Andrew Little: from euphoria to reality

Andrew Little will probably have been greatly encouraged by the euphoric response to his Labour Conference speech in the weekend. But beyond the party faithful and hopeful, reality has set in with some brutal assessments.

I thought Little’s speech showed some hope and promise. It contrasted with his unimpressive interviews in The Nation and Q & A. But one speech does not a leader make.

It was an important speech for the party. but going by media reaction it will have done little to lift Little’s credibility as a potential Prime Minister, or lift Labour’s credibility as a Government in waiting.

Audrey Young gave a positive report in Little smashed it – literally.

Andrew Little smashed it.

He has two years to win over the public before the next election.

His speech to the Labour conference this year needed to win over the members, who afterall, did not support him in the leadership contest a year ago.

Job done, as they say.

It was one of the best speeches by a Labour leader in recent years, in both content, delivery and production.

It succeeded in showing a fuller picture of Andrew Little the person and give a clearer idea of what sort of Prime Minister he would be.

Andrea Vance had a mixed report in Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren’t:

Little’s first duty was to announce the grounds on which Labour will oppose the TPP.

The deal is a touch-paper for the left and Little is walking a tightrope between the pro-free trade and the anti-corporate elements in his party.

His position is confused – and he’s probably going to spend the next week defending it.

And the reality:

The past year clearly hasn’t been wasted. Little’s team have been learning from past mistakes. But one factor remains a constant – for Labour to win they must persuade the electorate they won’t be profligate.

Little’s asking for patience over spending plans and won’t say if he’ll raise taxes. Dreams are free – but the electorate knows ambitious policies aren’t.

That’s a future challenge for Little. Labour’s conference talked about health, education and jobs, jobs, jobs, to be created by a Labour Government. It’s easy to take spending, spending, spending out of that with little sign of hiow that will be paid for.

But Little’s Sunday euphoria has been crashed to reality in today’s Dominion editorial – Andrew Little is not the man to lead Labour out of the wilderness.

Little had moved long before last weekend’s annual party conference to kill off the remnants of the Leftish policy Labour touted last year.

Little now stands on a bare platform with no significant policy. The fact that nobody much cared when he threw out the old policies might be taken as a sign of a newly unified Labour Party. Or it might be a sign that Labour is a corpse. It doesn’t have the strength to fight or even to disagree with itself. So the attempt to hide everything behind closed doors wasn’t even needed.

Having no policy to sell, Little tried to sell himself. His “impassioned” speech was in fact awkward and unconvincing.

Bellowing about the Kiwi dream and promising “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs” is empty posturing and oddly out of kilter with the national mood. So is the pledge to “turn the page” on the last seven years.

We’ve yet to see whether the country (or polls refeklecting the mood of the country) sees it like this – or even say anything of Little’s speech.

Little will claim that it’s too early in the electoral cycle for policy details, and he’s right. But it’s never too early to create a buzz or the impression that the old party is coming back to life.

Labour can’t even take the step of injecting new blood into its leadership with the fresh face of Jacinda Ardern.

Her qualities are modest, but she is a sign of life. Labour has few other such signs.

‘Same old’ Labour without any policies is going to be a hard perception top turn around.

Neither as a union politician nor as a parliamentarian has Little been a bold or lively reformer. He has little charisma and a lack of new ideas.

It’s hard to believe he will lead Labour out of the wilderness.

That’s harsh.

But it’s a dose of reality. Little should get some confidence from the party reception of his speech but he needs to appear strong and positive regularly, without the double speak he has resorted to over the flag change and the TPPA.

The Otago Daily Times editorial today is also on Little and Labour – Little needs voter momentum.

By all accounts, Labour Party leader Andrew Little made a strong showing at the party’s annual conference held in Palmerston North at the weekend.

Snippets of his speech shown on television news reports, and comment pieces published in this newspaper, indicated Mr Little has managed to crack through the veneer surrounding him since his narrow election as leader.

Reading through the speech at leisure, there are hints of a man with deeper thoughts than previously indicated.

Mr Little gives a sense of direction, something lacking in Labour since the defeat of the Helen Clark-led government which brought in former financial trader John Key as prime minister.

National have managed to win three elections with sparse policy platforms, but they have had John Key who was immediately popular when he took over leadershiop of National and he remains popular.

Labour have lost three elections and turned over four leaders. They have been busy u-turning on a number of policies so now have very little.

Mr Little is seen as humourless, dour and part of the fun police of the Labour Party while Mr Key is shown schmoozing with All Blacks, royalty and crowds of his supporters.

What Mr Little needs to do now is get out into the electorates in which Labour lost the party vote and start securing voter support.

It will not be an easy task.

Many voters have been turned off by Labour’s list of recent leadership changes and a lack of change in MPs.

Even now, there is an ongoing back-of-the-mind thought Mr Little will not lead Labour into the next election.

What is disappointing is Labour feeling the need to hold all but a few high-profile speeches at its conference behind closed doors.

It will not be easy for Mr Little to convince even the party faithful in places such as Dunedin he is the one to take Labour back into power.

He languishes in the polls, gaining little traction with voters.

And, despite a front bench reshuffle, Labour MPs are still seen as too far out of touch with real New Zealand.

Little has failed to excite the polls.

National-lite with a charisma deficit and limited and aged line-up is going to be a hard sell, especially when Labour are also going to need Greens and probably NZ First.

Little lifted his game in his conference speech. But he will need to lift his and Labour’s game consistently and substantially to build on that.

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  1. Iceberg

     /  10th November 2015

    Little is a bit like the Black Knight in the Holy Grail. The Labour party is rooted beyond recognition and he’s like “tis but a scratch”. Meanwhile King Arthur (Key) cuts off all his limbs.

  2. traveller

     /  10th November 2015

    Apart from the Labour faithful (and let’s not pretend that apart from the bloggerati any of them follow conferences), he’s made no impact. The howling outrage over a 0.01% of a drop in quarterly jobs was such a fail, he’s only lucky the lazy MSM gave him a sympathy pass on that.
    Throwing out their main policies for 2014 was an interesting plank. But wait, there’s more – just hang on a minute! Pensioner Deputy King, (a dental nurse nonetheless), tells us she has a great sugar policy. My ears pricked up on behalf of the nation’s teeth and waistlines. Sugars in your largely sustaining peanut butter were to be monitored and marginalised she proffered, but, she smiled, she’d be leaving bags of lollies alone to be gobbled with impunity. Her voice rambled on . “Labour is not a complete Nanny State, we want you to keep your treats, and that means as many lollies as you want” she assured us. “However, someone needs to keep an eye on those wicked baked beans and peanut butter for you lazy beggars who won’t read labels!”
    In that instant another vision appeared. There they were, the Nats 2017, triumphant after yet another successful campaign, their mocking adverts with a Queen theme tune, “Leave those sweets alone!!” involved marauding nuts and beans beating up on defenceless, solid sugar lollies.
    What happens in Labour Party HQ and what exactly does McCarten do to earn his state salary?

    • Mike C

       /  10th November 2015


      How the hell McCarten managed to get his snout in the trough is beyond me.

      I consider him to be the Ventriloquist … and Little is his Dummy 🙂

  3. tealeaves

     /  10th November 2015

    All they can do is be themselves, be authentic and take it to the electorate and it wil decide who it wants in government – to state the obvious. I think if they focus too much on competing on National’s turf, showing us that they can play like that too, they just don’t pull it off and it makes them look more lost than ever. They have got to know how they would run the country, and show us. What else is there? “Key style” isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

    • I tend to agree Paddy – their problem is maybe the electorate doesn’t actually believe in their authentic side either…

      • tealeaves

         /  10th November 2015

        Sure. They need to bring some subtlety to their expression of values, I think. But not so much that it becomes prevarication. I think “the Kiwi Dream” is clunky and if they’re going to use it they need to flesh it out so that they’re seen to understand that the Kiwi Dream has diversified a hell of a lot in the last 20 years.
        Trying to sell the quarter acre block with fresh washing on the line and a goat tied to the fence probably isn’t going to capture anyone’s imagination. But they can bring colour to things, or show that they can respond to and enhance a colourful NZ, because there are lots of us out there for whom National will always mean one thing – navy blue and grey and a navy blue and grey world, a corporatised world with corporate values where you’re treated like an employee by the boss, JK.
        I’d be much more interested in a politics with a strong social orientation, even if it is just marketing to some extent, frankly, something that embraces “diversity”, which Helen did so very well. Multi-coloured Pacifica Lei, anyone? It looked fun, it looked lively, and Kiwiland can be a grim enough place without having a bunch of CEO wannabe’s running it as well.
        Some of politics is does have to be devoted to message-massage and appearances, an appearance of celebration – which again, I think Helen did really well – could be very becoming, shall we say, to some people who just don’t identify with, er, boring neutral colour schemes.

  4. Ray

     /  10th November 2015

    The fact that Matt McCarten has a history of failure when it comes to winning elections or paying tax makes me wonder why Labour bother with him

    • traveller

       /  10th November 2015

      Matt is their boy, LIttle is a Union boy and the unions call the shots

      • traveller

         /  10th November 2015

        I thought that last remark of mine a bit dismissive so I am adding this to remind us of who is pretty well running the Opposition’s tilt at things. He is very left wing, but for someone keen on State redistribution has a surprisingly personal lack of responsibility towards compliance (see the bit about UNITE and it’s unpaidTAX bill). Anyone who doubts there aren’t idealistic, Corbynesque hands at work behind the Labour throne should think again.


        “McCarten, who had been a member of the Labour Party since he was nineteen, [2] became dissatisfied with the party’s direction under Minister of Finance Roger Douglas. Douglas was a strong promoter of free-market economics and deregulation, which McCarten and others saw as a betrayal of Labour’s roots. Eventually, one of Labour’s MPs, Jim Anderton, broke away to found NewLabour, and McCarten became the president of the new organisation. NewLabour later joined with several other parties to form the Alliance – McCarten became president of this new party as well.

        After the 1999 elections, the Alliance became the junior partner in a coalition government with Labour (which had now moved away from its programme of economic reforms). However, some members of the Alliance, including McCarten, felt that their grouping had made too many concessions to the more centrist Labour, and that the Alliance was abandoning its left-wing principles. Eventually, a rift developed between McCarten (serving as the Alliance’s organisational leader) and Jim Anderton (serving as its political leader) – the party’s governing Council backed McCarten, but most of its MPs backed Anderton.

        After a long and bitter dispute, Anderton and his supporters left the Alliance to found the Progressive Party in 2002, leaving McCarten’s faction in control of the Alliance.

        The Alliance, led politically by Laila Harré from 2002 to 2003, suffered heavily in the 2002 elections, losing all representation in Parliament. The following year, McCarten himself assumed the political leadership from Harré. He was compelled to resign this position in November 2004, however, after becoming increasingly involved with campaign work for the new Maori Party. McCarten believed that the Alliance and the Maori Party were compatible, and that they should not regard each other as rivals, but this view was not shared by the members of either group. McCarten chose to leave the Alliance to focus on the Maori Party.

        In early 2005, however, McCarten ended his association with the Maori Party as well, amid reports that he wanted to found a new working-class based party. In early 2005 Matt McCarten gained a mandate from the Unite Union to take its leadership as secretary. Since then the Unite Union has won significant victories organising workers in New Zealand’s secondary labour market (“the working poor”). Its most significant victory came out of the “” campaign, in which it negotiated a collective agreement covering the 7,000 employees of Restaurant Brands Ltd (Starbucks, KFC and Pizza Hutt). It continues to expand its coverage of low-paid workers in the fast-food, call-centre, security, hotel and hospitality industries, particularly in Auckland.

        On 27 October 2010 McCarten announced that he would stand as an independent candidate for Parliament in the Mana by-election caused by Winnie Laban resigning as an MP.[3]

        In April 2011, McCarten was appointed “interim” chair of Hone Harawira’s new ‘Mana Party’. However, it appears that McCarten’s role is more akin to an advisor than a “Chair” in the ordinary sense of the word.[4] McCarten has previously distanced himself from attempts to forge a new Left Wing party in New Zealand.

        In July 2011, it was reported that the Inland Revenue Department (“IRD”) was chasing Unite Support Services Limited for $150,175 in unpaid taxes.[5] Unite Support Services Limited was placed into liquidation on 17 June 2011 following a winding-up application brought by IRD. Based on a report filed by the Official Assignee, there appear to be no realisable assets and creditor claims totalling around $153,000, including around $97,000 owing to IRD.

        It was announced in February 2014 that McCarten would become the “chief of staff” for the David Cunliffe led Labour party.[6] He continues as chief of staff for new Labour leader, Andrew Little.”

  5. tealeaves

     /  10th November 2015

    I could see Jacinda Ardern being a chief of staff oneday. It’s just how she looks to me. I think she’s probably a more private individual than the image creators would lead us to believe. I think she’s probably quite good at putting a grin on ambiguity and keeping confidences.

    • traveller

       /  10th November 2015

      well whatever she does, you can be sure it’ll be a government paid job and only after she has her 9 year parliamentary pension for life. Excuse my cynicism, but half these types couldn’t cope in the real world the rest if us live in.

  6. Pete ” Labour are also going to need Greens and probably NZ First” Probably NZ First? Probably?

    The numbers are clear: for Labour to NOT need NZ First then Labour needs to secure 41% of the party vote as the Greens have been consistently in the 10-11% range. If Labour stay at 30-31% then NZ First is mandatory to a coalition of NZL, NZF and the NZ Greens.

    On Little: He is smart enough, the law degree speaks to that. He has passion – his spittle flecked speeches attest to that. What he lacks is a sense of calm, assured leadership and he also comes across poorly on TV.

    The TV thing seems trite BUT its where most non politicos get their sense of what is on offer in terms of political leadership from. And Andy comes across like an angry little fish out of water with a charisma by pass and dux’s sense of intellectual superiority

    Labour need to stay quiet, disciplined and hope that National wear our their welcome with the electorate, which is quite possible.

    Bottom line: If Winnie’s vote holds up in the 8-190% category then Winnie gets to choose who forms a government and what baubles of office are acceptable to him for his support.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  10th November 2015

    The simple unanswered question is “What does Labour stand for?”

    The answer as far as can be currently inferred is simply to oppose and criticise everything the Government does. The old answer was to tax heavily and use the money to bribe its supporters, feather-bed the unions and have bureaucrats regulate every facet of our lives.

    Then they ran out of money for the bribes.

  8. Goldie

     /  10th November 2015

    Pete: “I thought Little’s speech showed some hope and promise. ”

    No new policy (apart from a ridiculously impractical promise on Government contracts).
    So apart from leftwing boilerplate, what was there to show hope and promise?


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