Despite a considerable souring of economic sentiment, Labour, under Andrew Little, has barely moved in the polls since last year’s historic drubbing. His personal popularity lags behind predecessors David Cunliffe and David Shearer – and Little is more than 20 points adrift of where John Key stood at a comparable juncture in Helen Clark’s third term.
Nine years ago in September 2006, National as opposition were at 44% and Labour at 39%. And that wasn’t Key – that was Brash.
So in Labour’s third term they trailed the major opposition party by 5%, while in National’s third term the Government leads by 22%.
On the TPPA, Little’s Labour has adopted an unapologetically protectionist stance. On the substance, Jane Kelsey may be right that you could drive a bus through the party’s much-touted five preconditions to supporting the deal, but there’s no mistaking Labour’s desire to appear hostile. Why else would the frontbench feature so prominently at anti-TPPA rallies, or Labour press secretaries go out of their way to chastise journalists who fail to adequately emphasise Labour’s opposition? The sound bites alone have been fierce; Health Spokesperson and deputy leader, Annette King, speculated that the impact of the TPPA on Pharmac will cost lives – inflammatory language that echoes Sarah Palin’s warning of “death panels” under Obamacare.
It is no small matter for Labour to abandon decades of enthusiastic support for trade liberalisation, long seen by politicians across the spectrum as a key to New Zealand’s current and future prosperity.
if the China FTA had been negotiated by National, not Labour, I suspect today’s Labour would oppose it.
Labour’s release of leaked Auckland housing data in order to highlight the prevalence of Chinese-sounding surnames is perhaps the singular event of Andrew Little’s tenure to date (full disclosure: I resigned from the party over the issue).
It was an audacious and high-risk gambit. Little himself conceded he knew it would attract accusations of racism – but public polls suggest it has fallen well short of being the game-changer Labour had hoped. Now, having alienated an important and growing minority, not to mention causing consternation among diehard supporters like myself, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion Labour has sacrificed considerable moral authority for a measly return.
It was no Orewa.
Perhaps nothing showcases Labour’s defensive crouch better than its decision to oppose the referendum on the New Zealand flag. Of course, ditching the Union Jack in favour of a more indigenous, authentically Kiwi national standard is a symbolic act. It won’t improve our schools or get young graduates into better paying jobs. But symbolism matters in politics, just as it did when Norman Kirk, in defiance of the French, sent a Cabinet Minster into the Mururoa nuclear test zone in 1973, or when David Lange donned a tuxedo to defend the country’s nuclear-free stance at the Oxford Union.
Labour’s historic mission is to forge a proudly independent national identity for New Zealand. It’s depressing to see Labour cede this turf to John Key for negligible political gain.
Labour have let their obsession with Key blind them.
By playing up fears about the perils of globalisation or an impending Chinese invasion, Labour will encounter furious and vocal agreement. This shouldn’t be mistaken for a groundswell. Voters don’t reward parties who merely echo and reinforce feelings of despondency without offering real solutions.
Labour, in particular, thrives when it approaches the future with gusto, not trepidation. Merchants of doom and gloom might fill the airwaves, but they rarely win elections.
Key won in 2008 by being optimistic and saying NZ can do better, but not saying NZ has is facing doom or crisis every month.