Former senior Labour party strategist John Pagani has written an extraordinary blog post where he says Labour ought to cuddle up to National because its policies are so popular and then, somehow, convince people to vote Labour for some reason. If this has been Labour’s strategy for the past few years, it explains a lot.
There’s only one time in politics that it makes sense to ape your opponents’ policies and keep quiet about your true values – when your values are unpopular. This was true of National in 2002 when a bland campaign tried and failed to limit the damage. And in 2008, when National was also trying to limit damage but this time to its commanding lead. National’s policy of inoculation was about reassuring people that a Key government would just be Labour with the tax cut cherry on the top, handed to them by a funny clown (remember, National lost 10% during the final five months of that race, too).
Are we in that situation now? Does National have an overwhelmingly popular policy record like Labour did in 2002 and (to a lesser extent) in 2008?
Mining on Schedule 4
Fire at will
Nope. All unpopular to varying degrees. What other big things has National done? Not a hell of a lot. Which is why the whole ‘smile and wave’ meme works because Key’s government is ‘do nothing’ in terms of what people want it to do. And why when you ask what Key has actually done that is so great you get a blank stare.
Pagani says the public are “waiting for Labour to demonstrate it genuinely understands their needs – and that means endorsing more of what National is doing – the things the voting public approves of” but when you look at polls on the policies themselves they’ve always been unpopular. The reason why National can remain popular while doing unpopular things is that there appears to be no alternative.
We see Goff sniping at what the government does but never having any alternative policy, which makes it look like he’s complaining for its own sake. The lack of any real idea of what Labour would do in government makes it look like they don’t really want the job. Pagani’s strategy is more of the same.
People want an alternative. Look at the Roy Morgan Confidence in Government poll. Down from net 55% to net 25%. That’s only just above where it was when Labour was coming to the end of its third term – if there was an alternative, National’s party support would match. Read the vitriol heaped on Key and National in these Stuff comments on price rises. Or read this from Darien Fention on Red Alert:
“Our families aren’t eating”. That’s what I’ve been hearing today – not in the parts of Auckland where I know families have been struggling under this government for some time, but in the relatively affluent and true blue areas of Warkworth and Orewa.
I heard a lot of despair from people today. Steep increases in the prices of necessities, such as food and fuel, are taking their toll, and people say it’s been all downhill since the GST increases. Then today’s news of a 4.5% increase in inflation mean things are going to continue get worse, not better.
It’s no wonder. Vegetable prices have risen by 12.1 percent in the past year, milk, cheese and eggs by 8.8 percent, petrol by 17.1 percent, and electricity by 6.0 percent. Wages, for those who have jobs, have stood still.
There’s resentment there too about the government’s tax cuts for the better off, while meantime life has gotten tougher for those on low and middle incomes. Even in these towns, more families are resorting to food parcels for support.
I was surprised by the depth of feeling and despair I encountered today.
It worried me too.
The government has no plan, and it’s showing. Everywhere.
What these people need isn’t a Labour that doesn’t know what it stands for and tries to spend as much time in National’s shadow as possible. They need the Labour party that was established to fight for them.
In the end, I can’t go past Danyl’s reply to Pagani at Dim-post:
New Zealand is a centre-left country so people liked Labour’s policies. To get elected National HAD to embrace those policies, and they created a point of difference between themselves and Labour by advancing popular policies of their own: ie tax cuts, and by framing a negative narrative around the actual government (Helengrad, Nanny State etc) so that by the election people felt that when they voted National they got a really great deal. They got rid of Labour – who they no longer liked, kept their policies – which they liked, and got some nice new policies (sort of).
Pagani’s strategy – which Labour appears to be following – is to keep almost all of the members of the unpopular government the public was glad to get rid of, endorse National’s policies which are mostly horrible failures, and promote no substantial policy of their own. This has worked about as well as you’d expect it to.