Armstrong on Labour’s appalling strategy

John Armstrong provides some strategy advice for Labour.

It is sound but because Armstrong writes for the NZ Herald I suspect that Labour will have cloth ears to the message and instead label him a shill for corporate tory media interests, an accusation that is as daft as it sounds.

As the countdown to September’s general election becomes ever more frenetic, one thing is becoming increasingly obvious: those parties that stick to their knitting and produce fresh, even visionary, ideas and viable policies stand to be the big winners.

Voters are not of such a negative mood as to tolerate endless whining, cheap hits on opponents and petty point-scoring generally.

National worked this out long ago. The Greens have since worked it out and are now refocusing on fundamentals. Labour has had the most difficulty in shedding opposition for the sake of opposition, but is coming to the same realisation, with David Cunliffe now thrusting himself forward as the Apostle of Economic Intervention. And not before time – in a strategic sense, at least.

The exception to this requirement to accentuate the positive is New Zealand First whose function in domestic politics is to stress the negative and thus offer refuge to the angry and the alienated.

But even a politician of Winston Peters’ calibre is finding the going tough and – to borrow David Lange’s famous observation of Jim Bolger – succeeding in only stirring up apathy.

Outside of Wellington or political tragics all of the so-called scandals that Labour is investing enormous time and energy into have fallen flat with not a single dent in the polls for National’s constantly high ratings. ?

This week’s?Herald-DigiPoll survey confirmed there is precious little breadth or depth of anger with National for Opposition parties to exploit.

They keep trying, in part because that is one of the functions of Opposition and in part because they want to believe for the sake of their collective sanity that the next semi-crisis or mini-scandal to afflict National will be the one that breaks the camel’s back and sets National’s and John Key’s opinion poll ratings on an irrevocable downwards slide.

If anything, the opposite is happening. Following an indifferent 2013, John Key is enjoying something of a second honeymoon with voters. In part, that is down to his unashamed pragmatism. Voters know if there is a problem, Key will fix it – and probably before they have even started squealing about it.

Key may have lost voters’ trust on peripheral issues like the GCSB. On the matters that actually impinge on people’s daily lives, however, Key has ensured he is swimming in the stuff.

Labour has tried for nearly 8 years now to attack John Key, and every attack has failed. The GCSB stuff was pure beltway, again most people living outside of Wellington didn;t give a stuff. It was only a small, very vocal bunch of nerds and malcontents who got upset, egged on by a German crook seeking to avoid his trip to the US.

When it comes to the things that really matter to voters – be it the economy, cutting crime, boosting hospital services or whatever, National has made sure it has the basics in order.

That is why there is palpable frustration in the Beehive that National’s projection of an image of competence keeps being blurred by unwanted static, the latest examples bring the respective maelstroms surrounding the actions of Judith Collins and Hekia Parata, who this week made an absolute botch of her handling of allegations of misspending by a subsidiary of Te Kohanga Reo National Trust.

But voters do not seem to care about these blots on National’s landscape. And come September, nobody will be talking about whom Collins had dinner with in Beijing. Or how Parata could go to bed saying one thing and get up the next morning mouthing the exact opposite.

No they won’t, come September they will return National to power because there is no reason to vote against them and certainly no compelling reason to vote for Labour.

In Collins’ case, Labour’s Grant Robertson has done a splendid job in not only vanquishing one of National’s most formidable performers but also citing her as an example of what Labour refers to as National’s “crony capitalism” by which National allegedly uses the instruments of the state – be it the tax system, bureaucracy or whatever – for the benefit of its “rich mates”.

The “crony capitalist” labelling – designed to drive a wedge between National and middle-income and upper-middle-income voters who possess a conscience – has so far been a flop.

It has been a flop because it is pure beltway stuff. No one is going to march int eh streets or change their vote because Auckland is getting a free convention centre….or because Judith Collins has some rich friends, or John Key plays golf with someone. In fact people are likely to change their vote to National because Labour are being fools.

Labour only know the politics of nasty. Even Helen Clark, perhaps one nastiest but more able politicians we have seen in modern times knew that and moderated and softened her image to fool or lull voters into voting for Labour. Once in though the nasty came back.