Vernon Small writes:
The Labour Party in conference assembled meets in Rotorua tomorrow (9/11 for anyone who can think of a tasteful metaphor) facing a suite of unique challenges.
The first is how to send a message loud and clear to an electorate barely listening that the opposition has drawn a line under the Clark-Cullen years. The second – and equally difficult one – is how to turn the career politician known for 28 years as Phil Goff into a real human being.
Their problem is nothing can change the fact Goff has been a career politician, who entered Parliament when John Key was a 20 year old student dating Bronagh.
He joined Labour at 16, did the usual stint as a student, a unionist and a lecturer and other than that has been an MP for almost all of his adult life.
Expect a significant and symbolic announcement in Mr Goff’s keynote speech on Sunday that will distance his leadership from the former government’s agenda in areas that got up the electorate’s collective nose.
Excellent. That would be sensible.
If Labour was to follow the mirror route on the Left it would need first to attack the non-vote, the grumpies who no longer have Winston Peters representing them in the House and perhaps some Greens to shore up Labour’s numbers. That – rather than a move to emulate National too soon – would give the party the numbers to present a threat and offer itself as a credible alternative government. Only then would it move back towards the centre.
If that is the right way forward, then the question remains whether Mr Goff, who is on the conservative end of the party, is the ideal leader.
He is their only viable leader at the moment and, if he succeeds in reconnecting with more conservative blue-collar (and brown) voters who left Labour for National (or swelled the ranks of the non- voters in 2008) then he may yet find an alternative road to the same end.
But on the other side are a popular prime minister, an economy showing signs of life and a seemingly Teflon Government. The odds are stacked heavily against him.
Labour’s biggest problem is still how out of touch they are with ordinary New Zealanders.
At Backbenchers last night, I was seated next to a prominent gentleman from the Far North. Wallace Chapman was talking about the cuts to adult community education, and giving examples such as cake decorating and Moroccan cooking. The young Labour supporters in the room were screaming out “shame” to the news that that taxpayers no longer fund cake decorating courses. The Far North gentleman observed how people in Wellington live in such a different world to the rest of the country.
I could guarantee you the vast majority of New Zealanders are not upset or shamed that they no longer fund cake decorating courses and Moroccan cooking classes, but are probably aghast we used to fund them. The only ones upset are those who used to do the courses or provide them.