Labour must revise strategy for resurrection

While the officials, Members of Parliament, workers and supporters of Labour were sure that their Party would not be able to form the next Government even with the support of other friendly parties, they would not have expected to be routed at the General Election held last month.

With just 34 seats, earned through 27.48% of the votes cast, it was the worst performance for a Party that is just four years short of a century. Some members of its caucus and supporters have sought self-assuagement by saying that the National Party, its main rival had performed far worse in 2002.

No one of course sympathises with Labour on this point.

As I wrote this piece, the Party was still caught in leadership battle with David Cunliffe and David Shearer locking horns, each claiming majority support. Our front-page story would carry the outcome with our own analysis before going to printers on Tuesday (December 13) night.

Unexpected results

No one, including those in National, had expected Labour to score as low as it did; and no analyst or professor of politics had expected Greens and New Zealand First to do so well. As the final results were announced on December 10, the Greens became the third largest political party in the country with 14 seats in House, five more than it did in the previous Parliament.

New Zealand First, which was routed in General Election 2008, returned with eight seats, one more than its tally in General Election 2005.

ACT Party would have gone into wilderness but for the support it received from National, enabling former Police Minister in the National Government (1990) and former Auckland City Mayor John Banks to enter Parliament as an elected candidate from the Epsom Constituency in Central Auckland.

Alarm bells should have rung at the Labour camp when the General Election 2008 results posted a humiliating defeat. In that Election, it won 43 seats (34% of the votes polled), down from 50 seats (41%) in 2005.

The results forced Helen Clark to quit as Leader (she later resigned from Parliament to take up a UN assignment), forcing a change in the echelons of the Party. Mike Williams also quit the post of President, paving the way for Andrew Little to step into his shoes.

Party rumblings

The leadership issue during the Post-Helen Clark era saw some rumblings within the Party. Phil Goff and Annette King, both experienced parliamentarians, took over respectively the role of Leader and Deputy Leader. There may have been rebels with a cause within the Party and indeed among the voting public but no one could hear them.

But these events were sufficient for a thorough introspection. Mr Goff, a seasoned politician with several years of experience in public life, failed to assess the mood of the people. Critics in his own Party say that he was known more for his rhetoric and tongue-bashing National than for policies and programmes that would deliver the country from its economic meltdown.

Some good policies came closer to the Election but by then it was too late. The voting public appeared to have decided to back National, since the Party and its Leader John Key had something more to offer.

Capital Gains Tax

There were two major policy announcements that should have worked for Labour and Mr Goff. Most New Zealanders, including his adversaries in the mainstream media were appreciative of his proposal for Capital Gains Tax but it did not impress the average New Zealander.

Labour campaigned hard on this issue, with a series of public meetings and media conferences held throughout the country, yielding almost nothing.

Sale of State Assets

Mr Goff, his caucus colleagues and electoral candidates were also at pain to explain to the public that National’s proposed sale of assets in a number of proft-making state-owned companies was recipe for economic disaster. “Parting with such good companies to pay off debts is like selling your house to liquidate your mortgage on it,” they said.

But the voting public were not moved. In one single move, Mr Key dismissed the criticisms saying that National was proposing to sell only a part of these assets and that they would be owned by New Zealanders. That point appeared to have gone well with the people.

The future

None of these mishaps would mean Labour’s doomsday, although they have spelt disaster for its leadership. Public memory is always short and Labour can make a comeback by next election. It must however put its house in order, formulate smart policies and programmes and move on a positive spin.

No one, including National has written the Party off as gone forever.

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