The Press Editorial on Cunliffe and Labour

The Press Editorial has some words of wisdom for Labour and David Cunliffe.

If anyone in the Labour Party thought that a change of leader was going to bring the party a quick and easy boost to close the yawning popularity gap between it and National, the latest Fairfax Media-Ipsos poll yesterday will have brought them crashing back to earth.

True, Labour has stopped losing support but that is scant comfort. It could, after all, have scarcely dropped much further than the low point it hit a while ago and it had in fact put on a few percentage points under the now-deposed leader David Shearer.

And while this latest poll shows Labour has gained again under new leader David Cunliffe, it appears to have done so at the expense of its probable coalition partner, the Greens.

At the same time, National has also gained support and remains a whopping 17 points ahead of Labour and, if the numbers were translated into votes in a general election, would be able to govern alone.

This will be a blow to a party supposedly energised after its leadership contest and ready, as the new leader said, to go to war against the Government.?

Not surprising…a lurch to left moves voters from one hard left team to the other not so hard left team.

It also defies what is conventional wisdom in some circles that the Government’s policy on, for instance, the part sale of some state-owned enterprises or the deal with SkyCity over a convention centre in Auckland or even John Banks’ legal woes are enough to cause general disillusionment with Prime Minister John Key and his party.

Labour’s expectation that it might be further ahead now was not unrealistic. It had come through the leadership contest with relatively little blood on the floor and was able to put on a show of unity, albeit through gritted teeth, behind the new leader.

Very much through gritted teeth…anyone who says that Labour’s caucus is united should read my tipline.

But the poll has brought home the harsh reality that it was always going to take more than just the replacement of the maladroit, tongue-tied Shearer with the clever, experienced, articulate Cunliffe to improve Labour’s fortunes. And for all his touted virtues and supposed preparedness for the role, Cunliffe, in his first few weeks in the leadership, has been less than assured.

He has not got the better of Key in the House. A publicity stunt designed to highlight difficulties young people have buying an affordable house in Auckland backfired when the chosen example was a 23-year-old complaining about not being able to afford a pricey house in one of the more salubrious suburbs that he was not sure he was going to live in anyway.

In a speech to trade unionists, Cunliffe was heard breathing fire as he told them what they wanted to hear on industrial policy, which he shortly afterwards cooled down considerably for more general consumption. Skirmishing with the Government over the SkyCity convention centre deal, he has been studiously evasive over what Labour would do.

None of this may be particularly significant but it points up a shallow opportunism and an unsettling lack of substance in what Cunliffe has so far offered.

The honeymoon is over…tailoring your policies to get Helen Kelly all excited isn’t the worlds best strategy. Only 6% of private sector workers belong to a union which should give him a clue about how popular going down that track is.