Is Labour sliding towards oblivion?

This question is being asked tonight when Simon Wilson chairs a Spinoff debate at Ika Seafood Restaurant about the future of the Labour Party.

Wilson writes Look, there goes the Labour Party – sliding towards oblivion.

What is the point of Labour? Is it a twentieth century phenomenon sliding into oblivion in the twenty-first?

If you’re an urban progressive, the Greens look like a more natural home. If you’re worried about modernity in any or all its forms, New Zealand First is ready and waiting. If you’re a Māori activist, you can choose from the Māori Party and the Mana Party.

If you’re working class? Any of the above, isn’t it?

In reality, Labour gets votes from all those groups. That’s a good thing: major parties need broad appeal. But Labour doesn’t always treat it as a good thing. They let the inevitable contradictions of being a broad church undermine them – this is expressed through absurdly frequent leadership battles – rather than becoming a source of strength.

Actually, there is a point to Labour and it’s a really important one. They’re there to win elections. Labour is the main party of opposition and therefore is likely to be the majority party in any centre-left government. So they have to look credible. They have to be credible.

If they’re not, the whole centre-left suffers. A vote for the Greens is a vote for a Labour-led government. Votes for NZ First and the Maori Party are also votes for the possibility of such a government.

In New Zealand, it’s generally accepted that Labour’s main job right now, working with the Greens, is to win the next election.

But it’s not obvious this view is shared throughout the Labour Party, where many people clearly prefer to have a leader they agree with, or feel is “one of us”, rather than a leader with great electoral appeal.

And that, in a nutshell, is the tragedy of the Labour Party. They don’t understand the importance of personality. They don’t have a leader capable of charm and because they changed the voting rules to get rid of the last one they did have, David Shearer, they don’t have the ready means to get another one. It’s not that they can’t win, but they have made it a lot harder for themselves.

It’s fashionable to say charisma shouldn’t matter, that personality politics is a scourge. That’s such nonsense. There’s a good reason voters want to feel we can like and trust our leaders: our trust commits us to the political process, commits politicians to us and helps give legitimacy to lawmaking.

So, what are the prospects for Labour heading into election year? Andrew Little will remain leader so they have to double down on becoming the voice of the future. That’s about policy and articulating a vision. Becoming the champion of the compact city in all its forms – from decent affordable housing to creating a cycling city – is a heaven-sent opportunity.

Will they grasp it? What’s their future if they don’t? On the positive side, there’s only one John Key. When he retires, National will lose its charm advantage. On the negative side, it’s only a matter of time before the Greens find an immensely charismatic leader of their own. When that happens, if Labour hasn’t done the same, they really could be annihilated.

There’s no sign of a charisma threat from Greens at the moment, nor does charisma seem to be lurking in their ranks.  So the left in general seem to have a problem, but Labour has been suffering the most.

Tonight’s debate should be interesting.

Tonight at Ika: Labour WTF? – why, what and how is Labour as it turns 100? Simon Wilson chairs a discussion with Labour president Nigel Haworth, former Greens chief of staff Andrew Campbell, commentator and Labour candidate Dr Deborah Russell and third placed Auckland Mayoral candidate Chloe Swarbrick. The Spinoff will livestream the event via ye olde Facebook page from 7.30pm

That’s a distinctly left wing panel, but it’s their problem so it’s up to them to show they recognise the challenges they face, if they do.

Chloe Swarbrick seems to be the in person in politics these days, she has been picked up by media and pushed. But it will be a while until she can lead whatever party she may eventually join, if she does.

Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  19th October 2016

    If the Greens couldnt get anywhere with Russel Norman and Labour being so woeful then I think they have peaked. A compact city with cycle lanes shows just how terribly out of touch Simon Wilson is, your working person wants a section to kick a ball around with his kids they want decent sports fields and swimming pools, they will suffer a slightly longer commute to achieve this and if Labour would stop pandering to crooks, bludgers and the PC right on tossers who hang out on twitter then they might have a shot at saving themselves from a 20% result.

    • @ David – ” … they want decent sports fields and swimming pools …”

      Is that why people complain all the time about the taxation and rates necessary to pay for these things, along with the motorways for your “slightly longer commute” …?

      • David

         /  19th October 2016

        Nope, no one complains about tax because basically the rich pay 80% of all paye. No one complains about an efficient local government like Hamilton just the incompetent super city.

  2. once again proving that NZ politics (along with others) is dominated by personalities & fancy slogans.. NOT serious policy ideas !

    As long as there are workers being exploited by tyrannical bosses, we need a left-wing party to ‘stand up for our rights !’ 🙂


    • Kitty Catkin

       /  19th October 2016

      People can only be exploited if they are exploitable.

      If anyone thinks that the boss is a tyrant, they are under no obligation to stay there.

      Why do you think that other people can’t stand up for themelves but need a left-wing party to do it for them ? How patronising.

      • Zedd

         /  19th October 2016

        just facing the FACTS, Kitty 😀

      • OMG, by that ghastly logic Miss Kitty employers and big business shouldn’t need Right-Wing parties like National & ACT plus a whole bunch of “think tanks” to stand up for them, should they?

        How terribly patronising of you towards our best and finest employers, Chairs of Boards and CEOs.

        FFS, people get shot because they are in the direct line of fire … Not because they somehow make themselves “shootable” …

    • Corky

       /  19th October 2016

      Don’t forget Zeddy, National racked up debt to keep New Zealanders in the lifestyle they were accustom to. That meant continued super and cheap state housing. No Greek experience here, son. And you show your gratitude thus? Personally, you should be shouted a one way ticket to any European country of your choice. They practice the type of socialism you want. But….. they wont be around for much longer. Pity.

      “VIVA LA REVOLUCION !! We’ll Ok. But remember during times of revolution government structures break down. That means no government money. And that dicky knee? Make pain your friend. Medical services will be trying to help dying people. But not you.

      • Zedd

         /  19th October 2016

        ho hum Dorky.. telling me to ‘piss off’ again !

        btw; if you use my name correctly (ZEDD).. i will ‘return the favour.. Dad’ 😀

  3. Corky

     /  19th October 2016

    This Simon Wilson is the raw stock from which the best spin doctors are made. Somebody needs to grab him fast.

  4. A liberal progressive alliance is what’s required to bring some humanity back into politics. I believe the name “Labour” will most likely disappear in such an arrangement … It’s not about class struggle or boss vs worker any more … although residues of the old remain.

    It comes back to what sort of society do you want us all to live in and how much are you willing to pay for it? Do you want, for instance, your children to be able to own their own home? Do you want home ownership itself or rather property speculation to be important? It being one of the few remaining roads to ‘wealth’, beyond reasonable savings and inflation.

    Do you want [more-or-less] full employment? Do you want employment spread throughout the country or confined in just a few places? And on it goes through infrastructure, health, education, social services and ‘welfare’ … When almost everyone is on some form of welfare benefit or other, does it perhaps make sense to pay everyone a citizen’s dividend instead?

    Then, of course, the obvious question, how much central and local government management is required to bring about and/or maintain your desired society? It’s perfectly evident the so-called “free market” does not provide equitable solutions but instead grows inequality. Do you want some degree of equality, or do you want a free market free-for-all?

    Politics as we know it and especially ‘democracy’ are sliding towards oblivion IMHO, simply because we will not deal with the big picture … We’d rather be stuck in petty games, personality cults, back-stabbing contests and rarked-up conflicts …

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  19th October 2016

      The central question for politics is how do we get sensible stuff into most people’s heads rather than nonsense. Because that will determine the political, economic and social consequences. I don’t really have an answer, just an uneasy feeling that we may be sliding backwards rather than forwards as bureaucracy continues to crush initiative.

      At our local transfer station today I find that the health and safety department has decreed that half the parking spaces are too dangerous so we now have to park on the other side of the area and carry everything across taking three times as long. This is why everything costs more now, there are fewer jobs and everything is imported.


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