Labour makes a dangerous but necessary gamble

Seven weeks out from a general election where the next Government looks certain to involve New Zealand First, irrespective of who wins, there was only one major story in New Zealand today. After three years trying to lead Labour back from the edge of political oblivion, a combination of circumstances have undone Mr Little before the election campaign that he thought might have made him Prime Minister, even started.

What a gamble. What an incredibly risky move to make. The public reaction has been mixed. Some are laughing it off as the final roll of the dice by Labour, convinced that the oldest mainstream party in New Zealand is finished. Others think the youth and the charm of its new leader Jacinda Ardern may be the catalyst for decisive action in the party.

Mr Little’s demise appears to have been caused by several things:

  • Labours stubbornly poor showing in the polls, despite having gone through Phil Goff, David Shearer and David Cunliffe as leaders
  • That poor showing highlighted by a lack of bold policy, such as nationalizing the petroleum industry, which Labour would have had much N.Z. support for
  • Perceptions of Mr Little as an angry man
  • Pollsters being largely owned or influenced by centre-right leaning parties who have funded a campaign of negativity against Mr Little
  • An unquestioning media only too happy to do the politicians bidding

Andrew Little meant well. Many who met him described Mr Little as being a humble human being and wanting genuine compassion for people in less fortunate circumstances than him. But was he leadership material?

In the circumstances that confronted Labour after the 2014 election rout, many people wondered if Labour could survive. Whilst its physical condition has not improved in that time, the party has fought significant battles in order to remain relevant to New Zealand and New Zealanders. Policy, albeit piecemeal has been put together and Mr Little did not make any serial gender gaffes such as Mr Cunliffe’s statement about being embarrassed to be a man.

To be fair to Mr Little, the media have had a vendetta of sorts against him and his Labour Party. Their failure to report negative news about the leadership of National, whilst attacking the leadership of Labour at every opportunity is one example. This has included whether or not Ms Bennett used Ministry of Social Development aid in a fraudulent manner.

Mr Little has gone. His replacement Jacinda Ardern is one of the few really well known M.P.’s left in Labour. A huge amount rides on her 37 year old shoulders. Can she become the next Prime Minister of New Zealand? How will the Greens and New Zealand First react? And should the National-led Government of Prime Minister Bill English be scared?

Ms Ardern entered Parliament in 2008. In 2011 she became the then Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett’s shadow in the Opposition benches, in a portfolio that she has held onto ever since. Right up to Monday 31 July, Ms Ardern insisted she did not want the leadership role and faithfully backed the Leader of the Labour Party on the day. So, what was it that prompted Labour to turn so suddenly on its leader Andrew Little? The official answer to that question might be awhile coming, but it was known long before yesterday.

As a voter of centre-left persuasion, all I can say is “Good luck Labour, as you are going to need it”.

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