IF IT HAD ONLY HAPPENED ONCE, I could have written it off as a simple overstatement. Politics lends itself to exaggeration, and there was a lot of that associated with the Labour Party’s Review of the 2014 General Election. But, what I’m describing wasn’t the usual bluff and bluster of the instant commentariat. What I was hearing was coming from “civilians” – people without a platform – ordinary folks. And, what they’ve been saying to me, over and over again, in the week or so since the Review was leaked to TV3’s Paddy Gower, is the same statement-cum-question: “I think Labour’s finished as a major party – what do you think?”
Now, this is a not the sort of statement/question that political parties ever want to hear. Because it isn’t just another complaint about this leader, or that policy. No, this is an existential query: and existential queries only get made when the subject has already got at least one foot (and a good portion of leg) in the political grave. …
The difference between National’s response to its electoral nadir and Labour’s reaction to its worst result since 1922, is that the former took its thrashing seriously and Labour isn’t. Long before the Review was complete, Labour insiders were already speculating on whether or not it would be big enough to make a passable door-stop.
This is the key thing. Labour didn’t respond to their then worst ever modern defeat in 2011, and following an even worse defeat in 2014, they again have not looked to make any major changes.
National looked upon its defeat as a catastrophic market failure. National Incorporated’s share price had crashed, the Bank was ready to call in its overdraft, and the receivers were hovering. Time was of the essence. The Board of Directors had to do something.
What did they do? Well, they did what every big business in trouble does. They called in the political equivalent of McKinsey & Co. – consultants in extremis – and ruthlessly refashioned the National Party into a lean, mean electoral machine. National’s review panel didn’t just lop-off the dead wood, they fed it into the wood chipper, mixed it with the blood and bones of several sacred cows, and spread it over their flower beds!
Yep. I recall the special conference to approve the changes. I spoke in favour of them (bar one).
Democracy is one of those things (like fairness) that National tends to honour more in the breach than the execution.
I’m reminded of the quote by General McArthur – I’m here to preserve democracy, not practice it 🙂
Perhaps Labour could be saved if, like the ancient Romans, they were willing to install a dictator to “save the Republic” from its enemies (in the case of Labour’s membership that would be themselves!) someone capable of turning the party into a lean, mean electoral machine.
Except, of course, Labour’s never going to do that. Which is why so many people are telling me “Labour’s finished” – and why, regretfully, I’m agreeing with them.
I think Little, as a former president, could save the party. If he is willing to use his position and prestige to push a significant reform package, then he could get it through. But will he take the risk, or just rely on the hope that the voters won’t want to give National a 4th term?
UPDATE: Rob Hosking has similar thoughts:
Hemmed in by enemies on all sides, the New Zealand Labour Party looks increasingly like the old New Zealand Liberal Party: a movement whose time has passed.
The Liberals had their time in the political sun, but society moved on and the party did not. The different wings of the party hived off into other movements and the party itself was subsumed.
Labour looks headed the same way: its cadre of professional politicians have relied on the political cycle turning their way again but the thing about cycles is they tend to turn and end up in a different place.
That s basically their plan – hope the tide turns.
New Zealand’s political Left is overdue for realignment: that re-alignment has, over the past month, moved much closer.
Budget 2015, meanwhile, dealt another blow: in its combination of the first real increase in benefit levels since 1972 and greater incentives to get off those benefits, it raised the awkward question of why Labour did not do something similar when in government.
Not for the first or last time, the underlying question many on the Left are asking is: what is Labour for?
Giving more power to unions, so they get more money and members, so they can fund Labour.