Another day. Another leader in the Labour Party's game of musical chairs. With the majority of both caucus colleagues and party members favouring Grant Robertson over three rounds of preferences, the eventual winner, union-backed Andrew Little, can only hope the music doesn't stop for him as quickly as it did for his three predecessors.

Taking the party organisation by the scruff of the neck and giving it a good shake might be a good start to ensuring his longevity. Though his three-year stint as president following the defeat of the Clark government doesn't suggest he sees any need for change.

Many thousands of words have flooded forth from the pundits since Labour's September election defeat as they sifted through the wreckage and pointed fingers in all directions, but remarkably unscathed has been the party machine that spectacularly failed to turn out the vote.

It's true that in our increasingly presidential-style politics, voters warm to leaders with a certain charisma, like John Key, or authority, such as Helen Clark, and it's equally true that Labour's last three leaders - many would say the new choice, too - have lacked either. But however good the head is, the political body isn't much use if the arms and legs are atrophied. And since the Clark years, when the machine ticked over professionally under the long presidency of Mike Williams, the party seems to have turned inwards, preferring to spend more time navel gazing over internal party minutiae than getting out and selling party policy and candidates.


In September, 694,106 enrolled electors failed to vote. Another 250,595 eligible voters risked a fine by not even bothering to enrol. Bryan Gould, who is leading the party's internal probe into the defeat, has pinpointed these missing voters as part of the problem.

"We have a pretty good idea of who the non-voters were. They were poor, often unemployed, poorly educated, with worse health than the rest of us, often brown-skinned, living in sub-standard housing and bringing up their children in poverty." He said they had everything to gain from change - "a change that would not leave them languishing and invisible and falling further behind while the triumphant one in three amongst us celebrated their victory".

Mr Gould said "they did not vote because they did not see the point", asking how did the Labour Party fail to engage with "their natural constituency". It's a point also made by Mr Williams in a submission to the Gould inquiry, in which he highlights the lack of any "call to action for the non-voters", recalling how in 2005 "we targeted state house tenants (research showed them as chronic non-voters) and mailed them 'eviction notices"'.

Oddly, Mr Williams, the campaign manager for Helen Clark's successful 1999 campaign, and party president for her three terms in office, is not on the review panel. But his submission talks of the campaign "being starved for cash".

He saw no "high-profile outdoor advertising", and there were no paid organisers "who could offer help and advice to local campaign teams". In his time, there had been five. He tells me that head office staff has also shrunk from about 10 in his time to, at present, "two and a half".

The reason is simple, lack of funds and the failure of his successors, Mr Little and Moira Coatsworth, to fundraise.

"You get money if you go out and ask for it and I don't think the Labour Party has been going out and asking for it. A lot of the big donors that I cultivated over the nine or 10 years have not been visited since. They weren't followed up."

Throwing more money at the problem won't miraculously put Labour back into office. The millions of dollars poured into the vanity parties of Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom is proof of that.


But that could have been because their message was heard loud and clear, but not accepted. At least the two rich men got their message out and about, which certainly wasn't the case for Labour.

Of course before Labour can start knocking on doors seeking money and votes, it needs something to sell.

Promoting a new leader who has scraped in thanks to the union vote, against the wishes of both his caucus colleagues and the party grassroots, is not an auspicious start.