Labour at 100, reborn or a cot case?

The Labour Party will be celebrating it’s 100th birthday this week. New Zealand, politics and the party have all changed hugely over the last century.

Colin James looks at this in his weekly column: Labour at 100: dotage or revitalisation?

There is global turmoil and the forces on Labour’s side of politics are divided. Answer: get together, to build a voice against a conservative coalition.

The year: 1916. Come to 2016: there is global turmoil and Labour and the Greens have got together to build a voice against a conservative coalition.

Is this book-end history or a phase? That is the question for those celebrating Labour’s centenary this week.

We won’t know whether the Labour-Green get together will have been successful until later next year.

What it seems to acknowledge though is that Labour on it’s own is a spent force.

On Friday a day-long seminar will include a keynote assessment of the 100 years by former historian, acute intellectual and formidable 1999-08 minister Michael Cullen.

Cullen was chief whip, then a minister in the 1984-90 government which, though it boosted social assistance, banned nuclear ships and Springbok tours and set us en route to a bicultural society — all true to Labour — ripped the party apart with un-Labour radical market-led economic reforms.

This compounded Sir Robert Muldoon’s 1970s pitch to “ordinary blokes” which siphoned off wage worker votes.

Since then, like social democratic parties in other liberal democracies, Labour has not worked out how to rebuild a broad social base.

Helen Clark’s and Cullen’s capable cabinet masked this erosion, helped by a credit-fuelled boom and skilful coalition management to creditable low-40s votes in 2002 and 2005.

Labour certainly seems to have lost it’s way, lost it’s mojo, lost capable leadership, and has lost the last three elections.

Hence Labour’s disastrous 25% vote in 2014. But, unlike National after its disaster in 2002, Labour chose not to do a root-and-branch shakeup.

Apart from frequently changing leaders, changing the way that leaders are selected effectively giving unions the deciding vote, changing their minds on past policies without replacing them with much, Labour has done little to shake themselves up.

Labour will take a step on Saturday afternoon with a special conference to adjust the list selection process to preferential membership-wide regional selections and a smaller-than-2014 committee to finalise the national list.

There is no suggestion — at least not officially — of a “man ban” of the sort dumped on the hapless David Shearer in 2013 to lift the proportion of women MPs.

But the 2017 election challenges go far beyond the list.

One is to get Andrew Little connecting. Little’s strength is that he is a straight-shooter. But communications team mistakes and his own political inexperience and need to score points have skewed his aim at times and sometimes the bullets have ricocheted. Examples: an unthought-through attack that caught up Jacinda Ardern’s (innocent) father and shining a media light on a “homeless” family that was actually renovating its house.

Little cannot out-Key Key. But he needs to out-Little Little.

The current Little has failed to fire up any enthusiasm in the party let alone in the wider voting public.

Unlike past leaders who distanced themselves from negative attack politics (they used others to do their dirty work) Little has taken it upon himself to be the party’s main hit man. It is far from attractive, and has been botched too often. There are currently two defamation proceedings against him.

Labour’s second 2017 challenge is to present a government-in-waiting. In 2011 and 2014 those who wanted a change of government had no visible alternative to vote for. Labour was too weak.

The deal with the Greens potentially provides that alternative. Little was bowled over by his reception at the Greens’ conference. Little and Green co-leader James Shaw have been doing some joint business briefings. (Shaw goes over better, some say.)   

By belatedly conceding Labour is not a 45% party and can’t do command performances as National can but must have a partner, Labour has changed the electoral game.

Whether Labour+Greens can win that changed game will depend in part on how convincing the coalition looks. There is a growing understanding on both sides that they will need three or more major joint — “coalition” — policies.

There is currently no sign of substantive joint policies.

And there remains a major problem anyway, Winston Peters, who with NZ First looks to be essential to make up the numbers and Peters will not do pre-election joint policies.

Plus the Peters-Green clash is unresolved. There is no sign of Peters working alongside Turei and Shaw.

But what about the longer-term? Is Labour now forever shackled to the Greens? Might the Greens even morph into the senior partner?

There are no signs of Greens growing enough to become the senior partner, so it would need Labour to decline substantially more for that to happen.

But a 2 to 1 or less power balance between Labour and Greens is totally new territory for Labour. There is little sign yet that that are willing to share power as much as the numbers suggest they need to.

 As in 1916, Labour in 2016 is in turbulent times with big global and societal changes underway that will test it to destruction — or revitalise it.

Unlike Australia, the UK and the US, New Zealand looks very stable politically. Unfortunately for Labour it is National that looks boringly steady.

In Australia, the UK and the US much of the turbulence is within the major parties. Turbulence has also been apparent within Labour here, although that seems to have settled down.

Perhaps next year’s election, and Labour’s fortunes, will be reliant on whether New Zealand voters choose to add to the political turmoil evident elsewhere, or end up preferring the status quo stability that is currently prevalent.

It will be another year or so before we know whether Labour can become born again progressives or are cot cases destined for a rest home.

Leave a comment

28 Comments

  1. David

     /  5th July 2016

    if you look at the turmoil overseas its only in a tiny number of countries and there are specific local reasons for that turmoil which dont really exist here.
    The US has had Bush then Obama who are hugely unpopular and disapointing, the UK has been angsty about the EU for a long long time and culturally is not suited to it, the campaign was shocking. And Australia, well you elect a PM only for them to be rolled after not being able to achieve anything and the Aussies are acutely aware that they have macro economic issues to address.
    MMP I think helps

    Reply
  2. Gezza

     /  5th July 2016

    The thing that intrigues me about Andrew is that we only ever seem to see him in 30 second sound bytes saying whatever it is National say they are going to do isn’t going to work. I never hear him say: “this, ….. what we will do, is better, … because …. “.

    Reply
    • Iceberg

       /  5th July 2016

      It’s far worse than that.

      They have dropped most of their major policies.

      Out of spite, they have actively campaigned against the ones that are left.

      They’ve totally forgotten who they are. What sort of Labour Party deliberately sets out to attack a minority (chinese) and sets them against the rest of the population (they’re buying our stuff).

      They are rotten to the core.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  5th July 2016

        It was very stupid not to check up on the large number of names that sound Chinese and aren’t, like Ling, Ching and Lee (I know Pakeha Lees)

        Labour needs a complete-well, I can’t even think of the word, as revamp isn’t it. They have forgotten who they are, they haven’t either stuck to their roots completely or done well in the 21st century.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  5th July 2016

          the fact of the matter is that chinese investors are a big factor in Auckland house price escalation.Why do you think there are so many adverts in Chinese here and in China.The first male anglo salesman comes in about 50 odd in Barfoot & T.’s..top performers table.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  5th July 2016

            Couldn’t they have handled this in a different way? Wasn’t it obvious they were going to make themselves a target for accusations of racism? Hadn’t they thought through that they didn’t know whether any of those Chinese names were of people who were citizens or residents?

            Twyford a couple of days ago in a supplementary was asking Paula about the whole “leak” from her office shambles. Nobody’s listening. There was more to lose than gain for them from that if it had been deliberate. His supplementaries are poor, just jumps about, doesn’t intelligently debate the figures.

            Reply
      • Blazer

         /  5th July 2016

        facts are facts.Its the Nats who tried to whip up the story as rascist.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  5th July 2016

          They didn’t see it coming. They need to see shit like that coming & think about what they’re going to say, or get better information than a list of Chinese-sounding names.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  5th July 2016

            It is racist. Why shouldn’t someone whose ancestors came here in the 19th century have as much right to buy a house as someone like me whose parents came in the second half of the 20th century ? They really should have more right. They have been Kiwis for generations.

            I was surprised at some of the Chinese names on that list-the only Singhs and Patels I know are Indian.

            Reply
      • Mefrostate

         /  7th July 2016

        I agree with you to some extent, Labour have been a vacuum of positive ideas over the last few years, and have mostly played negative politics (although that’s sort-of the job of the opposition). But you should give them credit for the future of work commission, and they do have a full housing policy coming out week, which will be interesting!

        Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  5th July 2016

    Labour’s party is reduced to people who once had power and yearn to get it back but have no other vision, just old slogans. Its supporters are dying off and young people seem either apolitical or worship at the naive altars of environmentalism or Maori activism.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  5th July 2016

      Labour’s going to build 100,000 affordable houses. There are really nice houses, new built, three bedroom, good enough for anyone to live in, for $125,000. I have no idea what the land would cost, but the houses would be $125,000,000,000-I have simply added 6 0s to the cost of one house, and only looked up one company whose houses I have seen, so know what they are like. My calculation may be wrong, of course. But it’s an awful lot of money. My calculator can’t do such large equations. It’s dreaming. Where’s the money coming from ? Or the money for the land ?

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  5th July 2016

        Google makes it 12.500.000,000. But it’s still huge. And no mention of where the money’s coming from. Are the people going to buy them or rent them ?

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  5th July 2016

          Yep, add five zeros, not six. More than double that cost to account for the land. Then at the present rate of construction the 100,000 houses would take more than ten years. Furthermore the present rate of construction continues to fall behind the need from population growth, so Labour would likely have to double the building resources in Auckland to achieve even this rate. It’s so much pie in the sky as usual from Labour.

          Reply
      • Blazer

         /  5th July 2016

        your posts are an excercise in stupidity Kitty…Labours plan is over years 10,000 houses a year.Please explain why a non NZ resident should be able to come to NZ buy 27 houses in Auckland,,leave them empty and return to China.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  5th July 2016

          So he can make 27 New Zealanders rich enough to build new houses for themselves?

          Reply
          • Brown

             /  6th July 2016

            The main difference between China and us is that they play a long game whereas we can’t see past the next offer of cheap or free. Another point of difference is that they are brutal and play dirty (while smiling) which we tend not to like much but are happy to overlook as long as we are making a $ today.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  6th July 2016

              Commenters on Al Jazeera and some of the more perceptive news outlets noticed that Xi was accumulating more personal power in their current setup than Deng. But those same intelligent analysts are reporting the there is currently a massive purge going on in PRC of corrupt party officials, at the top, the middle and all the way down to village level.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  6th July 2016

              Who leaves houses empty and not earning their keep ? I would like to know how much truth there is in this story.

              10, 000 houses over 10 years is still 100,000 houses. It won’t make them any cheaper. If I buy 10 bars of chocolate over 10 weeks instead of 10 in one week, it’s still 10 bars and will cost the same. I didn’t add the cost of land, as I had no idea what this would be, but as Alan said, one can at least double the house cost-the total would be massive.

              Brown, you may be only after those things, but don’t assume that everyone is. Generalising makes the generaliser look silly.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  6th July 2016

              And the “long game” is that they own property in NZ subject to all the laws, constraints and taxes the NZ Government chooses to impose. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for world domination or oppression of New Zealanders.

    • Mefrostate

       /  7th July 2016

      Yes yes, everyone else is naive and misinformed, but I, Alan, am the paragon of rational thought. Come, drink at my fount of wisdom.

      Reply
  4. Blazer

     /  6th July 2016

    ‘ If I buy 10 bars of chocolate over 10 weeks instead of 10 in one week, it’s still 10 bars and will cost the same.’…not necessarily…there are many variable factors,and its a terrible analogy.

    Reply
  5. Blazer

     /  6th July 2016

    @Al…’And the “long game” is that they own property in NZ subject to all the laws, constraints and taxes the NZ Government chooses to impose’……lax laws,minimum constraints,no tax with real impact like stamp duty,land tax,transaction tax,…just a recipe for non land owning kiwis being tenants in their own country.You’ll be alright Al,you may get some b’n’b business…the old standard…WIIFM!

    Reply
    • Iceberg

       /  6th July 2016

      When did Labour become the party of “Fuck off foreigners, you can’t buy property here”?

      It’s a disgusting position for them to take. Learn your history.

      Reply
      • Blazer

         /  6th July 2016

        where do I make that statement?Back yourself!

        Reply
        • Iceberg

           /  6th July 2016

          Your disembling is surpassed only by your stupidity

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  6th July 2016

            woeful retort ….do not,not make assumptions or jump to conclusions,and try not to resort to name calling..it makes YOU look ..stupid.

            Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  6th July 2016

      @Blazer: a recipe for non land owning kiwis being tenants in their own country

      Doh! They are already. And most of them don’t want any more responsibility than that.

      Reply

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