A little more upset, Labour still has time to recuperate

Jacinda Ardern could well be the Saviour

Venkat Raman

The exit of Andrew Little as Leader of the Labour Party earlier this month with the general election less than eight weeks away was unfortunate, although going by the slumping rating at the polls, he had little choice over his own decision.

That he was not ousted but forced to leave the post, should make the Labour Caucus introspect and take remedial measures.

Contrary to popular belief, Labour is down, but not out. It has the ability to survive- but the point is that it should tackle the challenges with the fighting spirit and concentrate more on its own policies rather than attacking its rivals.

Two Strong Parties needed

Our verdict of the man is that he did not deserve such a fate; for there should at least be two strong parties in every democracy for that institution to thrive. Imbalanced politics almost always makes a regime arrogant and indifferent, although at this point of time, National, on the threshold of a fourth term, seems to be making the right moves, with the right policies and more important, right statements.

Mr Little did not have the benefit of good governance- from within his immediate echelons- people who would give him the correct advice, and again, more important, the right things to say at the right time. Despite some sound policies, Labour and Mr Little failed to capture the wave that was seemingly blowing towards them, when they retained two important constituencies – Mt Roskill in December last year and Mt Albert in February this year.

That failure has not only cost Mr Little his job but also his aspirations to head a Labour government in 2017 or 2020.

Little’s disadvantage

Apart from being a List MP, the Labour Leader had the disadvantage of a bad press, especially the mainstream media, which found fault with whatever he did; the final verdict came over the weekend when the Colmar Brunton Poll placed Labour at its lowest rating- 24%, disastrous with the general election in proximity.

Labour has consistently under-performed in the past three general elections, winning 43 seats in 2008, 34 seats in 2011 and 32 seats (later reduced to 31) in 2014. Its debacle at the polls – both electoral and opinion – has been orchestrated by internal squabble, a lack of direction and policies that would appeal to common people.

Alliance with Greens

Mr Little was the fourth Labour leader since former Party Leader and Prime Minister Helen Clark was beaten by John Key in the 2008 general election. The Party seemed to have won a measure of stability since 2014 under his leadership – a steady former trade unionist who calls for greater fairness, focusing on the rise of homelessness – but that stability proved to be temporary.

The alliance between Labour and Green Party, under his leadership was a tactic that could have helped in the forthcoming general election on September 23, 2017.

Meanwhile Winston Peters, who leads the populist New Zealand First Party, is calling for curbs on immigration and the free market. He could end up holding the balance of power in a close election.

The Way Forward

If Labour should live up to its campaign promise of ‘The Way Forward,’ its own fortunes and future would depend on its policy delivery.

Prime Minister Bill English said on August 1, 2017, responding to the resignation of Mr Little that Labour has done little by way of policy announcements in the last nine years.

ACT Leader David Seymour mocked at the newly appointed Leader of the Party, Jacinda Ardern asking, ‘What has she ever done?’ forgetting that the same question could be asked of him.

Ms Ardern brings to politics freshness and forthrightness and hence could be the rejuvenator of the Party, even at this stage in election campaign. She is a no-nonsense person, ambitious but equally cautious of her responsibilities. She would do well to keep her colleagues on the same page and lead with authority and responsibility.

Confronting Issues

Ms Ardern can pitch her Party’s battle on a number of grounds, capitalising on many of the problems that New Zealanders encounter, not necessarily the making of National, but as a natural cause-and-effect with demand-exceeding-supply syndrome.

This is true of the Housing sector in which rising prices have distanced first homebuyers from becoming house-owners.

There are however some areas in which National would be called to account – areas which could work to the Labour-Greens advantage.

Like her predecessor, Ms Ardern has reiterated Labour’s commitment to increased spending on health and education, although he made no new policy announcements.

Ethnic Media Advisor

As mentioned, the Labour Party has since long suffered the hostility and prejudice of the mainstream media, leaving the left-leaning politicians to work out a strategy to reach the public directly.

A Party being out of the Government is akin to an individual being out of a job. The battle for survival becomes a challenge and as we have seen in the case of both, perseverance and the determination to succeed often makes dreams come true.

Thakur Ranjit Singh, a Media Commentator and a staunch Labour supporter has often held the view that the Party needs the strength of a media team, more so of an ethnic person to reach out to the people. His contention that the Labour Party does not have able media personnel to promote good policies and programmes has come true with the downfall of four leaders in three parliamentary terms.

Ms Ardern should consider regrouping her media team and ‘add some colour to it.’

Low polling

Low expectations and a relatively low voter turnout also hurt Labour in its urban strongholds, where many plumped for the Greens instead. To hold onto any chance of victory in the ensuing election, the Party must work with the Greens. Though pleased with their own performance, the Greens are not likely to find much common ground with National when they come to such cherished issues as agricultural emissions and rural watercourse pollution. National Party draws much of its support from farmers.

New Zealanders feeling the global economic pinch will look for real signs of progress.

As we have mentioned earlier, the need of the hour is not only discipline but also unity. Labour and its Leader can hope to move forward with greater thrust, provided the Party’s hierarchy and rank and file demonstrate their solidarity and ability to weather the storm.


Photo Caption: Jacinda Ardern speaking to the media

(Picture Courtesy: Radio New Zealand/ Rebekah Parsons-King)

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