Chris Carter is wrong. Labour can win the next election led by Phil Goff. The objective conditions make it possible, and there is enough time. That’s true even if Key calls an early election to gain the financial benefits of National’s new electoral law, as some have predicted on this site.
First the objective conditions. The media is fixated on the polls, understandably as they have stayed very positive for National for the last two years. Much of that has been built on the combination of John Key’s easy confidence matching New Zealanders’ desire for a quick recovery from the global financial crisis. But the only poll that counts is the one taken on election day, which is at least a year away. Economic growth prospects are now beginning to show serious signs of slippage, with consumer confidence polls leading economists to refer to a shift in the pace of future growth from a canter to a trot. If it slows to a walk, or worse if there are signs that the horse is lame, even John Key’s considerable public relations skills will not be enough to hold National’s numbers up.
This is all the more so as it is increasingly clear that Key’s goal of matching Australia by 2025, made so much of while in opposition and repeated in government, is nothing more than a cynical mirage. Bill English has reverted to classic old-style small-government Toryism. Gerry Brownlee and economic development have been revealed to be oxymoronic. The cycleway is a goat track, and Party central should rightly be called VIP central, somewhere for Murray McCully to buy expensive wine on the taxpayer’s account. Everybody else is worried about their future security and how to pay the bills on their own pay.
Secondly there is time, plenty of time. One of the more fatal delusions in politics as in life is that what goes up stays up, and that what stays up stays up forever. New Zealand Labour’s experience in 2002 and Australian Labor’s experience in 2010 both show how quickly things can change in the context of an election campaign, when voters concentrate their minds on the choices available and the issues on their minds.
Phil Goff doesn’t have to work any harder to win. That’s not his problem; his work ethic is legendary. But he does have to work smarter. As others on this site have said, National doesn’t have a plan, and that is true. But it also raises the question, what is Labour’s plan? There are lots of voters in New Zealand who are desperate not to see the continuation of the destructive path back to the 1980’s taken by the National-ACT government, but don’t yet see a convincing alternative from Labour. Phil Goff needs to set out a clear and convincing economic plan. The elements of it are there already; his willingness to consider alternatives to the monetarist straitjacket of the 1980’s was courageous and necessary. It needs to be expanded and developed, and in David Cunliffe and David Parker he has more than sufficient firepower willing and able to assist and explain.
Phil Goff also needs a more effective political strategy. It is not about a move to the middle or a distancing from past Labour governments as some in the media are advising. Andrew Campbell put it well yesterday on the radio – Labour should pull out its values and go to bat for them. It’s time to get on the front foot, speak to what we in Labour all believe, and say what Labour will do to address the issues that matter to New Zealanders. That is what people want to hear, not another reactive comment tagged onto a Tory story. Once again there is plenty of talent in the Labour caucus, more than enough to get on the front foot and take the fight to their opposites in the government.
Phil Goff has said it himself. I got a message from him as a Party member explaining Chris Carter’s demotion; it concluded:
New Zealanders are today confronting prices rising faster than wages, and a Government that has no idea how to create the jobs and future we need. That’s got to be Labour’s priority and focus.
I couldn’t agree more. The change in the Leader’s office with Gordon-John Thompson appointed as Chief of Staff is a sign that Labour is ready to step up the priority and focus on these issues and create these ideas. That is what will win the next election for Labour and Phil Goff.
A final word on Chris Carter. In my view we in Labour should not judge him too harshly. I had the opportunity to see him at close hand in the Mount Albert by-election, and no-one worked harder than him, nor could anyone doubt his dedication to Labour’s success. His mistake in my view was to believe what he feared, and defeat in politics as in sport starts in the head. But so does victory; and whatever one’s view of Chris’ actions, they should not continue to be the issue.
I believe Labour can win under Phil Goff’s leadership – I welcome his call to focus on that. There is much to do.