Comparing Corbyn with Little

Some Labour supporters in New Zealand have been encouraged and even excited by Jeremy Corbyn’s massive improvement in last week’s UK election.

UK Labour were polling 15-20% behind the conservatives a month out from the election, came a lot closer by election day (but still lost), and polls since put them ahead of the Conservatives.

NZ Labour will hope for a similar transformation, but it is being pointed out that:

  • The political situation on New Zealand is much different
  • UK Labour moved left while NZ Labour is trying to fight for the centre
  • Corbyn impressed with his authenticity and straight talking, while in contrast to his claims of being a straight talker Andrew Little has largely become a phrase reciter.

Bernie Sanders pushed Hillary Clinton for the US Democratic nomination last year with a similar straight forward left wing authenticity to Corbyn.

If Little wants to emulate them he needs to change his style substantially, but it looks like that would take a major change of approach by Little and his media managers.

From  NZ POLITICS DAILY: Corbyn’s success highlights NZ Labour’s inadequacies

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According to Tracy Watkins, Labour are failing to emulate Mr Corbyn’s bold and authentic approach: “The Labour team seems to think this [staying on message approach] is the same as the Corbyn strategy, or for that matter the Bernie Sanders strategy, of running a campaign around a small number of big, bold ideas. But as May showed, there’s a big difference between big ideas and trite sound bites.

Little had the advantage of having little political baggage as a relatively new MP and being able to run on the anti-politician ticket but seems to be squandering it.”

Watkins seems unconvinced that Andrew Little is in any way like Mr Corbyn: “When Little has got into trouble lately it’s for dodging questions by sticking to patsy answers and one-liners rather than speaking to the heart of an issue.

This is not because Little lacks authenticity or doesn’t know the answers; it’s a deliberate strategy from the Labour team. Little has even explained it to me. It’s about staying on message apparently” – see: Expecting the unexpected the new situation normal.

I see two major problems with “staying on message”.

First, that’s the sort of politics that turns off voters and especially those who choose not to vote. There is a major left wing campaign to get out the non-voters, especially young voters. A similar campaign seems to have been successful in the UK, but Green and Union campaigns last election failed in New Zealand.

Second, trying to stay ‘on message’ is a major reason why Little sounds uncertain and fumbling – when interviewed he often pauses, seemingly to think what messages he should divert to rather than giving a straight forward answer.

And if NZ Labour want to emulate UK Labour they will have to change their direction from populist and centre seeking to being a genuine left wing party.


Andrew Little’s strategists have been very upfront about their desire to keep Labour in the centre of the political spectrum. Labour’s chief strategist, Rob Salmond, has blogged about this in the past, suggesting Mr Corbyn’s approach is an unpopular “hard left” one, and that elections are still won in the centre – see: In defence of the centre.

Gordon Campbell in On the lessons from Corbyn’s campaign.

Mr Corbyn’s relative success with getting young and alienated public to vote, highlights the inability of Labour here to mobilise the missing million: “Corbyn and his Labour team ran an inspirational campaign that did in seven weeks what the New Zealand Labour Party has talked about doing since 2011, but never remotely looked like accomplishing.

Andrew Little’s Labour team has been trying to outbid New Zealand First (eg on immigration and law’n’order) for the votes of the reactionary right.

Unlike Corbyn, the parliamentary centre left leadership here seems afraid to stand up in public for the agendas they profess (in private) to hold dear. It won’t end well.”

Whether moving left can be done now in New Zealand, it is getting late in the campaign game for a major shift.

Little and Labour may be able to do a Corbyn-like rise from the poll ashes, but they will have to rethink and refocus their efforts substantially. This in itself has it’s risks, it will be hard to claim authenticity after a major change.

But Little has to be himself, bold and become confident if he is to break out of his media managed mangle.


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  1. David

     /  June 13, 2017

    I think that young persons were upset about Brexit and realised its because they didnt bother voting motivated them to vote this time which changed the dynamic. May was just awful but it surprises me that its a surprise because she has been awful as home secretary and was a woeful choice.
    Not mentioned much is that the Tories increased their vote share and numbers to a level not seen since Thatcher so thinking the UK has turned hard left is not borne out.

    • Missy

       /  June 15, 2017

      “I think that young persons were upset about Brexit and realised its because they didnt bother voting motivated them to vote this time which changed the dynamic.”

      Exactly right, and that is the big difference to NZ. NZ hasn’t had a life altering vote in which the young voters felt there futures had been taken from them, and as such there is not the motivation for young people in NZ to get out and vote.

      Also, politically in the UK one fundamental difference is throwing up a possibility of voter fraud (only anecdotal ‘twitter’ evidence at the moment), and that is that people here can be registered in more than one constituency – though they can only vote in one constituency, which has led to claims by some students that they have (or been told they can) vote twice.

      Many students are registered in the constituency where they attend University and where their ‘home’ is, this is illustrated with Canterbury where 8000 more people were registered to vote this year than for the referendum or in 2015. This increase is put down to the students, and it is deemed the reason the electoral result there has been skewed. Many locals are not happy, they have an MP that most locals did not want – or have heard of – and was reportedly parachuted in by the Labour party, and when the students go home they are stuck with this guy. The locals aren’t saying that the students can’t vote, but they don’t believe they should be able to register in a place that is not their permanent home, but is only a temporary student residence. They are angry with the system that allows people to register to vote in areas where they are only temporary residents.

  2. PDB

     /  June 13, 2017

    Comparisons between New Zealand and the UK politically are pointless. You only have to compare a bumbling & unproven May with an uncertain economy following Brexit to a solid, proven economic manager like Bill English overseeing a New Zealand whose economy is going full steam ahead to see the gulf in circumstances.

  3. Gezza

     /  June 14, 2017

    If Little wants to emulate [Corbyn, Sanders] he needs to change his style substantially, but it looks like that would take a major change of approach by Little and his media managers.

    But Little has to be himself, bold and become confident if he is to break out of his media managed mangle.

    He can’t. Pure & simple. Like with any of his pronouncements on Foreign Policy issues, he simply sounds naive, fake, weak, woolly & a dreamer. It’s so bloody irritating because we really could do with a change from National, they’re stale.


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