Some on the left will view Goff’s paying homage to that most iconic of Labour figures as an insult, given the former’s support for Sir Roger Douglas free-market policies during the tumultuous years of the Lange Government.
But the Labour Party which Goff inherits from Helen Clark and Michael Cullen is one since reforged in the spirit which fuelled Savage’s Government.
The Douglas era is now history. Goff has long since operated within the Clark-Cullen social democratic frame. He and his deputy, Annette King, may be from the more moderate (arguably more right) wing of the party. But it will be a surprise if there is much change in fundamentals under their command.
While Helen Clark remains an MP, Goff will make no changes. Goff is Leader because Clark allowed him to be. At the moment all the Labour MPs can do is rave about how wonderful Helen was and try and protect her legacy. When was the last time you heard a Labour MP rave about Phil Goff and how excited they are to have him as Leader?
The problem about making no fundamental changes, is that Labour may have little to campaign on. Unless they promise tax increases there is little spare money.
Being granted the full three years to turn things around will be seen as plenty of time for him to put Labour back in a winning position. He will therefore likely get just one shot at becoming prime minister.
If he gets even that. I certainly hope he does. I regard a Phil Goff led Labour Party as far more rational and sensible than the Clark led Labour. But the overall Labour Caucus leans heavily to the left – I only count eight MPs out of 43 as belonging to the more centrist bloc. So if in a year or so Goff is making no impact in the polls, they may get restless. The lack of an acceptable replacement though may save him.
The second thing that must happen is Labour must do some serious soul-searching about why it lost the election. That debate will start with a session at next week’s meeting of the Labour caucus, the first chance the party’s MPs have had collectively to analyse the reasons why Labour became so “disconnected” from voters that its share of support slumped from just over 41 per cent of the overall party vote to just under 34 per cent.
And that is a pretty big fall. In 1999 National only dropped 4%.
Some in Labour may be inclined to ptu the loss down to time for a change. And sure that was a factor. But if they overlook their bad calls on the EFA, Winston, the pledge card, cancelling tax cuts, law & order, Section 59 – then they won’t have learnt.