern.
And at least some of the anti-Little activist seem to have been won over.
Little did two other things likely to grow his leadership.
One was to commit to emulate Helen Clark as she clawed Labour up from 28 per cent in the 1996 election to 38 per cent in 1999: tirelessly tour the country to build his and the party’s all-but-evaporated presence in the suburbs and provinces.
That addresses the need Robertson identified on September 22: to be “part of the communities we live in”. And, yes, Little can produce a twinkling smile which, liberally employed, could engage potential voters.
A good plan. He has obviously done his homework, or has some very good advisors that seemed to have been absent during the Goff, Shearer and Cunliffe leaderships.
The second leadership-building move was his speech yesterday on “the future of work” where he sees a “new insecurity”. Labour, he said, must “be there for all the people who make their living from their own work”.
The nature of work has been changing fast. Many jobs don’t pay enough to live on (so taxpayers top them up, in effect subsidising employers). Many are employed by agencies, not their place of work’s owner. Many are on “zero hours”. Some have scurrilous clauses in their contracts.
Many who would once have been employees are contractors or in small businesses, by necessity or by choice.
How to ensure a dependable livelihood — “a fair shot”, Little called it — in a small, open country in a highly globalised world is a complex challenge, especially for Labour.
This is a very important thing for Little to achieve the right balance with. He has to support the unions but also widen Labour’s appeal to a much wider group of working voters.
Shadow finance minister Robertson will head a “commission” to do this “signature piece of work”, as Little called it. Robertson will draw on his international contacts, including Matt Browne, the English head of the Centre for American Progress, and on the musings at a conference in Amsterdam in April where he was on a panel.
Little said they would concentrate on researching and developing forward looking policy rather than sniping negatively. About time someone in Labour got this.
Robertson is also eyeing a root-and-branch tax rethink. Taxing income from capital gain is not dead. Land tax is back on the table.
Robertson will follow Michael Cullen’s 1996 example and bury his head in economics textbooks through the summer (and, yes, he can count). He has a new lease of political life.
With him is theologian David Clark, a three-year Treasury alumnus (similar to English), in economic development, David Parker in trade (focusing on exports), former business-consultant Stuart Nash in some sector portfolios — and Ardern, who asked for small business to apply some of the learning from her time in the Blair British Labour government’s regulatory reform taskforce.
Keeping Parker committed could be a challenge, he seemed very demoralised after his second failed leadership bid.
Clark is yet to prove himself, last term he seemed to be underdone and floundering.
I don’t know about Nash apart from some cringey posts at The Daily Blog. He will need to be guided.
Ardern is often thought fragile, from her looks and dress. And she did go gloomy after the election and leadership losses and her downranking by Little to ninth. She might yet be tempted to a private life in the private sector.
But underneath Ardern is tough. She is well thought of in some, including business, quarters in Auckland — at her best a potential star. Watch to see if she is deputy leader this time next year.
It looks like she is being lined up for deputy leadership. She will need good mentoring and has to demonstrate she is capable of stepping up
So, even though Little is 49, the Robertson-Ardern leadership campaign promise of a “new generation” to contrast with National’s 50-somethings is still alive. Clark, Chris Hipkins (education) and Megan Woods (environment and climate change) are all under 45.
Through 2013 Labour-plus-Greens averaged 0.5 per cent more in polls than National. If Little can sustain his strong start, if Robertson can count and deliver and if the 2013 Green connection can be reforged, Labour-Green might be competitive in 2017.
Little has made a very good start and should be rewarded with some poll recovery, especially while Key flounders with his ongoing association with Slater.
This year is nearly over politically. It will be important for Little to start next year strongly. He has resolved to tour the country next year, but he can’t disappear into the provinces.
Cunliffe blundered by having such a weak start to this year. It was if he had switched off over an extended holiday period.
Little just needs to hold his current impetus into the silly season, and then hit next year running with early impact – as do his caucus.
If they can avoid too many major mistakes and don’t revert back to negative nit-picking – picking battles is important rather than getting sucked into silly skirmishes.
Things are certainly looking up for Labour under Little.
Vernon Small at Stuff: ‘Work’ speech a giant leap
Andrew Little’s call for Labour to redefine what it means by working people – a broad church that embraces contract workers, the self-employed and small business – is on the face of it no great revolution.
But for a party that sprang from the union movement, and which has for several elections tried to get out the “missing million” non-voters among the mainly low paid and marginalised, it is a telling nod in the direction of . . . call them what you will.
It may not have been the most dramatic or detailed of announcements – a commission set up in Opposition barely rates as news really.
But Little has set in motion a 150-week trek to reposition Labour, if not towards the Centre, then at least alongside a much broader group of voters than it won over in 2014.
Video at NZ Herald: Little: ‘Labour Party will work for you’