Hooton on the bumbling, fumbling, hapless Labour party

Matthew Hooton looks at the pressure on Andrew Little to move Labour to the left.

It has all the hallmarks of Matt McCarten blabbing to his mates trying to duck the blame for Andrew Little’s hapless bumbling.

The most common description of struggling Labour leader Andrew Little’s big Budget 2016 speech was that it delivered “mixed messages.” That was the kindly conclusion of reporters as diverse as TVNZ’s Katie Bradford and the Herald’s Claire Trevett.  It raises the question of how an opposition leader could have allowed himself to present such a mishmash of contradictory slogans.

In the speech, Mr Little declared Labour had a “positive plan” for “middle New Zealand” to achieve the “Kiwi dream.” This was defined as “a good job, a home they can call their own, a good school to send their kids to, healthcare if they get sick” and a “decent chance to get ahead … if they put the effort in.”

So far, so good: Elections are decided by the median voter and these are words with which three-time election winners like John Key or Helen Clark would begin a big speech.

But Mr Little just couldn’t manage it beyond the opening words and what followed was more 1980s student-politics Leninism aimed to please the quad.

Mr Little spat out the names of the class enemies: the property speculators, the land bankers, the tax dodgers. Only the kulaks failed to get a mention.

It was classic student politics…and that is Labour’s problem, they’ve never graduated past student politics.

Mr Little then outlined a picture of New Zealand absolutely foreign to middle New Zealand.  He spoke of the horrors of rising unemployment, stalled wages, mass poverty, failing schools, doctors and nurses unable to do their jobs, children sleeping in cars and families crowded into garages. “An entire generation,” he declared, “is locked out of ever owning their own home.”

A bizarre metric was constructed to show economic growth flowing “to the mega-rich” and not to “workers,” defined narrowly as those in a traditional PAYE job.

This is the sort of staunch left-wing rhetoric a Labour leader should use if their objective is not the “middle New Zealand” targeted so successfully by Mr Key and Ms Clark but the so-called “missing million” David Cunliffe believed would propel him to the prime ministership.

These are those who are not enrolled or do not vote and Labour assumes (wrongly) that they would all tick left if they did.

And they aren’t listening to Andrew Little, or anyone else for that matter.

In fact, Mr Little is not as gormless as he looks.  Along with his chief of staff, the personally far left but professionally pragmatic Matt McCarten, Mr Little knows full well Labour must position itself in the centre.

Labour’s long-standing pollster, UMR Research, reports that 57% of New Zealanders – by definition “middle New Zealand” – think the country is heading in the right direction.

There has been a sharp upturn in the percentage of people who think their personal circumstances will improve over the next year.  Tales of doom and woe do not resonate with the people Mr Little needs to switch their votes from National to Labour.

Even on housing, where there is a genuine issue, Census data suggests the majority of people still buy a house in their 30s and a surprisingly large chunk of people even in their 20s.

Saying an “entire generation” is locked out of the market is to insult those crucially important voters in their 20s and 30s who have worked hard and saved up for a home by bracketing them with those who have not.

Similarly, describing as “workers” only those in a traditional PAYE employment relationship with a boss is entirely out of touch with the real economy in the crucial electoral battlegrounds of West Auckland, South Auckland, Linwood and Redwood where National has made such enormous gains over the past decade.

Labour is not going to win an election, or come anywhere near it, until it takes as its starting point the real social and economic conditions that the majority of New Zealanders experience, and that is improving family incomes and wealth.  Mr Little and Mr McCarten both know all this.

They may well know it but their messages are for the hard left and permanently destitute…where there are precious little votes.

Why, then, does Mr Little’s rhetoric seem to imply he thinks the social conditions in New Zealand in 2016 are comparable with those in Russia in 1916, and that expressing greater and greater outrage, louder and louder, will deliver him a revolution?

Because that’s all he’s got. Same with fools like Martyn Bradbury.

Mr Little’s problem is that his ability to retain the leadership through to the election depends not on professional politicians connected at least in some way with their communities but to the faceless union bosses and hardcore Labour activists who gave him the job in late 2014.

On their behalf, harsh words were recently exchanged at Labour’s New Zealand Council that Mr Little is already positioning himself too far to the right.

The idea of chasing middle New Zealand is anathema to party organs now dominated by extreme-left entrists from the old Alliance.

Mr Little has been given strict instructions by those who sustain him that he must chase the missing million, not Labour’s class enemies in middle New Zealand.  Is it any wonder Winston Peters is picking up voters from what remains of Labour’s West Auckland and provincial rump?

Yep, I’d suggest Matt McCarten is furiously spinning to avoid being the blamehound. The problem is when everyone else has been blamed and executed and the problems continue then people will naturally start looking at who and where the real problems are.

 – NBR

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.