Gordon Campbell on Labour’s love, lost

Probably, the latest Colmar Brunton poll results must have felt like this for Andrew Little. Labour is down at a circa 25% level of support in the polls, eight weeks out from the election. To realistically hope to form a government, Labour needs to be punching around 30% at least, yet that figure looks like a truly distant hope. If Labour is trying to lull National into a false sense of security, the eighth round is when they’re supposed to be coming off the ropes and landing knockout blows, and not talking about throwing in the towel, as Little was doing on RNZ this morning.

The unfortunate thing is that Labour seems bereft of ideas on how to land meaningful blows on a third term government. They’re dependent on the National-generated surpluses for their social spending programme, and –if elected – they’re promising to persist with much the same economic settings. Not to mention the same positions on trade, on surveillance and on this country’s national security and defence ties. For three elections in a row, Labour has been caught between stressing the need for change, while offering re-assurances that change won’t entail risk or disturbance to the status quo. “A Fresh Approach” is hardly an inspirational billboard message, if the approach is to virtually the same destination.

It is not that the two major parties don’t differ. They do. Labour’s industrial relations policy, and its commitment to spending the $2 billion earmarked by National for tax cuts on public health and state education are significant, but they’re not getting cut-through. For better or worse, Gareth Morgan is being seen as the “fresh approach” guy, not Andrew Little. Elsewhere on the centre-left, the Greens seem to have benefitted mightily from Metiria Turei’s very personal critique of (a) the benefit levels, and (b) of the punitive way that WINZ weaponises poverty, in order to enforce its rules.

What Turei did was the closest thing we’ve seen to Corbynism in this campaign. It has worked. There should be a lesson in that strategy for Labour, though it may be too late to be taken on board, at this election. Namely: for what seemed like the first time in eons, the Greens took political risks in order to make a point about social justice, and they’ve been rewarded for doing so.

Yes, the gains have come from elsewhere on the centre left – but surely, the Greens can’t be expected to treat piggy-backing Labour over the finishing line as their over-riding obligation. Yet on RNZ this morning, Little was complaining that Turei’s actions had done doing nothing to grow the centre –left vote. That may be is true. But surely the more significant problem is that Labour itself has been standing still (or going backwards) on that essential chore.

Little, for all his personal virtues, simply hasn’t connected with the public. Jacinda Ardern shows some encouraging signs of being better able to do so. But that’s a story for another election. Lets hope that Labour eventually comes to see – with 2020 vision – that it has to be a strong left wing party again, under a leader who can embody that message.

Sad !

Hard to feel upbeat about the political outlook… As Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields once pointed out, the umbrellas don’t help much, not in certain kinds of weather….

I drive around
I walk around in circles
‘Cause I’ve got no sense of direction
I guess I’ve got no sense at all

All the umbrellas in London couldn’t stop this rain
And all the dope in New York couldn’t kill this pain
And all the money in Tokyo couldn’t make me stay
All the umbrellas in London couldn’t stop this rain

And I’m not suggesting this at all, but drastic action is called for….

Finally, my all time favourite Magnetic Fields song is a toss-up between “Fear Of Trains” and this track. ‘I love it when you give me things…’ That’s a quintessential Stephin Merritt sentiment.