Quin on Labour

writes in the NZ Herald:

Some Party cheerleaders have convinced themselves they can capture the Treasury benches without winning an election. They’re wrong.

They also seem to think Labour can afford to play nice with the Greens, play wordless footsies with Internet Mana, and avoid direct combat with National over the centre ground. Wrong, and wrong again.

This theory of September’s election relies on the fantastical notion that a million-strong army of erstwhile non-voters (and, presumably, opinion poll non-responders) are set to storm the nation’s polling booths once Labour has lurched exactly far enough left.

Such self-serving delusions are reminiscent of the American right’s insistence prior to the 2012 elections that polls pointing to Obama’s re-election were “skewed” against Republicans and Mitt Romney was heading for a landslide win.

In almost every policy area, Labour are proposing policies to the left of what Helen Clark and Michael Cullen implemented.

In the First Past the Post era, the “middle” took the easily recognisable form of places like Gisborne, Horowhenua and Hamiltons East and West.

Labour had to compete in provincial and suburban marginal seats because forming a government wasn’t possible in urban strongholds alone.

Some in the party took MMP as a cue to abandon marginal seat campaigning in favour of the party vote, diminishing Labour’s geographic as well as demographic reach.

Inevitably, the party’s standing took a hit in former battlegrounds: Labour, which topped the party vote in Hamilton West in 2005, won just 29 per cent last time.

Ironically for a party preoccupied with meeting diversity quotas, Labour’s highly centralised approach has failed to produce a caucus notable for its dynamism or breadth of experience.

Would the recent proposal to ban trucks from fast lanes, for example, pass muster in a caucus with an assertive regional voice? It’s highly doubtful.

And only in the fast lanes of three lane roads which is stuff all.

Cunliffe, Shearer, Parker or otherwise, no David can match Key’s Goliath without competing across the spectrum: stemming the flow of millennial voters to the Greens; peeling swing voters off National in the regions and outer suburbs; and maximising so-called base voters in Labour’s heartland.

The fear that such approaches are mutually exclusive – that appealing to the centre will invariably alienate the left and vice versa – reflects a deficiency of policy imagination and political confidence in roughly equal measure.

Labour is losing, and losing badly. And it’s doing so for deep, structural reasons.

The party is too small, too monotonous, too narrowly focused.

Quin is a former staffer for both NZ and Australian Labour.

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