Parties forming a government should take time to carefully examine the issues - it will save a lot of grief later. Labour will regret making major decisions without taking the time to analyse why the party suffered such a smashing defeat.
Labour has confirmed its leadership and announced that “everything is on the table” - code for Labour campaigning for wealth taxes.
But ruling out a wealth tax was not the reason Labour lost the election. It lost because the party had no solutions to the problems New Zealand faces. In fact, Labour’s actions made most problems worse.
The latest immigration figures illustrate Labour’s failure. Labour campaigned to lower immigration by 20,000 to 30,000 a year. In the past 12 months, a record 163,600 non-New Zealand migrants arrived. Auckland schools are overrun with new pupils. Rents are skyrocketing. The city is so gridlocked that motorists cannot exit a mall carpark. A record 44,800 New Zealand citizens departed in the year to September.
Labour now faces an existential threat.
Under first-past-the-post, it did not matter how poorly the party performed in Opposition. The electoral cycle would put Labour into government again.
But with the Greens capturing three electorates and Te Pāti Māori sweeping six of the seven Māori seats, the country now has a choice of alternative governments.
Political parties do not last forever. In the UK, the once-mighty Liberal Party is no more, and the New Zealand Labour Party could go the same way.
Labour’s challenge is to establish itself as the alternative government.
There are Labour MPs who advocate conceding the Māori seats to Te Pāti Māori in return for the party vote, so gaming MMP.
Other MPs believe under MMP, it does not matter if the Greens win high-income liberal electorates if those electorates party vote Labour.
These MPs believe the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are such radical socialists that they have no choice but to support Labour.
Under this logic, all Labour needs to do is adopt a wealth tax, promise everything and say the rich will pay. Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori will game MMP and win the next election. So there is no need to examine the leadership, or the policies, just oppose everything the new Government proposes.
This is a fantasy. Labour is unelectable if it is locked in with a socialist Green party more interested in redistributing wealth than saving the planet and a Māori party demanding co-governance.
If the Labour MPs had analysed the reasons for their defeat, they would have recalled that before Covid, Labour was heading towards being a one-term government. Labour had wasted its nine years in Opposition opposing everything, changing leaders, and doing no policy work.
Having no policy, Labour spent its first three years in government on inquiries, most of which were never implemented.
Policy development is hard. If the issues had easy answers, they would not be problems. Today’s Labour MPs do not have the qualifications, life experience or ability to undertake public policy work. Labour did not lose five ministers in a year for no reason.
Chris Hipkins is the leader for the worst reason: there is no one else.
Labour is paying a heavy price for its recruitment of student politicians with second-class degrees in communications. The recruits go from university to work in Parliament, to being parachuted into electorates, or if totally unelectable, onto the list. These MPs are good at reading polls, but unable to read a balance sheet. The only explanation for many of the previous government’s decisions is the Labour Cabinet was innumerate.
If Labour wants to be in government again, the party needs to select candidates of real ability. Take a leaf from National, which recruited the CEO of Air New Zealand. MPs with leadership skills will develop practical, workable policies.
There is no shortage of issues. Our health and welfare systems are unsustainable. Our education standards are in freefall. Our productivity is among the worst in the OECD. Climate change is an existential threat.
Armed with practical solutions, Labour can easily win the contest of ideas with the Greens. James Shaw was Climate Change Minister for six years and failed to produce even a plan for resilience.
Te Pāti Māori has no solutions except to blame colonialism and demand reparations. The party is a cargo cult. There are many successful Māori who do have solutions, starting with getting young Māori back into school. Many Māori are dismayed by Te Pāti Māori’s divisiveness. Labour should be recruiting outstanding Māori leaders to contest the Māori electorates.
Looking at their manifestos, it is unlikely the parties forming the new Government will solve issues such as the unsustainability of our health and welfare systems.
A Labour Party with good leadership, capable candidates, new ideas and practical solutions would be an attractive alternative government.
Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and a former member of the Labour Party.