Duncan on Labour’s strategy

August 31st, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Grant Duncan wrote in the Herald:

Leadership does matter in politics. So does the underlying strategy. And it’s fairly clear what ’s chosen political direction is, regardless of which leadership contestant wins.

Labour has been torn between two strategic options. The all-important centre of New Zealand politics is the battleground for swing-votes. If a Labour-Green duo is to get the numbers to form a government, one option is for Labour to capture a greater share of those voters. …

Labour’s other option is to go for those who may not vote at all. That sounds funny perhaps, but in 2011 the non-voters were about one third of those eligible. That’s enough to win an election, if only you can mobilise them. These people tend to be young, lower-income, and/or Maori or Pasifika.

They are broadly the two strategic options.

Of all three candidates, David Cunliffe is best placed to appeal to voters in the centre. He has good experience as a Cabinet minister, and can tackle Key in the House. His background in business and economics is solid, and he enjoys a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.

But Cunliffe has made it clear that the centre is not his target audience. His speech announcing his bid for the leadership emphasised the young and the vulnerable, and schools, hospitals and homes. This is solid Labour social democratic territory, and calls for strong state organisation and taxation. And he hinted that he’d lift the minimum wage.

But while Cunliffe has made a pitch to the left, his waspish look and policy-wonkish tone may not inspire the low-income constituency that Labour seeks to mobilise.

Grant Robertson is undoubtedly a strong performer too. He is capable of taking on Key in the House and he comes across extremely well in the media. He’s electable, but relatively young and lacks ministerial experience. His appeal is more to the urban liberal-left – or those who probably vote Labour anyway.

Whichever leader it goes for, Labour is now pitching for the “unclaimed” disfranchised left. This leaves it open to Mr Key’s barb that the election “will be a centre-right government of six years of proven quality, versus a kind of far-left opposition”.

National must be happy Labour isn’t contesting the centre this time around.

Labour, Greens and Mana scrapping over the left vote is excellent.

Labour’s nightmares could return at the next election if, despite its best efforts, those low-income neighbourhoods just don’t turn out to vote for Labour. They may not hear or believe the message about hope and equality, and they may not see Labour’s leader as representing anything new or hopeful or relevant. Heavy rain on election day could be enough to tip the balance.

John Key has not yet reached that unhappy threshold where the factors that led middle New Zealanders to support him turn into reasons for no longer liking him.

So chances are we will see a National-NZ First government after the next election

It is hard to see Winston voting to make the Greens Ministers. Also hard to see Winston voting to keep John Key in the job. Who knows what he will do, if he makes it back. Also of course National may rule out Winston again – we’ll find out next year.

16 Responses to “Duncan on Labour’s strategy”

  1. berend (1,910 comments) says:

    DPF: They may not hear or believe the message about hope and equality,

    Because it’s none of these. If your message is: we’re taking from those who have, and give it to you, what kind of hope is that? It’s the give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day hope. No dignity.

    Cunliffe will win of course, but mainly on the politics of envy. That just terrible morals. Using force and coercion to take and distribute it to your votes.

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  2. David Garrett (10,975 comments) says:

    Isnt it interesting that any reference to NZ First is almost always shorthanded to “Winston”? He is NZ First and NZ First is him.

    What is your view on what will happen to the W Peters support party if he falls under a bus, or the smokes and booze finally get him DPF? ( I just can’t see him retiring). Is it correct he still has not chosen a deputy fuhrer..sorry, Deputy Leader?

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  3. Nostalgia-NZ (6,433 comments) says:

    Nothing new in that Labour need to awaken their lost voters, and shore up with votes taken from the Greens. Far from certain they won’t pitch for the middle though, a leadership race is among the faithful – an election is among the faithful and those that might swing. It would be naïve to think Labour are not aware of that, Key talking about the ‘far left’ so early before an election shows what National want to sell – precisely the greens and Labour off in goo gaa land, Labour have the considerable task of showing that they are not, and that they can be credible force in the centre.

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  4. Roflcopter (583 comments) says:

    Cunliffe has a “comfortable middle class lifestyle”?

    You gotta be kidding!

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  5. Harriet (7,527 comments) says:

    “…..So chances are we will see a National-NZ First government after the next election…”


    The Conservatives are getting a bit tired of ‘labour lite’ – John Key is not being paid to have another 3yr fucken holiday y’know!

    The liberals fucked off to ACT – but the conservatives were the loyal ones who stayed with National – and like Cameron in the UK, Key has taken them for granted.

    John Key will get rid of the smacking law.

    John Key will cut the budget in half for the Ministry of Women’s Batteries.

    And John Key will lengthen life sentances to uphold the Sanctity of Life.

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  6. bringbackdemocracy (466 comments) says:

    Winston hates Key. The party to watch is the Conservatives.

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  7. Elaycee (4,536 comments) says:

    It is hard to see Winston voting to make the Greens Ministers

    Depends 100% on what’s in it for Winston.

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  8. ChardonnayGuy (1,605 comments) says:

    Which assumes that New Zealand First will be back in the next Parliament. Aren’t the current opinion polls equivocal about whether they’d have enough support? And could religious social conservative populists be undermining NZF retention by voting Conservative?

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  9. kiwi in america (2,686 comments) says:

    I think this is an excellent analysis. Essentially it wont matter who wins the leadership if all they will do is fight the Greens and Mana for the left vote.

    NZ 1st always polls low between elections – Winston manages enough noise, distractions and xenophobia to get out his 5% (the exception being 2008 when he was utterly tainted by the Owen Glen donation affair and being associated with an unpopular 5th Labour government). Colin Craig does not have the political smarts or charisma to get Conservatives above 5%. Lastly Peters will prefer a strong and senior role in a Key led government to a minor supporting role in a Labour Greens Mana hydra headed monster no matter now much he hates John Key. Winston loves the baubles of office and wants to end on a higher note than 2005 – 2008 where he supported the EFA, stayed silent when Labour covered up for Philip Field and retrospectively legislated to make the pledge card rort legal. Unlike the faux scandal(s) over the GCSB, Labour graced NZ’s political scene with a serious of nasty fair dinkum scandals.

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  10. Than (841 comments) says:

    Aiming at previous non-voters is a flawed strategy.

    First problem, how many potential votes are there from people who didn’t vote in 2011? It’s all very well to talk about 800,000 non-voters, but most of those are never going to vote no manner what Labour (or any political party) does. Turnout in 2011 was very low (74%), but based on past elections somewhere about 80% seems to be the NZ average. That would mean something like 150,000 more votes cast compared with 2011.

    Second problem, the assumption that these are all Labour-leaning voters who can be easily wooed by a leftwards policy shift. In reality people may not vote for any number of reasons. A big one would have been the polls seeming to show an easy National victory, so many people may have felt it not worth bothering.

    Third problem, the policies that would supposedly energise this secret pool of untapped Labour voters would also cost Labour voters in the center. If Labour regains 100,000 former non-voters but loses 50,000 votes in the center to National it’s no better off.

    This idea appeals to the Labour base because it lets them believe they have a chance to win the election with a far-left policy platform. But that’s a hopelessly optimistic fantasy, and I suspect the Labour leadership contenders all realise this. My prediction is they will preach far-left policy to the choir now, then quietly drift back to the electoral safety of the center before 2014.

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  11. Bob (466 comments) says:

    If Cunliffe-Labour increases Labour votes it will be at the expense of the Greens largely. It might not make a big difference to the Left vote in total. I predict the polls will show a drop in support for John Key over the next couple of months then when the present stir settles down National support will return.

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  12. Steve Taylor (214 comments) says:

    I’m curious to observe that Cunnliffe has (as he pointed out on “The Nation” this morning) won the electorate seat of New Lynn four times in a row. The Electorate don’t seem to care that he lives in Herne Bay; don’t seem bothered by what the media term his “all things to all people” position; and seem ultimately comfortable when he “shape-shifts” (like he did outside the Avondale markets in the now infamous “youse fulla’s” video).

    What might New Lynn appreciate about Cunnliffe, that his Caucus may not?

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  13. bhudson (4,770 comments) says:


    Mitt Romney would win New Lynn if he was contesting under a Labour banner

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  14. Steve Taylor (214 comments) says:

    Hi Bhudson: So in New Lynn, its loyalty to the Labour Party, regardless of the candidate? I guess I am struggling to work out what Cunnliffe has actually achieved for the Electorate (I live in it). Cunnliffe seems utterly invisible out here.

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  15. David Garrett (10,975 comments) says:

    Steve: Isnt the answer obvious? His caucus see him, up close and personal, on a regular basis…the deluded of New Lynn see a “fulla” in a suit, on the back of a truck, sounding a bit like them, promising them he will get them stuff….

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  16. Steve Taylor (214 comments) says:

    Hi David, Yes, I guess so – it’s a bit of a disheartening conclusion though, isn’t it? That an Electorate seat can be won not on merit, but by default, anchored within association? I suppose there other examples where this occurs – did you have much to do with Cunnliffe when you were in Parliament – was he really as disliked by his own as the media say?

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