Gordon Campbell on Labour’s recent bout of mid-flight turbulence

It has been quite a week for Labour, on three counts at least. First came the signs in the polls that the recent slide in support for the Key government – which had raised Labour hopes that the second term blues would become an avalanche leading to election victory for the centre left in 2014 – had in fact, ground to a halt, for now at least. Perhaps not co-incidentally, Duncan Garner then published a blog entry slagging David Shearer‘s potential rival David Cunliffe , with the article claiming to have relied on (anonymously supplied) information from “two very senior MPs” on the general theme of “ Why Does Labour Hate David Cunliffe So Much?.” Finally David Shearer himself gave the latest in the deadly round of speeches meant to communicate just who Shearer The Man is, and What He Stands For. This latest speech was to Grey Power, and it included this anecdote:

I was chatting to a guy in my electorate who had just got home from work. In the middle of the conversation, he stopped and pointed across the road to his neighbour. He said: “see that guy over there, he’s on a sickness benefit, yet he’s up there painting the roof of his house. That’s not bloody fair. Do you guys support him?”

From what he told me, he was right, it wasn’t bloody fair, and I said so. I have little tolerance for people who don’t pull their weight.

That ‘guy in my electorate’ must be quite some guy. Because when I interviewed him back in March, Shearer told me the exact same anecdote. As others have noted, this is almost the same as the story about the “alarm clock Britons” praised a couple of years ago by Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg. You know, the people who get roused from bed by their alarm clocks to go to work, while those lazy good-for-nothing beneficiaries across the road stay sleeping on in bed, with their curtains closed. It wasn’t bloody fair, Shearer told The Guy in My Electorate and by extension, the guys in all the electorates right across New Zealand.

What are we meant to take from this? That the leader of the Labour Party will stand shoulder to shoulder with them pointing an accusatory finger at those slackers on sickness benefits? This isn’t an encouraging glimpse of how Labour is planning to express its opposition to the next round of welfare reform, assuming that it will be opposing it. Perhaps this is why Labour hates David Cunliffe so much. Didn’t he say earlier this year that one reason Labour why lost the last election was that on important issues, it sounded too much like the National Party?

Just think for a moment what Shearer could have said if he wanted to talk about fairness. Something like this, maybe?:

I know a woman in my electorate. She’s on the DPB because she gave up her career when she got married. Like all of us, she hoped and believed the marriage would last, and that she’d be able to build a future with the man she loved, for their kids. But it didn’t work out. Her husband went off with a woman he works with, and her income has taken a real hit. She tries hard to budget, but there’s just not enough to put food on the table, pay the bills and the school fees – but she’s always there when the kids get sick or have problems with their friends, or struggle with their homework. She does all that, alone. It feels lonely at times sitting in the kitchen at night, thinking how life has worked out.

And who does this government blame? Whose life does Paula Bennett want to make even harder? That woman in my electorate. It isn’t bloody fair. And I have little tolerance for men who don’t pull their weight, and a society that lacks compassion.

But that of course, is not the speech that Shearer gave. He just piled onto the people on sickness benefits. It’s not that Cunliffe would necessarily be much better if he was in the leader’s chair, listening to Grant Robertson and Trevor Mallard. Although in his speeches this year, he has wiped the floor with Shearer, in articulating positions that are recognisably centre left in tone and content, and consistent with the party’s traditions. Personally, I have some doubts whether Garner interviewed anyone but his own keyboard for his piece – there was nothing new in the blog entry, and the unpopularity of Cunliffe (expressed in those tee hee jokes about the silent ”T”) has been a recurring theme in Labour Party gossip for about ten years or more.

Sure, Cunliffe can be a pompous prat. But then, so could David Lange, and no one in Labour minded Lange’s intellectual arrogance and general obnoxiousness so long as he was winning for them. The charge that Garner makes of Cunliffe being lazy rings particularly false, and not simply because of the statistical evidence to the contrary.

I mean, if Cunliffe is lazy what are to we to make of the virtually invisible David Parker? Face it, one of the main reasons why some in Labour have always disliked Cunliffe is because he regularly commits the sin of being smarter than they are, and he doesn’t try hard enough to compensate for it.

What the wider poll trend indicates about Labour is that the public is saying ‘Yes we still hate asset sales and a few other things this government is doing but uh oh….is the opposition really a credible alternative?’ And the public has concluded that it is not yet convinced. There’s a lesson for Labour in that slowdown in the rate of voter disenchantment. Shearer needs to realize he can’t fly under the radar into government. And when he does stand up for something, it needs to be something other than Tory Lite.

Olympic Gold, Not So Much

While Britain basks in all the Olympic good cheer that $US15-20 billion can buy, it should be noted that none of this is carrying over to the British economy, which is officially headed for zero growth this year and the bounceback next year will be weaker than anticipated, as deflationary trends continue to stifle activity, regardless of the ongoing bouts of quantitative easing. Hope everyone who paid for that Olympic spree won’t mind the loss of jobs, cuts to public services, library closures etc etc that made it all possible. Arrr, they be poor, but they were ‘appy.