Jordan Carter and Josie Pagani agree – there is a legitimate debate that needs to be had about whether Labour aims for the left or the centre vote. That may be where agreement stops, judging from Josie Pagani’s contribution to the debate on Nine to Noon this morning here. The political strategy she expounds is however worth unpicking.
Summarised as best I can, Pagani thinks the debate is between those who think Labour should go after the left vote, which she equates with Green voters, and those who think it should go after the centre, who she characterises as 2011 Labour switchers to National. She said there was some “romanticising” of the 800,000 who did not vote in the last election as left wing, including a view that if Labour had been more left wing at the last election more people would have voted Labour. She said that this was not borne out by “the research,” which said non-voter values were the same as those of the centre.
She described Shearer’s Greypower speech as his “welfare speech”, and said what he was trying to do with his example about the roof-painting beneficiary was to appeal to the truckdriver she met campaigning in Taranaki/King Country who’d said Labour was for the beneficiaries, National for the rich, who’s there for me? In Pagani’s view, Shearer had to find a way to appeal to him, by letting him know that Labour was not going to defend the indefensible where a guy who’s getting a benefit that should not be getting one.
Labour had to look like change, and change was going to make some people feel uncomfortable – according to Pagani these were party insiders, those with vested interests, those for the status quo, the left blogosphere, those inside the beltway. You get the drift. Oh and the Standard came in for a mention.
Pagani’s approach seems to be advocating a crude form of inoculation, that Shearer should get Labour’s retaliation in first, and not be unhappy if this upsets some of its own supporters and activists.
By far the most sensible contributions to the discussion in my view came from Kathryn Ryan and Matthew Hooton. Hooton’s said that talk about roof-painting beneficiaries was exactly what’s wrong with Labour – getting the phraseology right in a speech that no-one’s going to read anyway would have passed the truck driver by, as he would be working. Anyway people believed that these examples were PR constructs and did not really exist. It’s ironic that better advice for the left came from the spokesman from the right.
Kathryn Ryan said people – right left or centre – need to hear what Labour’s doing. Labour should be articulate and be in the game. Amen to that.
Jordan Carter’s approach was thoughtful. He raised the following questions in a recent post, commenting on a blogspat between Pagani and Chris Trotter, remarking that that “both Josie and Chris made some reasonable points, and that in doing so both of them hit on some critical debates Labour and the left need to have as we settle on our strategy for 2014 and beyond:
These are key questions. To me the answers are obvious. Labour has to focus on motivating people who didn’t vote in 2011; it has to focus on winning support from people who voted National in the last election, and it should win back some former Green voters. The priorities are in that order.
Non-voters are most important because if they can be persuaded to vote, most are likely to vote Labour. In 2002 Labour voters disaffected by Corngate went to non-vote. So did disaffected Labour did in 2011, and not because Labour was insufficiently left-wing. Winning back those voters was crucial to Labour’s win in 2005. It will be again in 2014, and the lessons of 2005 are salutary.
Labour will also have to win back many of those who voted National in 2011. This is already happening. As Matthew Hooton noted in the interview, Labour’s steady rise in the polls means that it has theoretically gained another 100,000 voters since the last election. There is no need for panic. National learnt this lesson the hard way in 2005 – while it cannibalised the other parties of the right it still did not win enough votes off Labor to govern.
And of course in 2005 Labour appealed both to the centre and to its base. Working for Families and interest-fee student loans were policies with broad appeal, albeit targetted. They countered National’s promise of tax cuts. In 2014 neither National or Labour will have fiscal headroom for similar policies, which is why their increasingly different approaches to New Zealand’s economic future become more important.
Winning votes from the Greens is not as important as growing the size of the centre-left bloc. Winning government has to be the goal, and we can be absolutely certain that that will be National’s focus. Hooton thinks that Winston is in National’s pocket, which may or may not be the case, but the Greens have been thrice denied a share in government when they might have been better placed there, and that cannot happen again.
The trick is how should Labour go about winning support. For once in my life, I agree with Matthew Hooton. Convoluted messages aiming to get one’s retaliation in first are at best futile, at worst counter-productive. I’ve always agreed with Kathryn Ryan, even when I couldn’t admit it for loyalty reasons. People need to hear what Labour’s offering. Labour needs to be articulate, positive and be in the game.
And increasingly, the way to win support will be by personal contact. This is where those activists and insiders are very important, and where is it also important not to be sending mixed messages to them via the airwaves.
Again, no need to panic, but definitely time to get out more positive messages about what Labour would do. That’s what truckdrivers, and the rest of us, want to hear.