Labour could learn from National (or lose the election)

We are mid way through the third term of this National-led Government. Somehow despite the opposition to it, National has not suffered greatly from the flag referendum outcome. Nor has it obviously suffered from the growing number of socio-economic problems that are starting to come to light as a result of 7 years of systemic under funding and under resourcing. And to Labour’s detriment, the polls seem to show National is as popular as ever.

More interestingly though, the latest poll shows that New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters is more popular as preferred Prime Minister than Labour Leader Andrew Little. The same poll also has New Zealand First only one point behind the Greens, who are Labour’s preferred support partner in power. This raises some serious questions for Mr Little, who follows Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe as Leader of the Labour Party. It is notable during the Prime Ministership of Helen Clark that National replaced Jenny Shipley with Bill English. Mr English was seen as dour by many and not a strong leader. That led National to an historic election defeat.

But in the aftermath as National wallowed in Opposition on just 27 seats, it elected Dr Don Brash to lead, in much the same way Tony Abbott was given the job of leading the Liberal Party – both were hard line by nature with simple orders to destroy the Government. Both significantly rallied their parties to close the gap in the case of National vs Labour and actually win the election in the case of the Liberals vs Labor. That is where the similarities ended because Dr Brash was perceived as too divisive to govern by New Zealanders and had to watch Labour form a third term Government. Mr Abbott became Prime Minister in Australia but quickly proved he had no idea how to govern constructively, and within 18 months fearing that they might face an election rout, the Liberals replaced him.

In place of Dr Brash, National elected John Key, whose common person persona appealed and still appeals to a lot of people. His charisma as someone one could have a beer and a yarn to, someone who had a smile and a joke for people on the street and who could lead with empathy in a disaster endeared and endears him to many. As yet Labour have not found someone with that common touch – Mr Little is a unionist and quite good at union politics, but he is perceived as angry. He is perceived as reluctant to make big decisions and announce bold policy. And in actual fact, are we even certain he has full control of his Caucus?

Sadly not I. Sadly, with effectively 16 months left in this Parliamentary term, the prospect of Labour spending a fourth term on the Opposition benches is starting to increase. The Greens have not performed as well since Russel Norman resigned to take up a job at Greenpeace. And could people live with three parties that have a somewhat unwieldy, fractious relationship in Parliament being on the Government benches? That remains to be seen.

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