Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Labour has found its mojo at last

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Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Labour leader David Cunliffe. Photo / Steven McNicholl

After five dark years, the Labour Party have their mojo back.

The past month of quality presentations by David Cunliffe, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones was a great success.

Day after day the media covered confident and articulate candidates espousing policies the faithful wanted to hear. The Prime Minister was pushed to the sidelines for the first time.

Luckily for the sake of party unity, Cunliffe's win was decisive. The overwhelming members' vote and the even higher support by the unions is a huge mandate. Even in the caucus, Cunliffe surprisingly got 16 MPs to Robertson's 18 - a difference of one MP.

The mana of Robertson and Jones has increased, too. Robertson will be leader one day and Jones has cemented himself back as a future contender.

It was always unrealistic to have any of the three being a loyal deputy to the other. David Parker was a good compromise. He's the brains and the policy wonk.

Competing with the Greens for the same vote is a zero game. Cunliffe is smart and knows it's the 800,000 voters who didn't bother to turn out at the last election he has to win over to be Prime Minister.

Some pundits pose that Cunliffe has to move to the centre. That's silly. The centre doesn't exist. Parties win by convincing the majority of their policies - whether left or right. If the electorate supports left policies, by definition the centre moves leftwards. If it supports right policies, the centre moves in the other direction. The centre is never some fixed point.

Cunliffe's policies of forcing up wages, opposing asset sales, investing in public services and spreading the tax base are unabashed left policies. What matters is that they are popular and could potentially motivate hundreds of thousands of non-voters to turn out.

To do that, the parties of the centre-left have to build a machine to get the Auckland vote out. They were creamed in our biggest city in the past two elections.

Who wins Auckland, wins government. With this new momentum for the left, I hope they can capitalise on next month's local elections.

Postal ballots for local government across the country are hitting mailboxes this weekend. In Auckland, there are hundreds of candidates contesting more than 200 positions. Len Brown will romp home, of course. The only interest is how many votes John Minto gets on his left and John Palino on the right.

The real contest is for the council. Currently it's a third on the right; a third on the left, and a third in the centre. Most voters don't have any idea where many candidates' political allegiances lie.

The Auckland trade unions have 150,000 members. They have assessed all the candidates against the three campaigns they are running: Protecting the Assets - no privatisation; A Living Wage - starting with council workers; and Sorting out the Port - force the incompetent ports bosses to settle a fair deal with their workers.

Most candidates support the unions' campaigns but the unions don't want to split the centre-left vote. Most unions are non-partisan. For the first time, the Auckland unions steering group, of which I am a member, is recommending a single candidate it believes has the best chance of winning, for each elected position. You can peek on www.UnionsAuckland.com.

Union members of course will vote for whoever they like. But for those who want to use their vote strategically the recommendations could be decisive. Wards have an average of 10,000 union members. Draw your own conclusions.

It's good to see the Labour Party getting its act together. Hopefully, workers will unite to win too.

- Herald on Sunday

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