Phil Goff’s departure as leader of the Labour Party may happen before or after the election. When it happens the new leader will have to make some major changes to make Labour electable again.
Labour is burdened by grey middle management types who have little appeal to the general public. These people grew up fighting the big ideological battles that shaped the 1980s. The Springbok Tour, homosexual law reform, nuclear ships and Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
The first three of these issues have been consigned to history, and liberal elite angst about the Treaty has been dispatched as Treaty settlements have been made. It is hard to claim that Ngai Tahu have been hard done by when they have become the biggest property developers in the South Island, and they are just one of many. New Zealand seems to have listened to the “Full, Fair and Final” rhetoric, and thankfully so have many of the more pragmatic Maori.
The issues facing New Zealand in the future are likely to be economic and environmental. Labour will have to have people who can sell policies in both areas, whether it is water rights & cleaning up rivers, lowering compliance costs and ACC levys for self employed tradies, or increasing average incomes for all New Zealanders.
These are very different issues to those old MPs like Goff, King, Mallard, Dyson, Dalziel, Street, Horomia, Ross Robertson and Barker cut their teeth on. All of these MPs are either too closely associated with the past, or too grey to sell new policy, and need to go.
It will be easy to see if Labour are serious about winning in 2014. Immediately the new leader comes in they will tell all the above MPs they should retire for the good of Labour, and if that means by-elections so be it.
The next indication of Labour’s seriousness in winning in 2014 will be to recruit MPs who can win votes in middle New Zealand to replace those in safe red seats. Careful management of selection processes will be required to make sure more MPs like Stu Nash make it into caucus rather than decidedly average union hacks like Carol Beaumont or Carmel Sepuloni.
Ex-rooter Nash may not have union credentials but at least he can appeal to middle New Zealand on issues that matter to modern New Zealand and he certainly does appeal to women, lots of them, unlike Phil Goff who hardly even appeals top his wife. Nash is a classic case of one of the few good retail politicians in Labour getting the bums rush because he is not a self serving unionist or one of the gaggle, and the sisterhood disliked his rooting. This is a short sighted view, and Labour need fewer self serving unionists and members of the gaggle and more MPs who like Nash can win votes by selling policies to middle New Zealand.
Labour will have to rapidly recruit more people like Nash. Moderates, good retail politicians, and not too associated with either the past, unions or minority groups. This may mean not rewarding many loyal party servants who simply do not have the ability to win votes for Labour, no matter how long and how diligently they have sat through boring party meetings.
The next Labour leader needs to stamp his authority on the party. (It will be a him as there are no compelling women who could lead the party as there was no regeneration and no good women coming through). He needs to force out some of the deadwood immediately, demote the rest and recruit good strong candidates to win by elections in seats like Mt Roskill, Hutt South, Rongotai, Christchurch East and Port Hills. List MPs Street and Barker need to be pushed to stand aside for better candidates, and this needs to happen quickly or the opportunity will be missed. This needs to happen in early 2012 to give new MPs a chance to get some experience, and to completely disassociate Labour from the failed policies Helen Clark’s government was kicked out for.
Unless this happens the Labour caucus will continue to have little relevance to modern New Zealand. Until they become relevant again they will not make much progress in winning the votes in middle New Zealand they need to win. The next leader needs to have a very big axe and to swing it hard and repeatedly or 2014 is a near guaranteed National win.