If you had told me a year ago that, just a third of a way through its term, this government would have lost a minister in secret circumstances, had a minister openly acknowledge that the Prime Minister “doesn’t do anything”, muddled its way through legislative debacle after debacle of policies that over-promise and under-deliver, and that the Deputy Prime Minister would be one of a dozen ministers caught rorting for personal gain, I wouldn’t have believed you.
National has done precious little to deserve re-election, and you hear the disappointment with this government regularly when talking to National voters, let alone ACT and Maori Party voters (UnitedFuture voters are just glad someone’s talking to them). But the polls reflect that people don’t see a better alternative. As r0b said the other day, National can lose the next election. But can Labour win it?
What does Phil Goff’s Labour stand for? I know what Labour stands for generally – full employment, higher wages, better public services, and (in theory) environmental sustainability. I see Labour scoring tactical victories over issues like ACE, the ETS, and ACC. But I don’t know what Goff’s vision for New Zealand with him as PM is.
The failure of Bill English’s leadership of National was a lack of vision. We just didn’t know what he stood for other than a return to the government we had just voted out. Goff at the moment is in the same place. What changed for National was when they stopped trying to defend their last government’s legacy, stopped fighting every inch of the retreat on issues as the government advanced its agenda and, instead, started to articulate a ‘beyond Labour’ vision. To do that, they used political research to identify issues where people were dissatisfied with Labour that National could offer a popular alternative, specifically one designed to wedge part of Labour’s core support away from it, while staying within its ideological framework.
Of course, in National’s case that manifested as ‘tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts’, the Orewa speech and Wayne Mapp – PC Eradicator. Labour shouldn’t and, of course, wouldn’t follow National down those specific paths but it should acknowledge the effectiveness of the strategy. National from that point on took the game away from Labour, it started to dominate the run of play.
Can Labour and Goff do the same? The elements are in place, there are already issues where the public is unhappy with Key and National where Labour could offer a popular alternative. In particular, Key is increasingly being seen as a weak leader, off playing around rather than running the country and his government. The public is deeply dissatisfied with the continual spectacle of government ministers and MPs being exposed ripping off the taxpayer. There is a growing sense that this government doesn’t listen, only pays lip service to consultation. The public anger at that was expressed at yesterday’s ‘bikoi‘, with thousands of bikers converging on Parliament.
I think this is Goff’s opening. If he were to present, in broad terms, an agenda for better government that addresses all three points – accountability, tighter controls on use of public money by MPs and ministers, and more transparent government with greater public say in lawmaking, citizen assemblies for instance, it would put Labour on the frontfoot and in the spotlight. Rather than talking about why the last Labour government wasn’t so bad, they would be talking about why the next one will be better than Key.
Update: I actually drafted this a couple of days ago before Goff’s appearance at Drinking Liberally – Auckland was announced. He’s meant to be talking about his vision for the 6th Labour Government then. Should be interesting.