The New Zealand Left suddenly finds itself in the position of the dog who caught the car. For years, slagging off the Labour Party as a bunch of neoliberal sell-outs has been one of the Left’s favourite pub and parlour games. But now, with one of this country’s most effective left-wing campaigners just one door down from the Leader of the Labour Opposition, the Left, like the bewildered pooch for whom the fun was always in the chase, has finally got what it wanted and must decide what to do with it.
Yes, it is a huge victory for the far left.
If Cunliffe and McCarten are allowed to fail, the Right of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers in the broader labour movement (all the people who worked so hard to prevent Cunliffe rising to the leadership) will say:“Well, you got your wish. You elected a leader pledged to take Labour to the Left. And just look what happened. Middle New Zealand ran screaming into the arms of John Key and Labour ended up with a Party Vote even more pitiful than National’s in 2002! So don’t you dare try peddling that ‘If we build a left-wing Labour Party they will come’ line ever again! You did – and they didn’t.”Be in no doubt that this will happen – just as it did in the years after the British Labour Party’s crushing defeat in the general election of 1983. The Labour Right called Labour’s socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history” and the long-march towards Blairism and the re-writing of Clause Four began.
So the dinosaurs are back. Richard Prebble returns to run ACT’s election campaign. Matt McCarten returns to become Labour leader David Cunliffe’s chief of staff. The ironies are multiple. These two were the chief brawlers in the brutal and byzantine ruckus within Labour over Auckland Central in the 1980s.
A generation later the two will once again be on opposite sides of the political war.
Not opposite sides. Prebble is campaign manager for ACT, not National. McCarten is chief of staff for Labour.
Mr McCarten is a similarly divisive figure, and already his old comrade Mr Anderton has said he won’t work for Labour this year, apparently because of Mr McCarten. Labour is billing Mr McCarten’s return as a symbolic healing of the rifts in the Left-wing family, but clearly the rifts do not heal easily.
What was interesting is that Cunliffe said he was sure Jim would still be supporting Labour, and then Jim said he won’t be while McCarten is there. What is surprising isn’t Anderton’s views, but that no one spoke to him in advance and hence Cunliffe said something that was contradicted an hour later.
But that presumes Labour’s existing voter base also favours a move to policies aimed at attracting the lost tribes of the left. There is a risk surely that some working, non-unionised, moderate social democrats will see a Labour Party raising taxes, advancing union interests, expanding the state and redirecting wealth to support beneficiaries and the poor as altogether less appealing.
Most non voters are proportionally under 30. I’m not sure a return to 1970s policies will be appealing to them.
Labour’s result in 2011 was its worst for generations. Its poll rating now, under Mr Cunliffe, has not increased much at all from its early-30s standings under David Shearer, despite promising expanded paid parental leave and a baby bonus for all those earning up to $150,000 a year.
In August 2013 when Shearer was Leader, Labour’s average poll rating was 32.4%. In February 2014 their average poll rating is 32.2%.