The Labour Party could bounce back quickly from its heavy election defeat if it heeds the testimony of one of its candidates in a contributed column we published on Friday. Josie Pagani wrote: "We didn't sound aspirational, we sounded miserable. We were turning up on people's doorsteps telling them their lives were gloomy ...
"The hardest week to door- knock," she said, "was when we were telling people who had just come home from a day's work earning the minimum wage, that it was a great idea to extend their Working for Families tax credit to beneficiaries." She could see them thinking, 'so what's the point of working my guts out all week while someone sitting at home on the dole gets the same tax credit as me?'
Labour, she said, would "always be the political party that is there for working people when jobs disappear". But the party had to recognise that "the working world has changed. People contract their labour out. They set themselves up as small businesses. They do seasonal and shift work. They work part time or flexible time. They change jobs regularly ..."
There is nothing like door-to-door campaigning to give politicians a reality check. Both major parties can benefit from it. National MPs probably discover that there are more important things than tax cuts and asset sales in most people's minds.
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Labour's new leadership will be listening to the likes of Ms Pagani. It has some highly aspirational young candidates who could have expected to come into Parliament if the party had not polled so low in November. They can place much of the blame on tired, dull themes such as the cost of living. It is never in the country's interest to have one of its major parties at a low ebb - much of its vote is liable to go to irresponsible populists or fringe parties. Labour represents important needs in any society and, as Ms Pagani says, those needs are not confined to beneficiaries, the poor, or even the low-paid.
National tends to appeal to self-reliant or self-made people and the socially advantaged. Labour's natural constituency is those who need some help. But the party should remember most people's lives are not static. Not many are poor, ill, or disadvantaged permanently and do not need policies that assume they will be.
For too long in its history, Labour espoused universal social welfare supported by punitive tax rates. Some in the party seem still to favour that prescription, not because most people want it or need it but because it might render them more equal and dependent on the state. Labour should devise welfare programmes that are targeted to temporary need and help people become self-supporting.
Labour, in office, has usually been more fiscally responsible than National, more willing to raise taxes than to borrow. But it should make clear it will never again increase tax rates when it already has a budget surplus, as it did in 2000, and that it should not have let public spending rise to the level it did.
Public servants notice that Labour MPs are generally more studious than National's when it comes to working on parliamentary committees and refining policy. The party should not be afraid to put more sophisticated policy on its election platform. Last year's proposal to remove fresh fruit and vegetables from GST was unworthy of an intelligent party.
If Labour can go to the next election with well-developed ideas for helping people who aspire to work hard, make sound choices, raise happy and healthy children, maybe start a business and invest their savings, it will strike a strong chord. If it can tell people only that they are poor, deprived, under-valued, and obese, it will not give the Government a run for our money.