Saturday, 31 May 2014

What is Labour's problem?

I've just had another look at the recent One News-Colmar Brunton poll - the one that gave National 51% of the vote and Labour more than 20 points behind, at 30%.

Looking beyond that painful picture, there is a list of issues concerning New Zealanders.  They were:

  • Education, identified as a key election issue by 40% of the electorate.
  • Health - 37%.
  • Jobs - 30%.
  • Child Poverty - 27%.
  • Wages - 25%.

This is quite astonishing, because all five are areas Labour should absolutely own.  Fair access to education and health are fundamentally leftwing issues.  Employment opportunity, security and workers' rights ditto - why do you think it was called the Labour party?  Child poverty, absolutely a leftwing issue.  Wages ties in with employment and jobs.

Labour should have been making the running on these issues for years by now.  Not because they are potential vote winners, but because they are the building blocks of a just, fair, socialist society.

Instead, we've had ... nothing much.  Kiwi Build.  Something about power bills.  A smart idea about using savings to balance economic pressures, which probably sounds alarming to the average voter ("They're going to put up my Kiwisaver rate whether I want it or not?").

Other than that, a yawning chasm of indifference from the leaders of the so-called people's party.  The election is coming up fast.  The government should be utterly on the ropes - it is incompetent, corrupt and vacillating.  The only thing keeping its ratings so impossibly sky high is that the alternative major party of government looks even less plausible.  They don't look like an alternative government.  They don't even look like a credible opposition.  They look like what they are - a bunch of over educated elitists waiting for their turn to play with the levers of power and happily drawing their salaries in the mean time.

Their lives won't be made substantially worse when Labour are trounced again in September.  Hell, some of them will probably find their career prospects enhanced as they seek more remuneration in the private sector.  they won't be living in run down, damp, unhealthy rentals, or working on inadequate minimum wages terrified of losing their jobs, or sending their children to desperately under-resourced schools staffed by exhausted teachers trying to educate far too many students.

So you can understand the lack of passion and urgency in Labour.  This is not about them, or their people.  They're part of the problem for the left, for progressive parties and socialists.  Unfortunately, they will have to be part of the solution as well, for the foreseeable future as they still bring in about 30% of the vote, and will be more amenable to working as part of a progressive coalition than National (though it isn't as great a difference as it should be - I can almost imagine National working with the Greens at some point.  Almost.  A possibility that seems to elude Labour, who boorishly seem to insist the Greens are simply a kooky extension of the left.)

But the left, sadly, needs to start looking to the future and beyond the Labour Party in its current form.  Perhaps it can re-invent itself, but it seems unlikely.  Vested interests aren't very good at looking after anyone's interests other than their own, and not particularly good at that, either.  They'll carry on assuming they are one of the two parties that are imbued with the divine right to rule New Zealand, as their support dwindles further and further.

Which is - oddly - why I welcome the inflation of National's poll ratings.  It is the evidence of voters simply giving up on Labour.  As voters are inherently a conservative bunch, many will give up, initially, one main party for another.  They understand (unlike fanatic activists) that Labour or National has to form the foundation of the next government.  And they are so disgusted with Labour that they switch to National, as the default alternative governing party.

But their loyalty to National is only going to be temporary, as everything that is wrong with Labour is found in National in concentrated form.  Indeed, National make a virtue of all the things that are alienating voters from Labour.  So, after handing National an undeserved but probably inevitable third term, and being treated like garbage as a reward, the voters will look else where.

I have no idea what the political landscape will look like in ten years time.  It is just possible some charismatic class warrior will seize control of Labour and revitalise the party.  But wasn't Cunliffe supposed to be that guy?   (Though I've always been sceptical of Cunliffe's progressive credentials)

It hasn't worked, and probably won't work in the future because of the deadening hand of the vested interests.

The reappearance of Laila Harre on the political scene -  in one of the strangest political marriages ever - perhaps provides a clue.  Perhaps the future will look a bit like the Alliance, only this time it won't be crushed by Labour antipathy.  If Mana and the Internet Party can find some common cause, and Laila Harre finds it not too ludicrous to join the fun, perhaps some loose knit but formal left bloc is conceivable.

Post 2015, a few disheartened Labour MPs - the ones that actually become MPs for the right reasons - might find their way into it as well, as the party drifts into the mid 20s and the government benches seem to drift further and further away.  And suddenly the voting public will notice that there are smart, passionate and essentially normal people in politics.

And finally Labour - a pointless rump polling 15% - regains power as a junior party in a new progressive government.

Insane?  Maybe.  But not as insane as continuing to vote for Labour and expecting them to suddenly to decide to change their behaviour.  That's a classic example of doing something repeatedly and expecting a different out come.

Labour isn't working.

Can't be fixed.

Time to do something different.


Anonymous said...

Can't be fixed?
History tells us that's not so.
In 1996 Labour collapsed to 28%.
in 1999 Labour became the Govt with 39%.

lurgee said...

It is possible I'm wrong. I DOES happen, just not as often as people think. And when I am 'wrong' I'm actually right in some way too subtle for people, including myself, to understand.

1996 and 1999 were early days of MMP and everything was strange and fluid. We're more used to things now, and the idea of minor parties rising to replace the established ones isn't as strange as it is in my native Britain, where people are jabbering about the UKIP becoming the 'fourth party,' ignoring the grim realities of FPTP.

Anyway, if the Labour Party does rebound, it will probably be as a continuation of the current, painfully rightwing incarnation. I'm not sure that's something to hope for, particularly.

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