I attended the VUW post-election conference in Legislative Chamber today, held under Chatham House rules. Usual mix of insight tinged with the odd bit of bullshit – the best contribution by far IMHO came from Colin James. Election conference 12Feb16
James argues that 2011 was a status-quo election for National, the party that has won two-thirds of the time over the last century. I’m not as determinist; but determination to win was a key factor in our success in three elections from 1999. I think perceived absence of this determination was a reason why many Labour electorate voters placed their their party vote elsewhere, a feature that James analyses in some depth.
I agree with James’ analysis that Labour’s buying into the fiscal responsibility frame cost it dearly; it is a mistake that the British Labour party also seems to want to make. It is true that Labour governments will always have to be fiscally responsible, and Michael Cullen certainly was, but it does not have to be me-too.
James is also right about Labour’s negative frame, a point made in 2008 by Steven Joyce and again with justification this time. While Labour never changed its “No asset sales” line, National’s “mixed ownership” message refined through focus group testing went unchallenged. It’s running out of steam now and ripe for a broad-based campaign, hopefully better targeted.
All through the 2008-2011 Labour had chanted “National has no plan”. National countered this criticism with its 6-point plan, publicised far and wide. And in the campaign James points out;
promises were modest but couched in such a way as to make the government look very busy: a 120-point action plan, mostly of things already in train, was published shortly before election day.
Labour’s 6-point plan for jobs and growth came late in the campaign. James’ critique is the first I’ve seen of National’s 120-point rehash.
However the real point of post-election evaluation is to learn the lessons and prepare the ground for the next election. In James’ view the 2011 election is transitional, and I agree; that is perhaps why it has not been seen as exciting as some others.
James looks at three key transitions; cultural, environmental, and generational – Maori politics, Green politics, and post baby-boom politics. All are crucial, and in all cases Labour is well-placed if it is smart enough and strategic enough.
As for National, their strategy is based on being able to produce results by 2014, much like Cameron in the UK. Politically, now that they have cannibalised the right, their paradoxical hope lies in Winston. If he stays in Parliament, stays on the cross-benches, and supports the party with a plurality, assuming that is National. A lot of ifs.
Food for thought indeed.