Watkins on Labour’s pessimism

Tracy Watkins writes:

Scratch beneath the bravado  in Labour these days and you will find a pessimist.

Blame it on the weather or a shortened barbecue season, but Labour MPs seem already to be doubting the prospect of a Labour win.

Some of them are now talking up a two election strategy. That they increase their vote enough in 2014 so they can win in 2017. So in fact their strategy is to lose less badly.

The latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll shows National is as popular as ever after six years in power. Labour will be hoping  a One News-Colmar Brunton poll due out this weekend shows a different trend. But the muted response to the Fairfax poll suggests it was not far off the mark from Labour’s own polling.

Even Left-wing blogs and the likes of columnist Chris Trotter, torch bearer for David Cunliffe’s leadership, have started writing off the prospects of a Labour win.

Some of that may be self serving. Many of the party’s activists believe the revolution, that began with the rule change giving the membership a deciding vote in the leadership, is only half done.

Their fulminating may be as much about fomenting a wider backlash against the likes of Phil Goff and Trevor Mallard, Labour’s so-called ‘‘old guard’’, who are resisting pressure to bow out despite leading the group of MPs who were outright antagonistic about the prospect of Cunliffe as leader.

But this a dangerous time for Labour. Once a belief takes root that an election is unwinnable it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems too soon yet for that to have happened within Labour.  But Cunliffe may be discovering the limits of running a caucus of which at least half was never more than  lukewarm about his leadership.

 A good poll would have united the caucus behind him. Conversely, one bad poll was all it was ever going to take for those who doubted Mr Cunliffe’s leadership to feel vindicated.  That was always the risk Labour’s activist base took in imposing a leader on the caucus.

The problem for Labour is that ‘‘I told you so’’ doesn’t win elections.  Nor does it help  heal a divided caucus.

The activists blame the old guard. The old guard blame what they claim is the “B” team who got promoted and have been invisible. The staff are jumping ship. It is not a happy place.

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