The Opposition benches of Parliament will be the scene of the most important and interesting political repositioning and re-alignments this year. The embattled Labour Party is at the centre of this flux, and it has the biggest job to do. Today's Dominion Post editorial (Shearer needs more than a catchy slogan) identifies the party's problem when it states that the new leader's existing vision 'is so platitudinous as to be almost meaningless'. The editorial goes on to say that 'Shearer is yet to give any meaningful indication of what he stands for, what his aspirations for New Zealand are and what he would do differently from Prime Minister John Key to achieve them. Mr Shearer is in danger of wasting the honeymoon traditionally enjoyed by new party leaders'.
In the Otago Daily Times, Colin James describes Labour's problems as being its increasing disconnect from voters he identifies as the 'beleaguered middle': 'Labour has over the past 40 years become the party of the margins: the very-low-paid, Polynesian commoners, the disabled, gays, feminists'. Meanwhile, James says that the party's activist base lies within the middle class. He recommends 'a deep rethink of policy and organisation' - see: Labour's task: out of the margins, into the middle.
But it's Labour's relationship with other opposition parties that is most interesting at the moment - see Claire Trevett's Shearer looks for potential allies in unlikely places. Trevett says that 'David Shearer has begun wooing potential coalition partners - including dinner with NZ First leader Winston Peters and calling an end to the Cold Shoulder War with Mana leader Hone Harawira'. It's the Greens that Labour may need to work hardest on, especially in light of that party's more aggressive and confident showing in recent months.
The Greens' new approach is the subject of John Armstrong's column today - see: Greens need to get in the Opposition swim, or sink. Armstrong says the Greens are aware that in order to stay afloat and prosper, 'they must be much better at basic Opposition politics. That means being more hard-edged, taking advantage of new Labour leader David Shearer's relative inexperience, and keeping a high media profile.' On issues such as foreign investment and state asset sales the party is in a better position than Labour to capitalise on voter discontent with National. This all means, Armstrong says, that Labour needs 'to grasp that the political landscape had changed'. He points out that Metiria Turei's 'provocative, yet important, scene-setting speech' contained some 'posturing' but an important message: 'Labour could no longer afford to adopt a "take it or leave it" attitude towards the Greens'.
This fraught Labour-Green relationship is also dealt with intelligently in Tim Watkin's blog post, Greens growth: The political maths of the centre-left, in which he argues that the two parties 'need to figure out a new way of growing the centre-left bloc without tearing each other to pieces'. Labour insider Robert Winter also blogs on this topic - see: Enter the Greens?: goading Labour? (http://bit.ly/z9arqx).
A hint of a potential new direction for Labour can be seen in Shane Jones' attack on Maori tribal leaders yesterday - see: TVNZ's Jones tells tribal leaders to 'salvage' children. Jones says that 'iwi leaders should spend less time "dreaming of ways to profit" from sales of state-owned assets and more time on salvaging the children of their tribes'. Such a foray into ethnicity and politics is significantly more sophisticated and coherent than Paul Holmes recent outburst, but it will also resonate strongly with some of Labour's lost voters.
Meanwhile, the responses to Paul Holmes keep coming, with Rawiri Taonui labeling Holmes A cheeky Pakeha?. Taonui commends Holmes for coming out with his controversial column, as 'Only in the open can reason and compassion overcome such views'. In his rebuttal, Taonui makes two particularly interesting points: that 'the major beneficiaries of the "Treaty industry" have been Pakeha who make up 98 per cent of professional researchers, and the majority of legal teams acting for the Crown and Maori' and that the 'Treaty settlements which now total $1.3 billion are less than the $1.77 billion paid to compensate mainly Pakeha investors in South Canterbury Finance'. Another response, from Richard Swainson, writing in the Waikato Times, challenges Holmes view that Anzac Day would be better replacement for Waitangi Day as the country's national day, saying that this day is 'not as unproblematic an occasion as it may first seem. Gallipoli was not a "great effort for international freedom". It was a misconceived, meaningless bloodbath in which the exceptionally brave died for next to nothing' - see: There's no perfect day to celebrate NZ's nationhood.
Part of the Labour Party's rebuilding will involve identifying with the growing concern about issues of economic inequality. Today's major items on this relate to the nexus between health and inequality - see: Hayley Hannan's Disease figures a national 'embarrassment' and Isaac Davison's Wealth gap linked to rise in infections. Also in relation to this, Chris Nobbs argues that growing inequality in New Zealand is a response to the wider neoliberal economic reforms in this country, of which asset sales are one important element - see: A promise that failed.
But the most important item on inequality this week is Ruth Laugesen's lengthy Listener magazine analysis of the 'reasons for soaring executive salaries, and how they feed inequality'. In The Overpaid executive. Laugesen surveys the growing global concern about high corporate pay, but suggests that the mood in New Zealand is (so far) relatively muted on this issue, and 'there is no government mood for action on corporate pay'. Not only does the article deliver an array of information on the pay disparities in our economy, but it also provides an interesting insight into Bill English's orientation to the question of economic inequality.
New Zealand looks set to see a good old-fashioned class struggle on the wharves, with the Maritime Union about to commence a major publicity campaign followed by a two-week strike - see Jenny Keown's CTU president backs support campaign. A particularly useful article by Greg Ninness (Mayor demands monopoly rent) clearly outlines why the rate of profit demanded by the Auckland City Council is unrealistic and how some powerful players in the Auckland business sector think the POAL and Auckland mayor Len Brown's approach is wrong. Two weeks of striking might only be the start. With the company proceeding with re-structuring they could move to lockout and then make all the union members redundant. Brown is under mounting pressure from his own supporters - especially the Labour Party and union movement - who appear to be increasingly angry with him.
The importance of the issue of foreign investment and farm sales is underlined by TV3's latest political polling that shows 76% of New Zealanders agree with the Call for land sale clampdown. Meanwhile, the rival Michael Fay-iwi bid gets a bit more complicated with the news that a group of South Waikato Ngati Rereahu Maori 'with links to a bid for 16 Crafar dairy farms' have started occupying two of the Crafar farms - see: Adam Bennett's Maori group sets up camp at Crafar farms. For more on this, see: Iwi protesters occupy for-sale Crafar farm. Gordon Campbell's latest blog post also deals with the Crafar farms sale - see: On comparing the Crafar Farms court ruling with the China/NZ Free Trade Agreement.
Other important political items today include Sam Sachdeva's Marryatt will exit if lacking support, Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons' Outrage at foreign fishing fleet hypocritical, and John Drinnan's Concerns over secret deal to cut NZ radio content. And finally, Paul Norris makes the case that Sky could save public service TV.