Goff is using Labour’s national conference to swallow some dead rats, distancing himself and the party from the social reform agenda of the previous Labour government. Good.
People like the socialist element of Labour’s agenda – retention of public assets, nationalisation of important infrastructure (Kiwirail), intervention in failing markets (eg Kiwibank), redistribution of wealth, stronger work rights (eg paid parental leave, four weeks annual leave), a higher minimum wage.
What the public tired of was the liberal stuff, what became known as the ‘nanny state’. Labour expended far too much public goodwill on relatively trifling issues. The obvious example – Labour was willing to die in a ditch over s59 that, we hope, will make a long-term culture change but was basically a pretty small change to the law that certainly hasn’t led to lots more child bashers getting locked up (just as it hasn’t seen good parents locked up). In contrast, Labour significantly weakened its reformation of employment relations law because it was unwilling to get into a fight with business.
I’m not saying that Labour’s liberal social agenda was wrong – civil unions, legalised prostitution, and ending the right to assault children for correction will be remembered as major achievements in developing a better society – but I don’t think it should have been a priority over the socialistic economic agenda.
Key was willing to put aside previous National objectives that he clearly believes in himself (nuclear ships, privatisation, abolishing WFF etc) because he recognised them as relatively low importance issues from National’s point of view that were losing them a lot of votes. Without selling out its principles, Labour can learn the lesson from Key about prioritisation.
Goff’s opportunity is to redirect Labour towards its popular (soft) socialist economic agenda. It’s what people want from Labour. It would set up a clear contrast between them and National.