Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Labour needs a hero and a cause

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Andrew Little and the Labour Party have to work out what they stand for. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Andrew Little and the Labour Party have to work out what they stand for. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It was a couple of weeks ago, at the height of Labour's most recent series of fluffs. You know, the stuff about Indian chefs and acting like Rob Muldoon with bank lending rates.

I was killing time around Parliament, waiting for a minister. A Labour Party insider was killing time too. We got talking.

Andrew Little said this. Andrew Little said that. Tired of his cock-ups. Tired of being blamed for his mistakes.

It wasn't a surprise morale in the Labour Party was low, it was a surprise someone was being honest about it.

For a while now, everyone in the party has bravely kept painting their faces, putting on their party frocks and pretending life was peachy.

Later that day, I walked through the arrivals gate at Auckland airport next to a well-connected political mover and shaker. We got talking. Trouble's brewing in the Labour Party.

They're talking of cutting Grant Robertson. They're talking of cutting the chief of staff. Watch this space.

That was two weeks ago. That was before the party hit 28 per cent in the latest poll.

You can only imagine the plots being hatched involving Little, the candlestick and the drawing room.

Here's some advice for the Labour Party: don't start cutting people. They're not your problem.

Your problem is, despite many changes at the top, many years in Opposition, you are still completely unsure of what you believe in.

Labour has it tough. Labour parties across the world have it tough. These were parties formed to save workers from unjust working conditions. The parties have mostly succeeded. Workplaces and employment legislation is a million times better now than in 1916.

So what does a political party do when its mission is accomplished?

It sits down with a cup of tea - the eight years of opposition might have been an opportune time - and figures out its next task.

But it has to be honest about what it stands for.

Labour told us it stood for the old flag. That's not true. In black and white, its own policy was to change the flag. It was just trying to get one over John Key. Well, it got one over John Key and it's still polling worse than the tea-towel flag.

Labour told us it stood for free tertiary education for all. But, that just sounded like a crappier version of Helen Clark's interest-free student loans.

Labour told us it stood for keeping Indian restaurant chef jobs for Kiwis. We pondered why we had never seriously considered a career as a chef in an Indian restaurant.

It doesn't have to be like this for a party slowly strangled by its own success. Look at UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. He's beating David Cameron in some polls. He's a borderline-communist eccentric you're never entirely convinced bothered to shower that morning.

But he's authentic. He says what he means and will do it.

He's the opposite of John Key, the PM whose only firm belief is a country should be run like a policy popularity contest.

Being authentic is a difficult and brave thing to do. If it was easy, Labour would have nailed it. And yet it's as simple as this: at its heart, Labour in 1916 stood for making things fairer. Labour in 2016 should also stand for making things fairer.

In the past fortnight, we found out how unfair tax is. Rich people with links to the Panama Papers dodge tax, Facebook pays us less than $50,000 tax in a year. The Government shrugs and looks away.

There you go, Labour. Try fixing the age-old inequalities in tax. There's something you can stand for.

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- Herald on Sunday

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Heather du Plessis-Allan is a columnist for the Herald on Sunday

Heather du Plessis-Allan is a thirty-something trying very hard to avoid growing up. So far it’s working, except for the husband, the mortgage and the proper job. She lives between Auckland and Wellington. When she’s not writing for the Herald on Sunday, she co-hosts TV3’s 7pm current affairs programme Story.

Read more by Heather du Plessis-Allan

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