Is David Cunliffe about to lurch Labour back towards the centre?

Matthew Hooton believes that The?Cunliffe may be about to lurch Labour back towards the centre as they attempt to get some traction…any traction at this election campaign.

If that is the case then John Tamihere’s assessment?in the Herald this morning is spot on, that?”He’s an extraordinarily talented chap but you never get to see the real David. You get to see the David that he thinks you want to see. And that’s his problem.”

Hooton is alluding to that in his column at NBR.

If David Cunliffe becomes prime minister this spring, the origins of his win will be traced to the last week.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, his highest profile move was his apology for being a man, generally lampooned as absurd. More substantively, though, it revealed a deeply collectivist worldview, where people?s main identity is not as an individual with personal responsibility but where we are primarily members of categories from which we accrue collective guilt and credit.

Such a political philosophy may be abhorrent to anyone who values basic concepts of human autonomy but it was wildly popular among Labour?s Women?s Council, the unions and the far-left activists who back Mr Cunliffe. Some even rang Mr Cunliffe?s office weeping with gratitude.

Intentionally or otherwise, the apology created cover for a repositioning of Mr Cunliffe back to the centre, which would begin at Labour?s conference the following day and is at the heart of Labour?s strategy for the next 10 weeks.

The Cunliffe needs to do this because so far his socialist prescription is failing to resonate.

Mr Cunliffe ran for leader from the far-left, with rhetoric about red roses, the failed neoliberal experiment, the missing million, the misery of 250,000 children living in poverty, and a commitment that his Labour would be ?deep red, not pale blue.?

As a strategy to become leader it worked well but it reversed all the progress Labour had made in the wider polls under David Shearer?s more centrist approach.

Talking down New Zealand as a failed state with starving kids wasn?t connecting with voters experiencing economic growth, falling unemployment, rising wages, low inflation, still-modest interest rates and a kiwi dollar enabling them to afford some luxuries after five difficult years. ?

Worse, Mr Cunliffe, like almost everyone in public life but especially those with narcissistic tendancies, was under the delusion that once he became leader and could speak directly into the television cameras everyone would like him.

In recent weeks, poor Mr Cunliffe has had to endure the indignity of focus groups relieving him of his misapprehensions.

Labour?s long-standing political research company, UMR, widely regarded as the best in Australasia, was able to show Mr Cunliffe that negative messages about class warfare were failing, while positive messages, especially about education, could resonate.

Quantitative work also suggested that Labour?s fall in the polls was driven mainly by centrist Labour voters becoming repulsed by class warfare and worried about the extremism of Internet-Mana. But rather than crossing the line to National, they had simply become undecided. In other words, Labour had a chance to get them back.

The required shift in strategy was obvious: tone down the doom and gloom and talk more positively about the future to these middle-class voters. Thus, cheap laptops for every kiwi kid. Similarly, lower class sizes, which research indicates do almost nothing educationally but which poll well among middle class parents.

Neoliberalism of course got a mention in Mr Cunliffe?s conference speech ? how could it not? ? as did the quarter million children apparently living in poverty, but an effort was made to focus more on the future and all the goodies Labour will offer.

Aware of the negative impact on Labour?s polling of National?s messages about Mr Cunliffe being beholden to the Internet-Mana and the Greens, the former were deliberately snubbed and the latter told they would most probably be balanced around the cabinet table by Winston Peters and NZ First. An angry Internet Party leader Laila Harr??took to the airwaves to whine about Mr Cunliffe not following proper process.

The polls, though, have moved in the right direction, Labour strategists claim.

New Zealand may not have a history of such political flexibility but it is common in the US where candidates run from the extremes in the primaries and from the centre in the general election.

The US is where Mr Cunliffe learned his politics and he may have judged correctly that Kiwi voters no more care about policy consistency than Americans.

The Cunliffe sill has a problem, the fact that he fakes everything, from his CV to his sincerity, but worse though is the one thing he can’t fake…his inability to fool anyone with his fakeness.