Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: November 29

Current Labour leader Phil Goff on election night. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Current Labour leader Phil Goff on election night. Photo / Herald on Sunday

The post-election issue that is most likely to dominate political analysis over the next few months is the state of the Labour Party, its leadership, and how the party might rebuild. The biggest immediate problem seems to be a dearth of credible leadership options. As Vernon Small says, there has been 'no clear contender emerging over the last term because of doubts over all the likely options'. He also puts forward the pros and cons of leading contenders: see: Parker heads queue for Labour leadership. Claire Trevett sets out similar points in: 'Charismatic' Cunliffe people's choice for Labour. Trevett's report also quotes me as saying all three Davids - Cunliffe, Parker, and Shearer - are 'sort of Phil Goff clones', and the party would be better to think outside the box. Patrick Gower also blogs today to say that 'Labour's problem: Its caucus cannot think outside the square' - see: Lack of Camp Shearer shows Labour's problems. According to Gower, 'The caucus are too focussed on the egos and the power brokers and the factions and the personal history to see through the mist'.

Today's Dominion Post editorial, Policies with vision needed by Labour perceptively points out that Labour needs someone who is 'more than the master of the sound bite and more than the best schemer in the Labour caucus'. Unfortunately for Labour, the Dom Post says 'Neither of the leading contenders to replace Mr Goff - David Parker and David Cunliffe - has demonstrated that capability to the public. Nor have the others whose names have been mentioned in connection with the position - David Shearer, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson'.

The three Daves all have a sense of being versions of 'Key-lite' at best, and at worst, alternative versions of Phil Goff. And why would voters want to re-embrace a party lead by a poor carbon copy what they have just rejected? Gordon Campbell has written a very thoughtful blog post on the leadership problem, suggesting that Cunliffe and Parker, in particularly, are actually very similar to each other: 'It is not as if they are polar opposites, ideologically speaking. Both tend to be regarded as being at the rightward end of the centre left political spectrum, on the economy at least' - see: On the challenges facing Labour's new leader.

There's talk of 'wild card' options - usually people like Grant Robertson - but the problem is that such candidates are far from being 'wild' at all. They're entirely predictable. There is no doubt that Robertson will eventually be at least deputy leader. But although he's probably got more going for him than the David's he's not entirely in a different league. Campbell is fairly dismissive of the apparently leadership ticket of Parker and Robertson: 'David Parker and Grant Robertson - looks more substantial as a management team, but less capable of winning votes for Labour among the wider public. Unfortunately for Labour, it isn't bidding to run a small government agency - a task for which Parker/Robertson would be a crackerjack duo - but the entire country.' Also, as the Dim-Post blog points out, despite having a strong reputation, Robertson 'Has not met expectations as an opposition MP in terms of holding Ryall to account in the health portfolio' see: Process of elimination.

Labour's problems run deeper than a lack of leadership options. Numerous party insiders and commentators have emphasised today the extent of Labour's problems. Shane Jones has been one of the most outspoken on the need for Labour to face up to its disastrous loss: 'Really we've got to delve deeply into why three out of every four New Zealanders who cast a vote said we were unsound and unfit to govern. I don't think that will change until we deeply address those challenges. Until we really understand why so many people moved away from us, then we are going to be where we are for a long time to come' (Shane Jones: Labour must reconnect with Maori).

Similarly, John Pagani says that Labour is currently fooling itself with claims that the party ran a great campaign with great policy: 'The assertion is tone deaf, arrogant, and embarrassing'. In his column, What the election means, he makes the important point that 'This is not a matter of packaging. Voters are not choosing National because they are being fooled, but because they see more of what they want. Only when Labour acknowledges this truth can it hope to win voters back'.

In a similar vein, another Labour insider, Phil Quin calls out MP Charles Chauvel on his assessment of Labour's election campaign, labelling it Complacent. Delusional. Staggeringly Arrogant.

But perhaps the greatest criticism has come today from Chris Trotter, who writes that 'The diminishing parliamentary assortment of middle-class professionals, civil servants and trade union officials that sits atop Labour's demographic rump look less-and-less like the people it purports to represent' - see: Rout & Ruin. The problem, according to Trotter is that the 'ailing' party is politically incoherent: 'What does Labour really stand for in 2011? It most certainly does not stand for the socialist aims and objectives proclaimed by Harry Holland's Labour Party in 1919. Indeed, two of the most important policies promoted by Phil Goff's Labour Party in 2011: the introduction of a Capital Gains Tax; and lifting the age of eligibility for superannuation from 65 to 67; could just as easily have emerged from a moderate conservative party'.

This is an argument also pushed in today's Dominion Post editorial, Policies with vision needed by Labour. The Dom Post says that 'the Goff Labour Party could not make up its mind whether to be fiscally responsible or profligate in its social spending. In trying to be a bit of both it wound up pleasing few and annoying many'. More importantly, 'Labour's problem is not its leader, nor its campaign strategy.... The problem is not even John Key's popularity. It is the absence of a coherent set of policies that give effect to its core philosophy'.

Other important or interesting items today include: Andrea Vance's John Banks looks to Conservatives, the NBR's Banks: 'ACT brand just about had its use-by date', Derek Cheng's Divided Act Party needs 'to bring factions together', John Moore's The Bored and the Disgusted, TV3's Did opinion polls influence the election? , Audrey Young's 10 things you didn't know about the election results, the Standard's Demise of the Maori Party and Choosing our next PM, the David Farrar's series of posts on the state of all the parties: Labour, ACT, Maori Party, NZ First, and The Greens.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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