It seems nowadays that everybody (including me) seems to have an opinion about the Labour party. What can they do better, who’s to blame for what, what they need to stop doing etc, etc.
Weirdly there’s no such interest in the National party.
I think this is partly to do with National’s message control, partly to do with its corporatist structure but mostly to do with the fact Labour does no opposition research.
National’s message control and corporatism are interlinked – as a party they are adept at shutting down negative stories by staying on message and not providing them oxygen. In a more democratic and less hierarchical party this is a lot harder as members and MPs tend to feel more free to say their own thing publicly. In National there is strict control of messaging to the point where nearly every National party electoral campaign was being run out of Wellington HQ (and run to be as bland as possible). It is also evident in the lack of leaking from National – it used to be easy to find out what was going on in their caucus. Now nobody talks.
By comparison Labour has no message control. This is partly due to the more democratic traditions of the party but also due to the failure of Labour’s leadership team to provide coherent explanations of their policy and values (despite constantly talking about the importance of their policies and values). Add to this the fact National has a sophisticated opposition research unit and a network of proxies to disseminate its work, and it starts to become clear how the discussion is always about Labour.
The last leadership contest was a prime example of this – every man and his dog felt that it was their business and that their particular political genius was elemental to the decision made by Labour’s caucus. The Nats, in particular, took great pleasure in stirring the pot around the whole matter.
This is not to say there should be less democracy in the Labour party. More that there should be more focus on National – both from the media and the opposition. In fact it amazes me that since Don Brash left the Nats the party that has been most talked about is Labour. Despite the fact National has been the government for most of this time.
I’ve no problem with the focus on Labour’s internal politics, I think it’s good for democracy. What does concern me is that the politics and motives of the governing party, the very people who are making real and significant changes to our country, is a closed book. I don’t think that’s good for democracy at all.