Winning in 2014: a prescription for Labour

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Labour should be prepared to do a deal with Hone Harawira (pictured above), but any sort of deal with the Mana-Internet Party would be electoral suicide for Labour.


As a Labour Party member I get so frustrated at the constant negativity about my party. Everyone seems to have an opinion about what the party ought to be doing, and barely a day goes by without some blogger on The Standard, The Daily Blog, or Pundit, opining stridently about the strategic errors Labour is making.  It seems as if all is in turmoil, as those within the party and on its fringes debate the direction Labour should take.

But if the various factions would only stop denouncing each other for a moment, they would see that it’s bloody obvious what Labour needs to do to win the 2014 election. It doesn’t take a genius to work any of this out.

And yet it seems as if every day someone new is giving the party advice on what it should do, which demographic it should target, and which policies it should adopt. Honestly, reading the blogs these days usually leaves me with a headache.

It’s not rocket surgery, guys! Just get it together, will you?

It’s startlingly obvious. All Labour needs to do to win is move to the left and capture the support of all those disaffected voters fed up with our failed neoliberal experiment, while staying firmly in the centre where all the middle class votes are. Labour has been failing precisely because it has struggled to work out what it is about, and what it stands for, but it needs to stand up for the working classes and the poor, while remaining a party predominantly for middle New Zealand.

Hundreds of thousands of young people did not vote for Labour last time, because they could not see any point. Most of these young people are uninspired by Labour, because it offers them nothing new. In their minds, Labour is largely indistinguishable from National. Labour must therefore position itself as offering something quite different to National.

There are also hundreds of thousands of middle class voters who went with National instead of Labour last time, so if Labour wants to win these voters back it must look to steal some of the territory currently occupied by the Nats. These people want a steady reliable government focused on fiscal prudence. They’re largely happy with the way things are.

Labour is a broad church, and it cannot hope to win power without carrying the majority of the voting public with it. That means policies that address genuine middle class concerns. But Labour is also a party for the workers and the poor, and was born from the union movement. At its heart must be a concern for the welfare of workers and those struggling, even if this has to be at the expense of the middle class.

Labour also has an image problem, but that can be fixed easily enough. Many voters are frightened off by the perception that Labour is a party run by gays, feminists and minority groups. The party has driven off good blokes like John Tamihere and now Shane Jones, blokes who offer a different perspective and can communicate with working class males in a way that the current party leader cannot. Many voters are also frightened off by the perception that Labour is still a party struggling with its attitudes towards gays, feminists and minority groups, as evidenced by the Neanderthal attitudes of past and current caucus members, like John Tamihere and more recently Shane Jones. Labour needs to embrace all perspectives, while driving utterly from the party anyone who happens to have the wrong opinions.

Labour needs to end its obsession with identity politics, while remaining a fearless and unashamed champion of the rights of women and other traditionally oppressed groups in our society.

The policies that Labour adopts will ultimately determine whether it wins this election. David Cunliffe needs to be brave and adopt bold policies that get this country up and running again. But he can’t afford to scare the centrist vote by doing anything drastic. Indeed, although we need firm and decisive action to right this sinking ship, the economy is on the mend and there really is no need for a radical change of direction. We need to accept that our free market economy has failed ordinary New Zealanders utterly and completely and needs to be abandoned, while accepting that our free market economy is here to stay. Labour should focus on policies that moderate the worst aspects of the free market but otherwise allow businesses to prosper, while at the same time returning to an economy heavily controlled by the government.

People will respond to a leader who offers a bold and clear vision of the path ahead, so long as they realise that big government isn’t the cure for all ills. People have to take responsibility for themselves, because the world doesn’t owe them a living, and they should also expect the government to care for them when they fall upon hard times or are disadvantaged. The role of Labour leader is to promote policies that allow the government to take an active role in society, while accepting that people don’t necessarily want more government in their lives.

The world has changed, and we simply can’t afford as a nation to try and return to some golden age when health and education were free for everyone. But the world is changing, and people are finally realising that the only reason we can’t all have free health and education is because the elites who run this country don’t want to pay more tax.

Labour must promise to be fiscally prudent, so as not to alarm the markets, and so as to encourage people worried about government spending to vote for them. That doesn’t mean, however, that Labour should focus too much on controlling government spending. An increase in government spending will provide a much needed stimulus to the economy, so long as it is done in a way that doesn’t increase government expenditure. Government debt is an ongoing problem and has to be kept under control, regardless of who is in power, but this country has quite low levels of government debt and we can afford to loosen the purse strings considerably.

In the end the difference between victory and defeat may come down to a few percentage points on the night. It may also come down to the results in a few electorates. Labour should be prepared to do deals with other parties on the left in key electorates, such as Epsom and Te Tai Tokerau. But people just don’t like Hone Harawira, and any sort of deal with the Mana-Internet Party would be electoral suicide for Labour. Labour needs to campaign on its own values and just refuse outright to do any sleazy deals, while being smart and strategic in the messages it sends to voters in key electorates like Epsom and Te Tai Tokerau.

Only by shifting left while remaining firmly in the centre, and breaking from the past while adopting a steady-as-she-goes approach, will Labour win back all those voters who abandoned it because the party was too radical or not radical enough.

But it’s all so obvious that I’m surprised I even have to tell you this.

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