Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Long, slow death is inevitable

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In trouble: David Shearer.
Photo / Janna Dixon
In trouble: David Shearer. Photo / Janna Dixon

Most political polling this year has shown Labour support going up slightly in a predictable version of the bounce you will get when you throw a dead cat from a high building. The Greens have also gained support in many polls. Naturally, the Government is losing support - that is what governments do when they govern. The Labour vote should be hitting the ozone layer by now.

That any National voters at all can opt for the Greens in preference to Labour must be deeply concerning for David Shearer and his small band of followers.

The Labour Party did itself out of a job years ago - not those after 1984, when it betrayed its supporters with Roger Douglas' economic sell-off of the country, but in the years following its return to power in 1999, when it failed to reverse or otherwise reject those reforms in any meaningful way.

Helen Clark dragged her various coalitions through three terms by sheer force of personality and a brilliant back-slapping, hail-fellow-well-met shtick she could turn on whenever a camera turned her way.

She and her Finance Minister, the future Lord Cullen of Kilda, made the most of buoyant economic times to finance the Cullen fund and some populist benefit twiddling.

Personality is no longer enough, so Labour has experimented with lack of personality. That hasn't really worked out for them. David Shearer could have Cary Grant's charm, Barack Obama's charisma, and Moses' ability to drag a reluctant population behind him - it wouldn't make any difference right now.

Labour has survived to be the Opposition because it has been the only option in what was, despite MMP, effectively a two-party system with optional extras.

Until now.

Things are changing for Labour because since the last election, the Green Party has emerged as a credible alternative, with credible leadership, competent MPs and policies worth considering.

Unlike New Zealand First and Act, its leadership is untainted by associations with the old guard. (Experienced politicians would say they are also untainted by reality or experience.) The Green Party was clearly one that opposed the old ways of doing things, not just on the issues but in the way it did politics.

And voters are ready for an alternative party that can work outside the old right/left, he said/she said way of doing things.

The historic social conditions that brought Labour into being haven't gone away; but their response to them has evolved into a watered-down free-market philosophy that is no different from the guiding principles of their historic foe. Which is why, despite every poll increase and every intelligent policy that Labour doesn't have the firepower to sell to the electorate, we are witnessing the long, slow and inevitable death of the Labour Party.

Brains are better on the inside

It is still compulsory for bike riders to wear helmets. But I have noticed a trend for cyclists - usually male, their buzz cuts flying free in the breeze - to eschew headgear. Bike helmets don't look great, admittedly, but neither do brains when they are on the outside of your skull. And you just know the helmet-free riders will be the first to complain when one of them gets killed by a motor vehicle. Perhaps this trend is an example of natural selection at work - we're all better off if someone without enough smarts to practise basic safety won't be around long enough to breed.

- Herald on Sunday

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