Well known Labour supporters John Armstrong and Fran O’Sullivan are bursting with advice for David Shearer. I’m sure they have the Left’s best interests at heart. O’Sullivan says Shearer must be more pro-capitalist. Armstrong says he needs to pick fights with the Greens. This is based on a premise that flies against the polling evidence that Labour is seen as too Left or too close to the Greens
In fact, the Greens are the most popular ‘second choice party‘ – there aren’t hordes of National voters saying, ‘I’d vote Labour if only they were a little more like National and distanced themselves from the Greens’ – there’s lots saying ‘I’m sick of Key but I don’t see Shearer as an alternative’.
As Danyl, has already pointed out, Shearer’s problem isn’t that his policies are unpopular, or that the Greens are unpopular – it’s that no-one sees him as a potential PM. But, more than that, our genius pundits don’t seem to have considered how their plans would actually play out.
OK, let’s say that Shearer wants to ‘pick a fight with the Greens’ and cuddle up to the business elite. How’s he going to do that, for starters? Labour and the Greens are very close on policy – they differ in degrees, not objectives and those degrees of difference are something they both happily accept. To ‘pick a fight’ Labour would have to make a policy move that is at odds with the Greens’ objectives – either off their own bat or by rejecting a Green policy.
And, just as the the parties’ policies are close, the political values of their memberships and a good part of their caucuses are even closer.
So, what happens when Shearer comes out with something that’s going to make a fight with the Greens? Full support for the TPP seems like the most likely option and would be O’Sullivan’s cuddling up to the business elite, too. First off, there’s every chance that the Greens would win the debate. More importantly (because voters don’t care about the TPP) the membership and a good slice of caucus would hate such a move. So would the unions, and the techie liberals. The Labour-friendly blogs would pan Shearer if he tried anything rightwing enough to spark a fight with the Greens.
‘So what?’ says Armstrong, ‘just ignore them – who cares?’ (which just shows why you never take political advice from people who’ve never played the game)
I’ll tell you who would care, the media. The narrative around Shearer and Labour is already one of divisions and a leader who is unloved by his party. Hell, Shearer can’t even decide to show up late to a meeting where Cunliffe was booked to speak without the story becoming ‘is Cunliffe trying to over-shadow Shearer?’.
If Shearer and the leadership spark another internal war in a effort to be seen to be putting the Greens in their place, Gower and Garner and the rest will be all over that shit. The story won’t be ‘moderate Labour distances itself from crazy Greens’ (which is a stupid story to want anyway since there’s no scenario where Labour doesn’t need Green votes to govern, and the madder the Greens are portrayed as, the more it turns people off wanting a Labour-led government). The story will be ‘more ructions in Labour’.
Look, if taking an incoherent grab bag of left and rightwing policies and calling it centrism was a recipe for electoral success then there would be successful centre parties around the world. There aren’t. Our centrist ‘party’ is Peter Dunne, the most pathetic man on Earth. He’s also someone who likes to pick a fight with the Greens by adopting strange rightwing positions. Why would anyone in their right mind listen to advice that amounts to ‘do what Peter Dunne does?’
Centrism is a fool’s paradise and, even if it worked, the infighting it would spark in Labour would do more damage in terms of voter appeal.
Voters don’t really care if your policies are ‘left’ or ‘right’, they care if your ideas and vision sound good and they think you’re up to doing the job that you’re applying for.
Ultimately, Labour’s policies are popular. What they’re lacking is a leader that people can see as PM. The infighting only worsens that perception because if you can’t win the loyalty of your people and control your party, how can you be trusted to unite a country and keep it on track? And the infighting story will only get more rounds if the Labour leadership decides to take a swing at the Greens and slaps its own Left in the process.
Having said all that, I would lay good money on the Labour leadership trying it.