Notwithstanding adverse comments meted out by the mainstream media, Labour Leader David Cunliffe is upbeat about his Party’s performance at the ensuing general election on September 20. In fact, he is confident of leading the next Government as the Prime Minister.
He has several advantages to his credit. Like his recent predecessors, he is an elected Member of Parliament (from New Lynn constituency), and has been a Minister under the previous Labour Governments and hence understands the real issues facing New Zealanders. Most important of all, he is charismatic, hardworking and is capable of keeping his Party together.
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.
The ascent of Mr Cunliffe atop the Party echelons has given Labour a shot-in-the-arm. He has ambition and appears to have infused the fighting spirit among his Party ranks. There is, as we can see, a consensus over leadership.
Mr Cunliffe has led Labour less than six months, and voters do not feel they know him yet, although, as mentioned, he has been a good Minister under the previous (Helen Clark) Government holding such sensitive and important portfolios as Health, Information Technology and Immigration. His image as a man of integrity and his passion to lead the country as the next Prime Minister can work to his advantage during his campaign.
Among the issues that Labour will take to the public include growing inequality, campaign against sale of state-owned assets, high price of housing and electricity, shortcomings in education and environmental issues. It plans to revoke many of the current Government’s legislation, introduce ‘KiwiBuild’ package to stimulate construction, building and engineering jobs, award $60 per week to families during the first year of a baby’s life after paid parental leave has expired and promote small businesses.
Mr Cunliffe is a friendly politician who sincerely believes that the country is far to the right under the National Government led by John Key. As Finance spokesman for his Party, he did his homework to bring relevance to opposing National party’s fiscal policies and financial management.
Labour has been vociferously attacking the Government’s asset sales programme, saying that the potential dividend losses that might come from it would be harmful to the economy and to New Zealanders. It aimed its message at voters who are struggling in the hard times brought on by climbing unemployment and inflation, the devastation in Christchurch and a slump in agricultural exports and tourism on the back of international recession and the strong Kiwi dollar.
As the election campaign gets under way, National’s slings at the possible cost of other Labour policies such as a capital-gains tax, removal of sales tax on fresh fruit and vegetables, and a rise in the minimum wage and retirement age would be watched with abiding interest.
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 next 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.
The political scene is further complicated by Kim Dotcom, an internet entrepreneur convicted in Germany for hacking and in Hong Kong for fraud. He has set up a new entity, the Internet Party.
He has acquired the stature of an anti-establishment hero. Both the Greens and Labour fear that the Internet Party will take votes from them.
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.
Businesses could do better with added incentives, foreign investment needs to be perked up and the working class would be pleased with tax cuts.
Given the fact that the next general election is one budget and several policies and programmes away, there is time for the Labour Party to repair some of its recently damaged image and campaign well.
Mr Cunliffe will lead his Party into the next general election keeping a number of factors in perspective and believing as he does that the challenges are many but so are opportunities to overcome them.
It is also imperative for him to strengthen the lineage of command and put in place people with the ability to share his ambitions and vision and articulate with the people across the country.
But much would depend on the policies and programmes that he and his caucus colleagues are able to place before the public to earn their attention and support.