Smith on Labour

June 10th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Former Party general secretary writes:

David Cunliffe badly needs a new stump speech. On Thursday in Whanganui I heard him depress a large and sympathetic audience for ten minutes with tales of national woe, then promise a positive campaign but give no details. It is good to know that a positive campaign is proposed. Labour has promised an economic upgrade; it also needs a communications upgrade, and besides being positive it must be relevant. 

Preaching woe and doom when 65% of New Zealanders think NZ is heading in the right direction is not the smartest strategy,

I hate to give free advice, but look at what John Key did in 2008. He was relentlessly positive about NZ, but said we could be doing even better. Telling people their country sucks only appeals to people who, well think the country sucks.

Too much of Labour’s communication has been relentlessly negative, coming from what appears to be a pervasive view that “the purpose of opposition is opposition.” That’s fine if your purpose is to stay in opposition; my view is that the purpose of opposition is to get into government as soon as possible. To do that people have to know what is on offer, have a sense of hope and purpose, and that can’t be done with a negative approach.

I have two simple tests for people.  Can anyone name:

  • A significant education policy from Labour, apart from repealing national standards and charter schools?
  • A significant health policy from Labour

Even groups in those sectors complain that they have no idea what Labour stands for, or will do. It’s 103 days until the election, and their likely policies should have been spelt out a year or so ago.

Finally if Labour is going to run a positive campaign, the its media unit needs to get with the programme. We’ve been getting their feed for several years, and endless series of negative or critical straplines is very off-putting. They also all follow a similar pattern; gripe followed (sometimes) by alternative. I suspect many of them by now don’t even get opened.

It’s easy to oppose in opposition. It is harder to create a narrative that people want to listen to.

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39 Responses to “Smith on Labour”

  1. duggledog (1,426 comments) says:

    No, no new ‘policies’ for education or health David. Just spending more money.

    It’s all they know how to do, take it off you, and then spend it, whilst figuring out how to hide the eventual failure later.

    Mike Smith was donkey deep in it like the rest of them

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  2. Harriet (4,614 comments) says:

    Well Smith would know!

    Fair enough not being a challenger at the first election after being in government for 9yrs or so – but not even being a challenger a 100 days out from the 2nd election?

    LOL. They’re fucken gone! :cool:

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  3. redqueen (518 comments) says:

    The problem for Labour is that National has a) done a masterful job (under the circumstances) and b) we aren’t really out of the woods yet (for all the hype about a ‘rock star’ economy). In the first instance, National hasn’t done anything ‘too radical’, which leaves Labour with little manoeuvring room (National has the centre and a significant chunk of the right). The concentration has been on improving things slowly and at a far more detailed level (less ‘grand strategy’ and more ‘making things work’). In the case of the economy, we are barely in a surplus and significant clouds hang over our little world. That doesn’t mean things aren’t ‘looking up’, but people aren’t necessarily going to jump for ‘let’s just spend it all’ policies at this point. So Labour’s two traditional grounds: grand policies and spend it up aren’t currently in vogue. Personally, I don’t see a problem with this and hope there isn’t a change any time soon.

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  4. tvb (4,242 comments) says:

    The narrative for the Labour party is well and truly imbedded though David Cunliffe thinks he can chop and change his message depending on his audience. He also thinks he can make policy on the hoof depending on his audience. Cunliffe does not present a credible alternative Government for voters to support. Nobody knows how the relationship with the Greens will actually work. Will they or won’t they be in Cabinet. Cunliffe just winks and says watch this space. Being cute like that is not a credible position for voters who usually vote with the head on election day.

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  5. band4u (18 comments) says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  6. mjw (343 comments) says:

    I rather imagine they will release a lot of policy during the campaign, when people are paying attention. Just like every other political party in the history of the entire world.

    [DPF: Good parties though have policy drafts. They spend years developing them, and consulting on them. To have almost nothing out there at this stage is rare]

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  7. Pete George (23,296 comments) says:

    What is Smith doing now? He worked in Shearer’s leader’s office last year but presumably is criticising Cunliffe and his team from the outside.

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  8. flipper (3,824 comments) says:

    Gosh it is just 7.30am ish and already two aliens (labour trolls) have appeared.

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  9. Pete George (23,296 comments) says:

    I rather imagine they will release a lot of policy during the campaign, when people are paying attention. Just like every other political party in the history of the entire world.

    Greens are progressively releasing their policies and are looking much better researched and presented than Labour’s dribbling of part policies that seem to evolve under scrutiny.

    Flatlining around 30% is not a good position for Labour to launch from. The campaign might be far too late, especially with the Internet-MANA buying media attention and presumably Winston Peters will be planning some sort of attention seeking.

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  10. Harriet (4,614 comments) says:

    music4u#

    “…..Just wait till the Charter Schools( with no checks and blances in place) get THEIR mits on taxpayer dollars.
    Check out Maori Tv ,Native Affairs last night with Mihirangi Forbes….”

    Well my 2c worth is that people won’t send their kids to schools that have anything to do with Maori being anywhere near tax payers money. Maori may well do so but *eventually* those schools will of course then be sold on to the highest bidder – those who run them properly. The maoris[well some of them] get to keep that money too. It’s called greed.

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  11. Simon (712 comments) says:

    As National is running a soft left government Labour is suffering from an identity crisis. Not a leadership crisis. Clunnliffe doesn’t have much room to manoeuvre.

    Clownliffe has raw sewage to the left of him or go with economically illiterate union friendly policy which can only enlarge the bloated welfare system.

    Got nowhere to go

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  12. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    “Tojo” Cunliffe, the thief (McCarten), the terrorist apologist (Manning), seem to have deflated any expectations of decent people to support the party of deviants, perverts, misfits, and leeches. Long may they rest in the gutter.

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  13. Harriet (4,614 comments) says:

    “…..Clownliffe has raw sewage to the left of him or go with economically illiterate union friendly policy which can only enlarge the bloated welfare system….”

    He’ll bluff his way through the election with yeah/na type crap, along with the MSM, ads, unions ect all on side talking it up. The aim:

    Labour knows they are leaking votes to all other parties via both electorate and party votes. Their 1st priority is to stem that. There second is to maintain seats, or the Greens get a much larger say in opposition – but Labour will then move further to the right by 2017 if they do. And may win the election.

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  14. WineOh (596 comments) says:

    The Labour party must be mobilizing- I have had two separate contacts from them within the last week. The first an evening phone call from a young woman from Labour seeking out whether I support the Party (obviously seeking donations). The second was a form letter from Cunliffe (electronic signature of course) with a ridiculous utopian wish list (every Kiwi deserves a full time job that is well paid etc). Completely empty political rhetoric devoid of any ingenuity and imagination.

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  15. radvad (696 comments) says:

    I have two simple tests for people. Can anyone name:

    A significant education policy from Labour, apart from repealing national standards and charter schools?
    A significant health policy from Labour

    Easy. Just throw more OPM at them.

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  16. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Labour is in trouble. They badly need to appeal more to centrist voters. The trouble is, those voters have been well looked after by National adopting the previous government’s policies wholesale. As a consequence, to propose any different policies from National, Labour has had to move a bit leftwards. But that’s not where the votes are that they need to win.

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  17. wat dabney (3,716 comments) says:

    We are just learning about the blatant theft of public money by a greedy- few

    Sadly, the vast unionised state-sector plundering our money – including rent-seeking teachers – does not amount to “a few.”

    Hypocritical lefties, lapping up the laughably wrong conclusions of the worthless Piketty book, bleat about inequality and yet free schooling – the hugely expensive mechanism intended provide opportunity to even the poorest child – they choose to operate as a corrupt monopoly run for the benefit of the teachers’ labour cartels rather than for the students.

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  18. big bruv (13,552 comments) says:

    mikenmild is dead right. Labour are in trouble, and given they are socialist scum that is when they are at their most dangerous.

    Labour and Cuntliffe know they have nothing to lose now, what worries me is that they might go for another 2005 campaign style bribe. It worked for them before, I imagine they will think there is no reason why it will not work for them again.

    So watch for the following from Labour;

    1. A massive increase in the WFF bribe. We all know that most will vote on the basis of what is in it for them, giving a lot more money to those who have more kids than they can afford will always work. Do not expect Labour to lift the threshold either, they know they can grab middle or swinging voters with the promise of an extra $100 or so per week.

    2. Labour to wipe all students loans. This would be the game changer, again this would appeal to all those who are paying off their student loan. It could be sold on the basis that those who are struggling to buy a house cannot do so because of their student loan. This policy coupled with an increased WFF bribe would see a left wing government.

    The fact that we cannot afford such extravagance is irrelevant, they would simply print more money and tax the productive sector even more to pay for their bribe. Labour simply don’t care, it is all about grabbing power and they are not bothered about ruining the country to do so.

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  19. kiwi in america (2,470 comments) says:

    mikenmild
    You are right. Labour under Cunliffe has essentially surrendered the centre to National (true red Labour etc) as Labour had to tack somewhat to the left to stem the bleeding of its left flank to the Greens. Labour has clawed back just under 3% off the Greens (to get from 27% under Goff to just over 30% under Shearer). Since then Cunliffe has been unable to move Labour forward and indeed his pratfalls and insincerity have seen a slight erosion since Shearer left.

    The Greens looked set to mop up almost all of Labour’s disaffected core and left leaning flank (pretty much most of Labour’s right flank has gone – to NZ First and National) until Russell Norman was caught flirting with the fat German in Coatesville. They lost 2% and have not really recovered it and so the overall left block total has fallen.

    If Labour tacks right to the centre, its left flank will peel off to IMP and the Greens. We already know that Labour’s leftward tack has seen it shed more of its centrist moderates to the Nats. They are trapped in a narrowing strip of centre left electoral real estate with a leader that cannot connect. And that’s BEFORE IMP start to spend Dotcom’s millions. If after launching its last remaining policies Labour still languishes sub 30, look for a 2002 style break up with left voters scattering to the Greens and IMP.

    big bruv
    Voters in the modern MMP environment don’t respond to bribes with their own money like they used to. These will be seen as nothing more than desperate ploys to buy votes. Against the backdrop of National’s careful stewardship bringing ever strengthening economic conditions, bribes won’t have the same traction as they had for Labour in 2005.

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  20. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    WineOh: I am still awaiting the aspiring Labourite attempting to displace our more than adequate National MP to make his mandatory call. We have a right real rural reception planned for the loser and his assistant. Purely accidental of course!

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  21. Elaycee (4,332 comments) says:

    With all this talk of ‘doom and gloom’ emanating from the ranks of the left, I can but hope the focus of the centre right remains firm on getting folk out to vote for a National led coalition on 20th September. Because if National sits back on its hands and waits for the election to somehow fall their way, the result could just as easily deliver an amalgam of left wingers into parliament. Scary.

    If Labour / Gweens / Mana / Peters et al get to sit on the Treasury seats in late September, any hope of prudent fiscal management will disappear and our export led economy will be sent into full reverse. Indeed, the thought a front bench containing the likes of Norman, Turei, Cunliffe, Parker, King, Goff, Harre, Peters et al (with Mallard as speaker), should make all New Zealanders shudder.

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  22. big bruv (13,552 comments) says:

    KIA

    “Voters in the modern MMP environment don’t respond to bribes with their own money like they used to”

    Don’t bet on it. I see no change in the nations mind-set from 2005. The likes of you and I are passionate about our politics, we must never assume that others feel the same way. The reality is that most people take an interest in politics once every three years (and for most that is only for the two minutes it takes to fill out their voting paper) and that is it. The appearance on their television screens of any of our politicians is a signal to change the channel or go and make a cup of tea. Most people simply do not care.

    Like 2005 it will only take one or two big bribes to change the government, Labour needs votes from the middle and the easiest and proven way of getting them is to increase WFF and write off all student debt.

    If they did that KIA they would become the government, it matters not that we cant afford it.

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  23. Nigel Kearney (914 comments) says:

    As a consequence, to propose any different policies from National, Labour has had to move a bit leftwards.

    Absolutely not.

    Labour can go back to representing workers any time they wish. That means welfare reform and policies that encourage investment and growth and lift wages by increasing demand for labour. These are popular and easy to sell and National certainly isn’t doing them.

    Labour’s problem is that they don’t actually believe those things, and the things they do believe are so horrible that no lying and spin can make them sound good to enough people. And they aren’t as willing to just flatout lie about their agenda as Clark did.

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  24. wiseowl (817 comments) says:

    K.I.A
    Labour have surrendered the centre to National.
    Yes.
    National have turned on their own principles and fallen over themselves to become Labourlite lefties.

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  25. itstricky (1,693 comments) says:

    I rather imagine they will release a lot of policy during the campaign, when people are paying attention. Just like every other political party in the history of the entire world.

    [DPF: Good parties though have policy drafts. They spend years developing them, and consulting on them. To have almost nothing out there at this stage is rare]

    You mean like National? When was the last time they announced something largely consequential? The teacher one was now some time ago. I guess you could call the budget “policy” but it’s not realted directly to the election. I suspect they’re waiting… …as mjw alludes.

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  26. itstricky (1,693 comments) says:

    Mm, Kia, Nigel thanks for some interesting thoughts… …rather than the usual from certain other posters.

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  27. rouppe (940 comments) says:

    A significant health policy from Labour

    Free GP visits for under 13? That’s about the only one that has any value to ordinary folk. Sure it can be called “throw more money” but when it comes to health, that’s pretty much all there is apart from banning stuff (Green policy).

    The huge and lengthy waiting list, as well as the waiting list for the waiting list is something that I’d like to see dealt with. Not just willy nilly but there seems to be plenty of people that can gain large quality of life benefits, not to mention tax benefits from being able to return to work by getting knee operations, back operations and the like. Being required to at least part pay for the cost of hospital care for injuries caused by your own damn fault – principally but not limited to alcohol and drugs – is another. As well as being much more vigilant on tourist medical costs.

    Given all the bitching and moaning from Gen Y and Z about how us baby boomers got “free tertiary education” I’d like to see the Ministry of Education write a paper on what would happen if student loans were scrapped, and a universal student allowance reintroduced at an inflation-adjusted level. Using data from the student loan scheme, we could easily see how many could live withing the allowances level. I suspect many of those complaining would not be in tertiary training at all anymore. That would be a reality check.

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  28. Nostalgia-NZ (5,029 comments) says:

    Bribes could still resonate. I think Labour have needed to be positive all this year – things are improving but not quickly enough, and not being shared that sort of thing. It’s still a fairly volatile electorate however with more potential variations that ever before.

    National assuming a position of middle left is either going to draw society together or signal a rejection somewhere down the track because of where the Maori Party now sits, and how the Polynesian vote is being sought – all new waters for the true blues, at least for the older generation all formerly Labour territory. As those sections of society are drawn in they will have their own expectations to be addressed, that’s the deal. In the wider world few Maori or Polynesian would know how negatively they can be described on places like KB – almost an open secret. The problem for Labour trying to take advantage of that is that they too don’t really know who they are or who they want to represent. As Nigel Kearney points out bread and butter for Labour would be to heading back to the firm ground of representing workers, but they’ve left that too late for it to be useful in this election I think. In all it seems that politics in NZ continues to evolve, hopefully for the people in the middle first and on the right and left extremes later.

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  29. burt (7,994 comments) says:

    Go easy on Labour, they need to try and find ways to sell an ideology that always fails – it’s not easy selling rancid snake oil that makes people sick !

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  30. G152 (225 comments) says:

    Are we going to hear any more about the Maori Health bosses ripping off the system ?
    And are any connected to Liebor ?

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  31. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    From the very start of the student loan proposals, yes I am that old :) , I have felt that the young being required to take out loans so that anybody who wished could study macrami and such like was totally wrong. Education should be completely free and given to those with the brains to make us of it .. they being found by examination. It is an investment by the country not a product to be sold.

    Of course it stemmed from the idea that a varsity education would benefit everybody, forgetting that many are not suitable and had better learn a trade …. education is fine and everybody should get it … the question is ‘what education?’

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  32. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    A horrible thought crossed my mind …. what if Labour lost even more votes and became the supporter of the Green opposition?

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  33. slightlyrighty (2,499 comments) says:

    The Greens are looking more polished and parliamentary, especially in comparison to Labour. A competent Green party is a nightmare for Cunliffe for 2 reasons. It will take support from Labour, and spook the center vote to National.

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  34. georgebolwing (679 comments) says:

    From what I can see, labour is falling very badly into the trap of campaigning to its core supports only. They have convinced themselves that there are 800,000 natural Labour non-voters simply waiting to be rise up as one and smit the evil usurper. It is also obvious that they have convinced themselves that there is a threshold of left-wing policies that they have yet to cross to make this uprising happen.

    So I am suspecting two very different campaigns:

    John Key will be upbeat, saying things are good but I want them to get better.

    David Cunliffe will be negative and will say that things are bad and getting worse and that only a radical shift to state-socialism will make them better.

    While is might be wishful thinking, I also suspect that as the campaign does on. John Key will hold his nerve, stick to his strategy and simply repeat the same message over and over. Cunliffle, however, will get more and more desperatite, lose his nerve and become shriller and shiller as time goes by, and will get nasty and personal about Key.

    While many things have to go right and there are many potential slips on the way, I think a majority National Government and Labour slumping to below 25% is a real possability.

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  35. Pete George (23,296 comments) says:

    A big risk Labour are taking putting so much resource into the non-voters is that they are a hard sell. For every new vote they pick up they could lose 5 existing voters by neglecting the middle and the swing voters.

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  36. Sir Cullen's Sidekick (833 comments) says:

    DPF asks:
    A significant education policy from Labour, apart from repealing national standards and charter schools?
    A significant health policy from Labour?

    Very simple really. It has not changed since 1999 when Helen Clark asked the stupid Kiwis to pay more tax so that they can get free education and free healthcare and the stupid Kiwis voted for a tax rise believing this.

    So the policy is – “Tax the rich pricks, you will get free education and free healthcare”. Still there are closer to 30% suckers in this country who fall for this con scheme.

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  37. Sir Cullen's Sidekick (833 comments) says:

    DPF asks:
    A significant education policy from Labour, apart from repealing national standards and charter schools?
    A significant health policy from Labour?

    Cunliffe says – “It is early days yet. More to come”.

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  38. burt (7,994 comments) says:

    A significant education policy from Labour – They are currently consulting with the teachers unions to see what they are allowed to say about education. The major concern is finding policies that are popular and increase union membership numbers. Good outcomes for students, parents and teachers – these are all subordinate to union membership numbers and the amount of money the teachers unions can therefore donate to Labour.

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  39. Pharmachick (229 comments) says:

    As I see it, the current Labour Party hasn’t really strayed from the original message – and that’s kind of the problem. Died in the wool socialism has proven to not only be a failure, but as the world has moved on, while the socialist message hasn’t. One of the problems is that there are not huge swathes of the community that rely on unions and the socialist mantra any more. For better or worse, huge numbers of jobs in manufacturing, trades (boilermakers anybody? Fitters and Turners? Printers? Machinists?) etc have disappeared due to the increased technologisation of the work place. There are some very thoughtful pieces popping up about the complete loss of the “middle class” in the US not being so much an earnings thing, as it is a fundamental change in the workplace that has moved away from the industrial revolution, and into the tech revolution. If Labour is to survive, they need to make their message(s) more of social conscience than social welfare. Oh and they need to have, and articulate, policies. And I say this as a student loan borrowing (all paid off years ago) daughter of a Boilermaker’s Union Rep from the old days… who now earns a decent living and would rather a case of syphilis than vote for the current Labour party.
    EDIT: Oh yeah, and I was a victim of the Lockwood Smith loan revolution where my 3% fixed govt loan became a floating 9.5% govt. loan o/night. I was there the day he needed to leave by a toilet window from AKL uni. In the end, such policies are better than the free-for-all, and National seems to have balanced them better now.

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