There’s a certain kind of commentator that like to accuse Labour of arrogance. My colleague Bryce Edwards (g’day Bryce) is a prime example:
Labour and its cheerleaders … are paying the electoral price for their assumptions that ‘we are right’ and that ‘voters must come around to seeing that we are right’. It reflects the arrogance that the public still perceives in a party that was thrown out of office three years ago and refuses to show any humbleness or signs of self-reflection. Labour partisans and hacks would do well to be reading all the newspaper editorials (without their rose-tinted glasses on) and face some reality. In particular, they could read the Dom Post’s Labour needs to find a way to reconnect…
There’s one fairly obvious and major problem with this view. It’s pretty hard to be “arrogant” when you’re the clear underdog, well down in the polls for a long time, and with any number of armchair generals eager to explain to you what you’re doing wrong. Arrogance comes with easy success, not with being hammered by bad news for years. Signs of self-reflection and humbleness there have been aplenty, starting on election night 2008 when Helen Clark stood down. However, let’s take Bryce’s advice and check out the Dom Post:
Editorial: Labour needs to find a way to reconnect
With just 17 weeks till the election, Labour is fast running out of time to persuade voters it should lead the next government. This week’s Fairfax Research International Poll shows Labour heading for its worst result since 1996 and National poised to have the option of governing alone. Barring a remarkable breakthrough or a complete meltdown in National, it seems the best Labour can hope for is to escape with enough survivors for a credible challenge in 2014.
Labour leader Phil Goff must be wondering what more he can do. The poll shows that the issues Labour has hammered away on for the past three years – the economy, health, education and the cost of living – are at the top of voters’ minds, yet they remain committed to National and Prime Minister John Key.
Worse for Mr Goff, the poll is the first since Labour unveiled its flagship tax policy. Labour was pinning its hopes for a turnaround on a capital gains tax, the removal of GST on fresh fruit and vegetables, a tax-free zone on the first $5000 in earnings, and a new top rate for the richest workers. But they have failed to resonate.
At the same time, voters have not gone off National despite it increasing GST and giving big tax breaks to the highest earners at the expense of those on middle and low incomes. National is also counting on the public accepting plans to halve government contributions to KiwiSaver, sell stakes in state-owned energy companies and Air New Zealand, and cut another $1 billion from the public sector. …
Labour can take some comfort in the hope that the gap with National is likely to close between now and election day. Certainly, this week’s poll shows that Labour does at least appear to have its finger on the pulse of voter concerns. The problem seems to be that voters are either not swayed by Labour’s message, or they are just not listening. As former Labour prime minister Mike Moore once famously said, the phone is off the hook. Labour needs to find a way to reconnect, and fast.
A scathing indictment of Labour’s arrogance? Hardly. In fact that editorial reads a lot like one of my own recent posts: Labour are addressing the issues that people care about, they have bold policies, National are doing unpopular things, but voters still seem to be set on a Nat honeymoon. Take off the green-tinted glasses, this isn’t arrogance, it’s knowing what you stand for, and sticking to your principles. Neither is putting your trust in the voters arrogant, it’s an act of hope.
That said, I seem to recall an old saying about the Lord helping those who help themselves. Labour certainly does need to get voters’ attention again, and then their trust. So how to “reconnect with the public”? What should Labour be doing differently? How best to use the four months between now and the election?