Andrew Little's strategy of broadening the ideological nature of the Labour Party and attempting to ditch its PC-liberal image has been going on for a number of months now. Although it might be too early for him to celebrate victory, it does seem to be working.
TVNZ's first political poll of the year shows Labour climbing back up to 30 per cent support - see
. Obviously such a minor improvement shouldn't be seen as any big victory. But as the polling period was during the days of the Willie Jackson fallout, the result will reassure Little that the showdown over Jackson wasn't the disaster for the party's popularity that it might have appeared.
Vindication for Little's strategy
There is now a wider awareness that Little's mission to make his party electable in September involves a strategy of jettisoning Labour's liberal image. Little wants the party to resonate more with working New Zealanders, rather than simply the narrow band of middle class and politically-correct activists Labour has come to be publicly associated with.
Senior Labour figures admit that this liberal public image was one of the main problems in the 2014 campaign, and that the epitome of Labour's identity politics problem was David Cunliffe's controversial apology for being a man, which polls showed was equally disliked by men and women. According to Richard Harman, "Labour's strategists know that David Cunliffe's apology for being a man was a critical turning point in the party's fortunes in 2014. They, therefore, appear to be following a quite deliberate policy of steering the party back to the centre allowing the more extreme identity-politics votes to go to the Greens" - see: Labour's leadership scores some wins.
Little's risky strategy to "de-liberalise" Labour includes recruiting new candidates who don't look like beltway liberal Wellington. Hence we see the introduction of Willie Jackson on the left and Greg O'Connor on the right.
The liberal backlash
There has been a very public backlash within Little's party - especially over Willie Jackson, and to a lesser extent over Greg O'Connor. And, although MP Poto Williams has been at the forefront of the backlash, there are a large number of other activists and MPs who will think likewise.
This is the subject of an interesting blog post by Chris Trotter, in which he argues that the "social liberals" have always been uneasy about Andrew Little's leadership: "Little's powerbase in the affiliated trade unions made many of them uneasy. Labour's activist base of highly-educated middle-class professionals were only too aware that the people represented by Labour's mostly blue-collar union affiliates came from socio-economic backgrounds very different from their own. A party leader who owed his position to the votes of working-class New Zealanders was unlikely to be guided exclusively by the policy priorities of the professional-managerial class. If Little was to deliver to his working-class base, then he would have to expand Labour's demographic reach well beyond its inner-city nuclei of metropolitan social liberalism" - see: Breaking Point.
Trotter argues that the liberals saw their power being threatened in the party and have fought back, even aware that this would damage Labour's chances of election this year. He describes their mindset as "Better to keep control of the losing side than lose control of the winning side."
Trotter has also written about how, until more recently, Labour used to contain a greater diversity of politicians, and argues that it's not a coincidence this occurred at a time Labour could attract much higher public support than now - see: Just How 'Broad' Was Labour's Church?
For a very different view, see Gordon Campbell's column, On Labour's candidacy troubles. He argues that Little's strategy is "pandering to the oldest, whitest and angriest part of the electorate. That's hardly change you can believe in. It looks more like doubling down on the problem, and laying down further problems in future."
Campbell suggests this strategy will be self-defeating, as it will alienate Labour's core activists: "its hard to see how his candidacy is going to motivate many of Labour's activists to go out and work their butts off door to door, in order to bring the likes of Jackson onto Labour's front bench."
Labour's liberals on the back foot
Certainly the liberal backlash against Little and Jackson created a large number of negative media and social media headlines and reactions. Rodney Hide pronounced it "a total train wreck" - see: Little's stinker of a week. He added: "Little is clearly not in control. His caucus is openly mutinous. His only response has been to cave in. If he can't run his party, he can't run the country."
But some have interpreted the outcry differently. According to Richard Harman, all the negative coverage may have actually helped Little: "privately senior Labour officials weren't too concerned about Williams' complaint and thought it might act as something of a dog whistle to centrist males who worry that Labour is too much captured by identity politics. That is obviously a greater concern now that NZ First is highly likely to have former Labour Minister Shane Jones as a candidate. Jones abhors identity politics" - see: Waitangi - who won; who lost.
Elsewhere, Harman wrote: "There is a growing view within the Caucus and party that all of this may not actually be negative; that Little getting offside with feminists might ultimately end the memories of David Cunliffe apologising for being a man."
Harman has also been analysing the liberal resistance to Little, saying "There are dark rumours within Labour about who put Poto Williams up to issuing her statement attacking Andrew Little's decision to have Willie Jackson stand on Labour's list. The statement was prepared by a Christchurch PR firm, but questions are being asked about some Wellington-based Labour activists who have links to both Labour's Maori and feminist wings."
It might look like Williams has got away with a significant and rather extraordinary breach of caucus discipline, but behind the scenes her punishment is being talked about as being "severe" to match the damage she caused.
Little has also confirmed that he had, in fact, consulted his MPs about Jackson prior to his announcement, and the consultation process involved Williams. He says that Williams had agreed to keep her complaints in-house, a promise she clearly and deliberately broke - see Emma Hurley's Labour MP Poto Williams defied leader to speak out against Willie Jackson.
And according to Martyn Bradbury, the Labour-aligned The Standard blog site seems to have been pulled into line - going from outrage over Jackson and O'Connor, to be somewhat more supportive - see: Cough-cough: Labour go up 2% after selecting Willie Jackson.
Little has obviously seen how potentially damaging the rebellion is to him, through columns such as Audrey Young's Labour's treatment of Willie Jackson has become a confidence issue for leader Andrew Little.
According to Young, "The rebellion has three consequences: after all that hard work, Labour again looks like a party divided, Little looks like a leader who cannot lead his own party - which is all the more damaging when his attack line against English this year is that he is a prime minister but not a leader - and it alienates voters who identity with Willie Jackson. It says to them that if Willie Jackson doesn't belong to Labour, nor do they. New Zealand First and Winston Peters and Shane Jones will be the beneficiaries."
Hence, Young says "Jackson's treatment by Labour has become a confidence issue for Little." And he appears to be making sure that the party and caucus follow his line on this. And now the party's ruling council has also yielded to Little, allowing Jackson to stand for Labour, despite not meeting the requirement of being a member for a year - see Vernon Small's Willie Jackson gets a waiver from Labour, taking his candidacy to the next stage. O'Connor has received the same exemption.
And today, one of Jackson's opponents in Labour, former MP Maryan Street has announced that she won't be returning to Parliament - which can also be seen as a sign of Andrew Little's authority being asserted. Street is next on the list and therefore set to be elected when Jacinda Ardern wins the Mt Albert by-election.
But the Labour leadership has reportedly been putting pressure on Street and the next person on the list, Moana Mackey, to defer to Raymond Huo, who is after them on the list. And they've agreed - see the Herald's Labour's Raymond Huo set to return to Parliament after Maryan Street steps aside. As the article explains, "It is understood Little had wanted him back in the caucus to help Labour appeal to Chinese voters."
So despite Street recently complaining about Jackson coming into Parliament, and therefore taken a women's place on the party list, Street herself is now reducing the gender ratio in her caucus and Parliament by giving up her own seat for a man.
Positive publicity for Jackson and O'Connor
Although most of the publicity initially went strongly against both Jackson and O'Connor, the tide seems to have turned. Jackson's former wife Moana Maniapoto, who is a respected political activist in her own right, has written a strong testimony for him, and it's a must-read - see: The Willie Jackson I Know.
Maniapoto cites Jackson's faults, and expresses her deep disappointment with his role in the Roastbusters controversy, but ultimately gives a heartfelt endorsement of his value, and explains why he should be in Parliament taking on the establishment.
AUT historian Paul Moon has also strongly endorsed Jackson, saying that he's particularly important because of his ability to take on the Maori elite on behalf of the Maori poor - see: Why Willie Jackson could be election decider.
Moon also says: "Jackson is personally endearing and intelligent, and represents the Labour Party of old - when it was still a party of the workers rather than forlorn liberal social causes. In addition, he already has parliamentary experience, and is a communicator with a common touch - at a time when some in the Labour-Green marriage come across as aloof academic types."
And Jackson himself has explained: Why Labour for me and why now?
Greg O'Connor is also trying to correct what he regards as misconceptions about his politics - see, for example, Michael Daly's Greg O'Connor not in favour of general arming of police officers.
He has also penned a very interesting blog post at The Standard - see: Greg O'Connor responds. O'Connor outlines his personal political philosophy, as well as elaborating on his position on arming the police, and his preference for the availability of medicinal marijuana.
He also shows a good sense of humour: "The theme running through much of the discussion seems to be that I'm a right-wing fascist who makes Kim Jong-un look like some sort of pinko liberal pacifist. I'm not upset by the comments; I'm well used to having flaws in my character pointed out, and that's usually before I leave home in the morning"
Of course a number of politicians will not have forgotten their run-ins and dealings with O'Connor when he represented the Police Association. One ex-MP who was particularly burnt is Keith Locke, who says: "O'Connor would leap on to TV to bash the critics - which included myself as Green Police spokesman through much of that time" - see: Labour's law and order stance bad for the Left.
Locke says that the left shouldn't be welcoming O'Connor's entry in Parliament: "O'Connor is to the right of National on "law and order" issues, not least through his advocacy of an armed police force, which not even National's Judith Collins, when Police Minister, would endorse. O'Connor now says that, as president, he was just representing Police Association policy to arm the police but it is obvious to any observer that he led the charge". However, Locke stops short of criticising his Green Party for helping O'Connor into power, nor does he advocate that supporters refrain from voting for him in Ohariu.
Meanwhile, in the opinion of PR professional, Mark Blackham, the ex-cop "is the epitome of good communication" - see Newstalk ZB's Greg O'Connor named Communicator of the Year.
Finally, for some very pointed humour about Labour's internal problems, see
Steve Braunias' The secret diary of the Labour Party, and Hayden Donnell's Labour is totally unified and everything is fine.