Edwards on why Labour did so poorly

January 17th, 2012 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Edwards blogs on the Josie Pagani (and interestingly notes she used to be his producer) op ed on , and comes up with his own list of why did so poorly. I agree with some of what Brian has said, but not all so will go through them in turn.

The extreme improbability of any political party in New Zealand being voted out after just one term in office

That is a factor in why National got re-elected but less so about why Labour dropped 7%. I would also note that under MMP getting a second term is not so easy – at the end of the day we avoided a hung Parliament by just one seat.

The nation’s love affair with John Key, without doubt the greatest exponent of the photo opportunity and ‘skinetics’ in the history of New Zealand politics;

Yes John Key is popular, and this was definitely a factor. But the implication that it is all about photo opportunities falls into the trap so many on the left make of under-estimating Key, and thinking he is just “smile and wave”. I’m not saying Dr Edwards does as he has written in more detail on Key previously, but just in this post the reasons Key are so popular are not explored much – especially the fact he ran a very moderate and centrist first term programme (second term is less centrist), that he was hugely reassuring on the economy (ask anyone who has been to a business breakfast where he talks about the issues), that he has opened up the books on MPs and Ministers spending, that he will back down on some (but not all) issues etc etc.

The relative lack of voter enthusiasm for Phil Goff

This was one of the larger factors. And it generally wasn’t anything Goff could change. Putting up someone who entered Parliament 30 years ago as the face for the future was always going to be hugely difficult. Add to that his mishandling of the Richard Worth allegations, the Darren Hughes allegations and even the SIS briefing, and his ratings stayed massively low until the campaign period itself.

Earthquakes, mining and shipping disasters which, in media terms, disadvantage those not in power and unable to influence events;

Yes, but only with a caveat – so long as the Government in power responds competently to them. Hurricane Katrina didn’t exactly help the Bush Administration. And the hysteria around the Rena in the early days wasn’t great either.

The Rugby World Cup, a convenient distraction for National shortly before the election;

The more major impact is that it shortened the campaign period during which people started to tune into Labour. But having said that, Labour then dropped away during the same campaign period.

The general euphoria that winning the Cup produced;

Must thank Helen and Trevor for bidding to host it in an election year.

Widespread voter disengagement from politics, particularly on the Left.

But why? The Greens did well.

The self-fulfilling nature of three  years of polls branding Key and National  sure-fire winners and Goff and Labour sure-fire losers.

That definitely does have an impact.

Labour’s courage in advancing policies that made long-term economic sense, but were highly unattractive to voters in the short term: a capital gains tax and raising the age of eligibility for the pension.  

I’m not sure the CGT or superannuation policy (both which I supported to some degree) turned off many voters. Maybe the superannuation one delivered a few to Winston.

I think the pledging an extra $70 a week to beneficiaries with children and only $10 a week to working parents with children went down like cold sick.

I also think Goff fumbling the numbers, combined with policies requiring more borrowing in the next seven years (even by Labour’s numbers) were a significant factor.

Nor was Goff helped by the idiotic decision of Labour’s campaign team not to have a Party launch and not to feature the Party Leader on any of their election billboards. The only possible interpretation that could be placed on this hare-brained scheme was that Labour was embarrassed by Goff and wanted him kept in the background. And that is precisely the interpretation that the media, political commentators and, I suspect, voters placed on it.

Yep, a very stupid decision. And the question that hasn’t been answered is who made that decision? Is he now the Deputy Leader?

Finally, Phil was probably not helped by Helen’s dramatic departure from the scene or by her ordination of him as Labour’s new leader. Having served a parliamentary apprenticeship only three years short of hers, he might just have appreciated another three or six months to get his bearings and turn to her for advice.

I agree this was unhelpful. Not just for the advice, but the fact he gained no profile when he took over, as all the focus was on Key. Labour did it much smarter this time around.

There’s other factors also. The front-bench was all Clark era Ministers. The ongoing series of social media own goals. The smear brochures which people don’t like, the relative strength of the Greens, the u-turns on policy, the three years of attacking every single spending cut and then claiming they will adopt National’s fiscal parameters except in one or two areas. I could go on.

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17 Responses to “Edwards on why Labour did so poorly”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    … at the end of the day we avoided a hung Parliament by just one seat.

    You need to do your numbers again, DPF. National + Banks + Dunne + Maori Party minus one still equals 63 seats and a clear majority.

    You wouldn’t have had the numbers to sell assets, but that wouldn’t have been because Parliament was hung, it would have been because there weren’t the votes in Parliament to pass a law that a minority government with support on confidence and supply wanted to do – something that affected Helen Clark’s government on a number of occasions without threatening the confidence the House was expressing in her.

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  2. David Farrar (1,890 comments) says:

    Graeme: The Maori Party did not commit to National before the election and there is no guarantee they would have done a deal with National if National needed them to govern.

    Nat/ACT/UNI = 60
    Lab/Green/Mana/NZF = 58

    The Parliament is hung until the Maori Party decide.

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  3. tvb (4,366 comments) says:

    This is a very poor analysis that does not address where labour is heading on the 21st cent. It implies a series of unlucky one off factors including goff’s leadership. I am surprised that edwards did not offer something with more depth.

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  4. Monty (976 comments) says:

    i think Labour very much need to get rid of their “Nasty Party” persona. The likes of Trevor Mallard, Darien Fenton to name but two. They are a bunch or arrogant arseholes who fail to apologise or even acknowledge their sins of the past.

    I also think the other factor was the Winston issue. while a few fools supported him enough for him to get back in, the vast majority of the population know he is a corrupt, lying thief. The possibility of him determining who the prime minister will be (AND THE COST) was enough to ensure the rest of the voters placed John Key back at the helm.

    Now Labour are stuffed. They have neither the resources, nor the MPs to really mount a credible challenge in 2014. Shearer surfing is not going to win them the 2014 election (but admittedly it is a better look than an aged past it Pollie with a mid-life crisis riding 20 metres on a borrowed harley Davidson.)

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  5. s.russell (1,621 comments) says:

    Edwards is wrong about one factor: the polls. I think these actually damaged National by a) convincing many National supporters that there was no need to take the trouble to get to a polling booth because National was going to romp home regardless, and b) convincing many other voters that they could afford to indulge in voting Green or NZ First because there was no danger they would actually gain power. And DPF is right – the result was very nearly a hung Parliament.

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  6. s.russell (1,621 comments) says:

    I note that Edwards does not blame any of Labour’s actual policies.

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  7. reid (16,290 comments) says:

    From Edwards:

    Another serious misjudgement was Labour’s conviction that their campaign ace-in-the-hole was their opposition to the sale of state assets. That conviction was largely fuelled by the feedback they were getting from focus group research. My own view of this style of opinion gathering is that it is about as reliable as consulting the entrails of chickens. The sample size is too small and the scope for subjective interpretation too large. But Labour leaders seem dazzled by what they see as highly reliable scientific evidence, and questioning the reliability of focus group information is seen as akin to heresy.

    If you ask a dozen New Zealanders in a room whether they are opposed to the sale of our high-performing SOEs, a clear majority will naturally say that they are. But their opposition will be intellectual rather than visceral, almost a case of what they think they ought to believe as good Kiwis, rather than something they feel in their guts or would change their vote for. So the focus group and other research that showed that most New Zealanders didn’t want state assets sold was probably statistically correct. What it didn’t record was that this was the head speaking, not the heart.

    A case of believing because it tells you what you want to believe. I wonder if Blue State Digital have given Liarbore a discount due to their incompetence in analysing the results of these focus sessions?

    I also wonder why anyone with years of experience as an MP and lots of campaigns under their belts could possibly make such an error, unless they were fundamentally incompetent, which evidently, most of them are.

    I note that Edwards does not blame any of Labour’s actual policies.

    Excellent point, s.russell.

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  8. backster (2,152 comments) says:

    I hope the Labour Stalwarts continue to accept the arguments of Edwards rather than Paganni. Edwards is old style socialist drenched in yesterdays failed dogma. Paganni (who I don’t like) was prepared to face the facts and amenable to reform.

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  9. East Wellington Superhero (1,151 comments) says:

    @ backster

    I agree. While it’s important to have a competent Opposition to keep the Government honest, I must say that I’d be quite happy to spend the next 6-9 years listening to Labour blame everyone but themselves if it kept National in power.

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  10. RRM (9,841 comments) says:

    Yep.

    A platform of policies ranging from wet to stupid, and an inept dysfunctional team attempting to sell it. Your shipment of fail has been delivered.

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  11. david (2,557 comments) says:

    Welcome to the dark side RRM, your training is complete and you can now take your rightful place as a footsoldier in the VRWC. May the force be with you.

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  12. hmmokrightitis (1,586 comments) says:

    Thank you RRM: “Your shipment of fail has been delivered.” – I lol’d :)

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  13. kiwi in america (2,428 comments) says:

    Interesting. I agree with Edwards re Goff and the asset sales. Who knows whether putting Goff front and centre would’ve made any difference in the campaign – I suspect not and in fact was likely demed a net negative due to his very low personal polling.

    But Edwards gave the analysis in the end that a lefty would give. If Labour thinks that all they have to do is fix the things on his list and they’ll win in 2014, they’ll be in for a shock. Josie Pagani actually is beginning to hit the nail on the head. The ideological disconnect from middle NZ that saw them campaign on extending WFF to beneficiaries, demagague the changes to benefit entitlement, oppose National Standards and call Key a rich prick is going to take much much deeper reform than whether their focus group work on the asset sales asked the right question. Labour went with opposing the asset sales because it was the only government policy they could find that got more than a plurality opposing in a poll and, as Edwards rightly points out, that theoretical opposition did not rise to a vote changing level.

    When I caught up with my former Labour activist friends on my Christmas visit to NZ, we all agreed that this result was 20 years in the making and some of us were the early casualties in the efforts to turn Labour into the sisterhood’s political play thing. What election wining swing demographic groups are left strongly supporting Labour? None. There was a day when worling class pro life Catholic 50+ white heterosexual males (like Damien O’Connor) almost all voted Labour. Now hardly any do and for Damien to be passed up on a winable list ranking for the likes of union hacks like Darien Fenton speaks volumes for modern Labour.

    Labour’s problem is neatly summed up by the POA conflict with the Maritime Union. Their heart says back them but their head (and their polling) tells them that to back the MU is political suicide so toxic is their industrial action. Labour’s answer (at least the front bench) is to stay silent hoping no one will notice. That works in the dead days of early/mid January but won’t fly when Parliament sits again in February. How does a party founded and funded by the trade union movement that now only represents 15% of NZers become relevant to middle NZ? The answer is – it can’t. It either jettisons its unpopular left wing to Mana or a New Labour type party and attempts to wrest back the middle ground from National or it stumbles and bumbles its way through another 3 years hewing out that narrow piece of electoral real estate that exists between a centrist National Party and a more respectable looking Green Party.

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  14. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    The Parliament is hung until the Maori Party decide.

    1. The Maori Party decided before there was a Parliament.
    2. 60 to 58 is not hung.

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  15. BeaB (2,119 comments) says:

    Well said Kiwi in America. Apart from Chris Carter, the gaggle of gays comment and the appalling handling of the appalling Darren Hughes, Labour is so busy with their cosy jobs that they have nothing to offer the country.

    That showed in their cynical policies, clearly designed for vote grabbing and now being hastily dumped. What a pack of liars! They treated us with contempt, summed up in them all grinning in supposed loyalty to Phil Goff in that farce in Dunedin.

    Even Dave the Silent Surfer can only talk about the Party, not about each of us and the country.

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  16. Mark (1,481 comments) says:

    Graeme Edgeler (2,166) Says:
    January 17th, 2012 at 2:19 pm
    The Parliament is hung until the Maori Party decide.

    1. The Maori Party decided before there was a Parliament.
    2. 60 to 58 is not hung

    Have to agree with DPF here. The Maori Party were under pressure because of their relationship with National. I certainly did not get a sense that they were a certainty for Key to rely on post election. It is hard to even see them as a factor in the next election of Peta Sharples and Tariana Turia retire through the term.

    Despite Labours very poor showing National is not comfortable by any stretch and it will take a very strong and well thought out strategy for them to remain in power post the next election.

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  17. Graeme Edgeler (3,283 comments) says:

    The Maori Party were under pressure because of their relationship with National. I certainly did not get a sense that they were a certainty for Key to rely on post election…

    Despite Labours very poor showing National is not comfortable by any stretch and it will take a very strong and well thought out strategy for them to remain in power post the next election.

    I agree with everything you say, but that doesn’t make National one seat away from a hung Parliament this term.

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