National has a nickname for Labour leader Andrew Little. Angry Andy. They taunt him with it in Parliament.
They reckon it’s Little’s achilles heel, that he can come across to the punters as perpetually angry. No wonder Labour was happy the day Little’s cat Buddy photo-bombed him. No man with a cat called Buddy .can be angry all the time, right?
But maybe the Nats’ “angry Andy”meme is just a cunning case of reverse psychology. Because angry politics seems to be working just fine for America’s Donald Trump, and its angry septuagenarian Bernie Sanders.
That’s because most Americans are unhappy with the direction of their country. For more than a decade only around 30% of Americans say their country is heading in the right direction. By contrast, in NZ, around 60% of NZers say they think the country is heading in the right direction.
So why isn’t angry working for Little? Labour is stuck in the poll doldrums and looking increasingly adrift as a frustrated Little clutches at a grab bag of soundbites and tries to give them a unifying theme.
They have no discipline and strategy. After years of bagging dairy farmers, they seize on low milk prices and demand the Government force banks to write off loans to diary farmers. They need to choose three issues and focus on them relentlessly. However almost every day they chase the issue of the week.
Because it’s all looking increasingly desperate and on the hoof. In the same week that Little opined against importing ethnic chefs, he and his finance spokesman laid out the case for bailing out battling dairy farmers, not a group that’s traditionally sparked sympathy for being trapped on the wrong side of the inequality divide.
Square pegs and nothing but round holes for as far as the eye can see.
Desperate is a good word for it.
It’s not just the punters who are confused. Little’s MPs are less and less inclined to hide their bafflement at what’s coming out of the third floor leader’s office or – more to the point – what’s coming out of the leader’s mouth.
This is a dangerous time for Little. The success of his leadership so far has been in unifying a fractious and divided caucus. But the traditional fault lines are starting to reassert themselves.
This is significant. Little had no internal criticism for the first 15 months, but his MPs are getting sick of the lack of direction.
Likewise the unease over targeting Asian house purchasers. Labour used to have a stranglehold on the ethnic vote. No more. National Party rallies – once the the domain of the blue rinse set and farmers – are now glitzy affairs where Asian faces clearly outnumber the blue-rinse brigade.
They like a party that doesn’t target people on their surnames.
If Little’s foray into the immigration debate had been a populist attempt to muscle in on traditional NZ First territory it might have been excused as part of a broader – if cynical – plan.
But Little’s desperate attempts to hose down the ethnic chefs debacle make a nonsense even of that idea.
The Labour base went into meltdown. Twitter exploded, the activists were in a fury and Little was left defending himself with the usual figleaf that his quotes were taken out of context.
Having to do a secret blog post to your own members is never a good look.
Unlike the US, meanwhile, we are blessed with a political system that works.
Which is not to say middle New Zealand is not capable of getting angry again.
But Little won’t find that anger by floundering around looking for opportunist itches to scratch.
It’s desperate politics. Again they need to choose three issues and stick with them for not one day, one week or even one month, but three years.