I was at a Locally Left meeting in Grey Lynn last year when I could contain myself no longer. “What does Labour actually stand for?” I asked Labour list MP Phil Twyford. “I don’t know any more.”
He didn’t appear to either. He couldn’t answer.
It’s not his fault – it’s Labour’s fault.
Back in the 1930s, it was really clear what Labour was and what the party stood for. Now Labour is ‘National Lite’ or ‘Slightly Left National’.
Which do you prefer? Well, I hate both.
We all know Labour is well on track to lose the next election. It seems like Phil Goff and his ill-advisors are the only people who don’t know. As I’ve said before, I know people who know Phil Goff and they say he’s intelligent and a really nice guy. Great. So what? Prove it, Phil, to me and everyone else. Because so far you haven’t even begun to, and this is a huge disappointment.
But I can tell you what Labour needs to do. It’s actually pretty plain.
1/ Stop pretending you’re going to win the next election.
You’re not. National can tighten the screws on society a lot more before New Zealanders cry ‘uncle’. They’re still hoping for that big tax or business break that’s not going to come.
Mr ‘Get Along With Everybody’ hasn’t had any real issues he’s had to publicly deal with yet. He hasn’t even been put to the test. This is partly because the opposition is pathetic, partly because two of the most potentially vociferous opponents are part of the government (yes, that’s ACT and the Maori Party), and partly because Key is adept at playing Mr Nice Guy in public while leaving the dirty work (which will only increase) to MPs like Brownlee and Bennett. So people actually believe he’s doing a good job. Which is incredible to anybody who can see what’s really going on, but that’s not more than a few of the voters. Yet.
2/ Work out what Labour’s vision is for New Zealand. At the moment, Labour doesn’t have one.
If Labour does have a vision, what is it? Why can’t I explain it? Worse, why can’t Labour explain it? Because it doesn’t have a vision. If it does, it doesn’t make sense, for even people inside Labour don’t know what it is or how to put it across.
So go back to the drawing board and create that vision.
Face it: Labour was rubbish in the last term, spending all its energy on turf protection and reactionism instead of creating real policy people could understand they could benefit from. This is what happens when there’s no vision.
3/ Sell the vision. Some people will hate it – at least at first. Accept this is how it will be. This is how it should be. Wear your colours and be proud. Give us something meaningful to fight for.
For example, Scandinavians accept they pay high taxes because they understand the benefits in their societies.
A capitol gains tax will patently solve lots of New Zealand’s export and business investment problems, but many Kiwis will squeal like stuck pigs at the prospect. But because they’re used to the passive and traditional investment in property does not mean it’s good. So harden up.
Be brave, Labour. It really does beat ‘pathetic’. Work on making it clear what Labour’s vision means and how it’s good for me, and for you, and for all the other ordinary New Zealanders.
4/ Win the election after the next one.