Instead of trying to appeal to 'middle New Zealand', the party should proudly stand by progressive values.
One thing I had always believed to be the holy grail of marketing was that if your brand stands for everything, it stands for nothing.
This is the malady that bedevilled Telecom for so long. Vodafone was hip, cool, edgy, whereas Telecom stood for ... everyone else. The outcome too often was expensive, bombastic and essentially meaningless marketing campaigns that had to represent and reach out to Asian market gardeners, blue-rinsed pensioners, young families, Maori fishermen and transsexual librarians - and everyone in between.
I am convinced that the Labour party of today has the same problem. And the advice from well-wishers and nefarious right-wing commentators alike - to "appeal to middle New Zealanders" - is, I believe, misguided.
The fact of the matter is that "middle New Zealand" currently prefers John Key. They want tax cuts, they want a prime minister they could have a beer with. God alone knows why, but their ideal female politician is Judith Collins, Hekia Parata and Maggie Barry (the "Hyacinth Bucket" model). And they don't care that dirty politics seeps out of every pore of the current administration.
So be it. Labour, at present, cannot sway these people and is not in good enough shape to take on the right-wing smear machine. But to my mind, it doesn't have to - right now. It needs to reclaim and reaffirm that it stands for genuine left-wing values and ignore the critics - critics that are often non-voters, or non-Labour voters, egged on by opponents.
Sir Bob Harvey this week said Labour needed to get rid of the colour red and even find a new name. He is an advertising guru, but I don't think the solution need be that drastic. However, there is a case for Labour to assert it is wholeheartedly behind "progressive" values if the phrase "left-wing" carries too much baggage.
Progressive values are popular values, and include things like free basic education, a fairer tax system, protecting our ecosystem, better workers and human rights, a strong health system that does not discriminate between rich and poor, and so forth. They are understood by everyone and shared by other parties on the left.
I can't understand why there is any need for Labour to preclude other left parties to the extent that it does - it looks scared of what true progressivism looks like. Why not say, "We love the green policy on early childhood education and look forward to working with them on that." Or, "Laila Harre's ideas around free internet access are intriguing. We'll follow up on it." Or even "Te Ururoa Flavell has done a great job promoting Whanau Ora - let's have him as our Maori Affairs Minister!" These collaborations only look frightening to " middle New Zealand" because they are painted that way by people with a vested interest in making it look scary. Would that the Labour Party didn't play along quite so much with the scaremongering.
After all, the National Party itself takes the potentially questionable collaboration tack. It says, "Let's ensure a 31-year-old engineer with infinitesimal per cent of the vote is helping guide education policy". It says, "Let's get a stooge of a politician with ties to big tobacco lend us his vote on health policy". For just two examples.
In following the path of defining a set of core values and sticking with them even when the prevailing conservative chorus is decrying them, Labour would be well on the way to plotting a way forward - and could even rope in a few young and/or non-voters. A charismatic leader is required to help get these beliefs across, but as Sir Bob also says, this is - at the moment - a secondary concern. The tussle for the top job is simply handing John Key a great opportunity to deflect from his own agenda of gutting teacher unions and the Resource Management Act, signing the ruinous Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, and sending Kiwis to fight the unwinnable war in Iraq.
I saw him this week on television, answering questions about the Labour leadership debacle. He looked like a footballer's wife, gleefully gossiping about the girl in the group that's let herself go by putting on 10kg; all shits and giggles. There is no need for Labour to hand him more victories. There is a clear path forward, and it is one of quiet confidence, not craven wavering.