Armstrong on Labour’s little shop of horrors

John Armstrong examines why it is that Labour is so out of touch.

Is brand “Labour” depreciating so rapidly in electoral value that the party’s long-term future is now in serious jeopardy? This week’s hostilities both outside and inside the Labour caucus weren’t just about the post-election future of David Cunliffe or, to be exact, the lack thereof.

It was another exchange of volleys from Labour’s parliamentary wing fired in the direction of the wider party’s left faction, who take very strong exception to the caucus pressuring Cunliffe to give up the leadership.

But Labour’s really serious underlying problems run a lot deeper than that. A decade or so ago, Labour was still seemingly indestructible. Over preceding years, Labour regularly suffered from mass desertion by voters and was consequently written off, only to recover Phoenix-like within a relatively short period of time, such was the two-party monopoly under a first-past-the-post electoral system.

Labour’s present parlous state is unprecedented, however. Much has been made of last Saturday’s capture by the party of a paltry 24.7 per cent of the party vote as being Labour’s worst result since 1922.

Indeed, that is the case. But it’s only half the story. In 1922, Labour was a new political movement on the way up, not a tiring one with distinct signs of being on the way down.

Labour have forgotten their brand.

Josie Pagani regularly points out that Labour used to support the working voter.



Now it seems they support the luvvies, the indigent and the criminal classes.

Labour ever more resembles a classic 1950s-style department store selling a broad range of general merchandise, but not stocking the specialist goods its declining number of customers actually want to buy.

In trying to satisfy everyone, the store is pleasing no one. Shoppers are instead getting what they want from smaller, more flexible competitors enjoying a deregulated market.

To make matters worse, the store’s staff keep ordering outdated or hard-to-sell items liked by only a few very elderly browsers and people from ethnic groups. Meanwhile, faulty market research has the store’s management targeting a clientele which no longer exists.

Yet, another far more modern department store across the road is raking in the cash like never before. That is because John Key and National know what their market likes. Labour believes in supplying goods that its customers ought to like for their own good – and is then surprised when they reject them.

Labour has now twice had their asset sales and capital gains tax policies soundly rejected by the electorate. Those are just two policies that failed to resonate. Law and order was another policy disconnect.

But neither is Labour making much headway with its traditional blue collar worker either.

They (especially males ) now view Labour as a party for the politically correct.

Take Labour’s law and order policy, for example. This has a vision where “the rights of all are celebrated and upheld”. That presumably includes criminals.

A major feature of the policy is a long list of steps for action to eliminate violence against women which also turns up in other quite separate policies. But never mind.

The rest of the law and order policy variously promises to repeal National’s GCSB legislation to protect New Zealanders from mass surveillance; ensuring the Pike River families receive their rightful compensation; creating a crime of corporate manslaughter covering work-place deaths and maintaining the lower blood-alcohol limit while driving, which Labour had managed to get enacted.

This is hardly your typical law and order policy – and is long way away from National’s approach of appealing to voters by setting specific targets for the further reduction of crime and reoffending.

Labour has lost the ‘Waitakere Man’. I suspect they are gone for good, and if Grant Robertson becomes leader that will ensure it.

But here lies a crucial difference between the two parties. When it comes to major policy areas – so-called essentials such as law and order, education, heath, welfare and so on – National is focused on the consumer and results, be it the number of people getting elective surgery, the numbers coming off welfare benefits or national standards in primary schools.

Labour – as the party that sees its union-aligned role of ensuring worker rights and protections – sides with the producers be they teachers, nurses or Winz case managers.

Unlike National, which gets kudos for being seen to be delivering on the “fundamentals”, Labour gets no brownie points and probably the reverse, given the stereotypical view with which public servants are regarded by those who live outside the capital.

Now Labour looks like promoting the seeming epitome of one to become its leader. Any reservations, however, regarding Grant Robertson’s suitability for the job – that he is too Wellington-oriented, too much the back-room apparatchik, that he lacks the X-factor, that New Zealand is not ready for a gay prime minister – pale into complete and utter insignificance.

Armstrong then makes a rather lame case for the return of Captain Mumbles.

Such is Labour’s plight, his elevation is no longer a matter of choice. It is a matter of absolute necessity. Only one other MP can save Labour from being further savaged by its most dangerous enemy – itself.

That MP is David Shearer. He has become increasingly at ease under the media spotlight. This week, he revealed he has the steel when he wants to show it by defying Cunliffe. But other than that, Shearer has yet to show he would do a far better job second time around. That leaves Robertson to carry out mission impossible.

It is likely to be Robbo, and then Labour will find out just how low their support can go.


– NZ Herald

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