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Labour’s Greatest Challenge for 2011 – consistency

Written By: - Date published: 7:45 pm, January 16th, 2011 - 23 comments
Categories: election 2011, john key, labour, national, phil goff, Politics - Tags:

Recently, I did a post on how Labour should be focused on creating an over-arching narrative that embodies its broad set of policies. This should make Labour’s vision loud and clear in election year.

While Labour continues to rebuild policy, I have a number of ideas on how Labour could best deliver a new narrative once its policies are in place. The first is through consistency:

Labour’s narrative ought to be consistently enforced in the House, with media and in MPs’ electorates. This is something Labour didn’t do well in 2010. For example, Labour MPs routinely delivered mixed-messages on their assessment of the government, with some MPs saying John Key and National had ‘no plan for NZ’ and others saying they were causing great harm.

For the public, this is an ambiguous message: Is National doing nothing in government, or are they doing too much?

In contrast, since 2007 National MPs have been very consistent with a number of themes, which have included that:

  • John Key is a great leader and a likeable man
  • National will make public services more efficient
  • National will be tougher on criminals and more sympathetic to victims
  • National will catch NZ up with Australia
  • National will be sensible with government spending

These points may all be bullshit, but the narrative is clear: strong, aspirational and common-sense government.

The strength of this narrative is that it encompasses a broad range of expectations set by the public, which makes it hard for typical voters to not support what National appears to stand for because almost every voter will strongly like at least one of the above principles.

One of Labour’s problems is that they pursue small pockets of supporters who feel strongly about the GST rate and other highly specific policy matters. The problem with this is that very few people line up behind the same two specific policy matters, which makes it impossible for Labour to inspire the public en masse.

As we know from history, Labour’s core principles are inspiring when articulated. It’s these core principles that Labour must begin articulating with consistency because its very difficult to motivate people when you’re only voicing your policies and not your principles.

In other words, the public should have a picture of Labour but shouldn’t be expected to have to join the dots on their own.

23 comments on “Labour’s Greatest Challenge for 2011 – consistency ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    For the public, this is an ambiguous message: Is National doing nothing in government, or are they doing too much?

    They’re actually doing both. They’re doing nothing to create jobs (what they need to be doing) but they are doing everything they can to lower wages and shift the balance of power to the rich (what they most certainly shouldn’t be doing but are).

  2. QoT 2

    My immediate smartass response is “have Labour remembered what their core principles are?”

    Because even the conference speeches last year were low on actual left (or even left-of-centre) statements and boiled down to “nice stuff is nice and won’t you please vote for us again?” While the biggest splash Goff’s had was with a divisive “Nationhood” speech which just alienated a lot on the left and yet wasn’t strong enough, or backed up enough, to bring back any of the centre votes lost to National.

    Of course, we can see from National’s success that it’s not necessary to actually believe in or implement the narrative you tell. But you’ve got to at least have the guts to make clear, bold statements of principle (and statements which are distinct from your opponents – National’s are bollocks but they still say fiscal responsibility, tough, right-wing aspirational), and I’m just not seeing that.

    • Bill 2.1

      My immediate smartass response is “have Labour remembered what their core principles are?”

      I’d pick that Labour remember very well what the party’s core principles were and also remember that they jettisoned them and any members who chose to espouse them quite some years back.

      I’d also pick that it is dawning on some within Labour that they are in a bind after having chosen to court business elites instead of choosing to further develop morally driven traditional principles that were somewhat inimical to big business. That choice has resulted in a vacuous parliamentary left that is left in name only as far as swathes of the voting base is concerned, as well as a chewed up, spat out and irrelevant political allegience as far as big business is concerned.

      And I’d pick that Labour will attempt to crawl and beg its way back into big businesses good books so it can get another shot at power. (It can’t do otherwise having long ago cleansed itself of proponents of core labour values)

      • Colonial Viper 2.1.1

        Ha you cynic. Hmmmm perhaps there’s something in what you say though.

        If someone can figure out a way to mobilise the 50% of voters who earn less than $27500 p.a. those voters will *force* Labour to reclaim its roots as a party of the Left and of the ordinary worker.

        The mobilisation of that sector of society is what the elites fear – and it is also what makes the Centre-Right and the Right Wingers knock kneed.

        Come on, we gotta be able to crack this. There is no reason for people on the dole to keep voting NAT and then wondering why their benefits are always being cut. Yet many do. Its madness.

        • Bill

          If someone can figure out a way to mobilise…those voters will *force* Labour to reclaim its roots as a party of the Left and of the ordinary worker.

          Just like those mobilised ‘Change We Can Believe In’ US voters *forced* the Democrats to reclaim its roots as a party of the Left and of the ordinary worker?

          Maybe we should mobilise as citizens rather than as voters? That’s the type of mobilisation feared by elites. Not some faux mobilisation of voters voting.

          edit. As an aside, I’m guessing most beneficiaries vote for some party other than National. But my point would be that Labour put through the largest beneficiary cuts since ’91 when they replaced ‘Supplementary Benefit’…

        • QoT

          I’m going to just double-up on the cynicism – I don’t know that getting those votes mobilised will necessarily do the trick. One of the things I think went really wrong for Labour in 2008 was taking certain groups’ votes for granted – see the last-minute “oh shit throw a bone to the students” promises that got made almost on the fly.

          Getting those people mobilized within the party to make policy and force a direction change (or even a firm setting of a direction at all) might do the trick, but of course we’re talking about some demographics that don’t have the resources or inclination to get involved in the party machine.

          And lower-income New Zealanders aren’t going to show up to vote just because The Alternative Is Worse – another assumption which I think has severely damaged Labour’s support. Just post-election last time there were great debates at The Standard where some took the view that all the people who voted RAM/Workers Party/etc “wasted” their votes and “should have” voted Labour. Well they’re not going to do it just because Labour wants them to, and I think plenty of liberals and lefties don’t actually subscribe to the idea that any Labour-led Government would be that much better than a National-led government – and if another term in Opposition is what it takes for Labour to get its ideological/principled ass into gear then maybe we’ll just have to weather the storm.

          • Draco T Bastard

            and I think plenty of liberals and lefties don’t actually subscribe to the idea that any Labour-led Government would be that much better than a National-led government

            I’d agree with that and the reason is because Labour is centre-right and not centre-left. They went hard-right in the 1980s and they haven’t shifted back yet.

            Reality has a radical-left bias.

        • Colonial Viper

          When Roger Douglas and co. got voted in (1984), they had a very firm and fast Chicago school neoliberal free market blueprint to follow. Massive changes were enacted to our social and economic sphere within the space of 5 years.

          Now I lean towards democratic socialism in a lot of things. And I agree, I have seen no similar comprehensive plan as to what a much more Left looking NZ would be like and how it could be similarly enacted. For instance, what’s the next step in the evolution of our welfare state? What’s the next step in the evolution of empowering workers and communities. What’s the next step in taking back the sovereignty of our financial and monetary systems?

          At the moment it seems like its all about tinkering around the edges and not scaring the horses.

          So yeah, I accept the points you make, Bill/QoT.

          • Draco T Bastard

            For instance, what’s the next step in the evolution of our welfare state?

            Universal Income ensuring that everyone has enough to live well and not in poverty. Throw in some decent state housing so that people also have affordable places to live. All of this to be done within the Renewable Resource Base (requires major research by government departments) so that it’s sustainable.

            What’s the next step in the evolution of empowering workers and communities?

            More open government so that people have ready access to the information that the government uses to make decisions. Penalties for people spreading misinformation. Opinion isn’t good enough to make vital decisions on.

            What’s the next step in taking back the sovereignty of our financial and monetary systems?

            Complete ban on foreign ownership of any business or land, removal of the fractional reserve banking system, a ban on government borrowing money and the RBNZ being the only institution to create NZ$.

            At the moment it seems like its all about tinkering around the edges and not scaring the horses.

            ATM, it’s all about protecting the privileges of the rich and powerful.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Very few people under 40 that I talk to outside of political enthusiasts knows what Labour stands for.

    A lot of people over 40 that I talk to understand what Labour used to stand for. But they have no idea about Labour of the last 15-20 years.

    Any marketing or brand values specialist will tell you these are all very very bad things.

  4. M 4

    How ’bout

    Labour declares war on joblessness and will fix this by :

    *promulgating public works programmes in housing, health, education, food raising (community co-operatives or individuals) and especially public transport for the coming difficulty in securing affordable and available oil.
    *moving minimum wage to $13 per hour once elected with yearly review (I fear 2011 is going to get much nastier as the year wears on so any increases will need careful consideration).

    Joblessness is a terrible cancer in NZ with all the awful outcomes that flow from it and similarly a lower unemployment rate equals a much healthier society.

    Time and time again restive populations result from unemployed people with time on their hands and a complete loss of hope. Men especially are prone to more violence particularly with their families (not excusing this but it is an outcome); alcoholism, as in the USSR when it collapsed; and fresh recruits for suicide bombers are always available in the ME where increasing unemployment and decreased welfare benefits resulting from population increases and falling oil revenues work in tandem to convince people they have no future.

    This is only one aspect of what needs doing but it’s highly important and Labour would do well to reflect on its name as one of the best places to get the ball rolling for any form of ‘recovery’.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      Brilliant, although I suspect the mods won’t let you get away with the image tags for long lol.

      • Brett 5.1.1

        Just use the Iframe tags, get a photobucket account and link through to it.
        I guess as long as it’s not abused , they won’t mind.
        With the tag options available, you could post whatever you wanted.

  5. Pete 6

    I doubt that most people know or care what Labour’s “core principles” are, or what they were 5 years ago, 25 years ago or 75 years ago. It’s little more than insider idealism.

    How important are policies? How easy is it to sell a basket of policies to the electorate, especially when most voters take election “promises” with a grain of salt? Some vote catching policies targeting small (or larger) pockets (eg interest free student loans) may help get short term results but how sensible are they in the longer term? Selfish vote catching versus sensible governance.

    How important are people compared to policies? Perceptions of parties are often actually perceptions of people. Parties promote leaders, media focus most on people (and mostly on the leaders).

    Labour have to look like a major coalition party in waiting. And Labour leadership needs to look like leaders-in-waiting. That means rising above petty attempted pointscoring, otherwise they will look like nitpickers in perpetuity.

    They also need to understand that as much as they think they are the obvious and essential saviour for the country most people don’t share that confidence – in any party. Right to rule arrogance is not a vote winner.

    Fervently adding up possible combinations of parties and seats in the hope that they can squeak in with assumed support of others looks like desperation.

    Labour have to present themselves in a realistically positive light, give it their best shot, hope that political fate swings their way but accept that it may not be this year.

    • Colonial Viper 6.1

      I doubt that most people know or care what Labour’s “core principles” are, or what they were 5 years ago, 25 years ago or 75 years ago. It’s little more than insider idealism.

      Yes like fairness at work has gone out of fashion. And the promise of a fair days wage for a fair days work. Or making sure that we do not have poverty with huge social and financial inequalities in the community. Or that the rich get richer even as the working poor get poorer.

      People clearly don’t care about that unimportant and irrelevant stuff any more.

  6. Whiskey Tango Mike Foxtrot 7

    I don’t think you can have consistent policy, especially consistency in policies of welfare, justice and health with out acknowledging the double standard, inconstant with both public and scientific opinion of the Labour party’s view on the legality of Cannabis.
    Phill Geoff is a known prohibitionist and this automatically turns off the 400,000 (10%) of Kiwis who regularly ingest cannabis.
    If we want jobs, more money for policing crime not to mention a new found respect and therefore participation in this, the oldest democracy on Earth, then we have to address the elephant in the room.
    Over 10,000 years of continued human consumption and it’s still hasn’t filled up an emergency room the way booze does every friday night.
    Safer Alternatives. Harm Reduction. No double standards.
    Know what I mean?

  7. Carol 8

    It has been my understanding that the reason for the left, in places like the UK, US & NZ, shifting to the right, was not because they just liked to suck up to the wealthy, or because most were seduced by neoliberalism. It also didn’t have so much to do with poor efforts to articulate core left wing principles. It was because the left came up against the full power of the corporates, and the media & resources they were aligned with. It made it hard for the left to get elected, because anything judged as too left wing was undermined by the corporate media and the wealthy financial elites.

    However, times have changed in many ways, and that may make it possible for the left to mobilise support for core Labour/left values, in spite of the corporate controlled MSM & wealthy power manipulators. For instance there is now the possibility of by-passing the MSM to get the message to voters via the web and other alternative media (Maori TV & Triangle/Stratos), along with the live gigs necessary to political campaigns.

    It’s been a good move for The Greens and Labour to have their own blogs. It means as well as doing the necessary press releases & MSM interviews/appearances, they can also make statements, unedited by the MSM. And I have seen the MSM pick up on some of the blog comments.

    The other important changes that may wortk for the left are those to do with the economy, financial sector, & social context.

    So, along with the need to articulate a consistent core message, Labour and the Left need to use a multi-platform/arena approach to enaging with voters and articulating this message. This is so they won’t be totally at the mercy of the corporate controlled right-leaning MSM.

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