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NZ POLITICS DAILY: Is Labour in crisis?

A doomed tone characterises virtually all of the political commentary about the Labour Party at the moment. There is much speculation about the potential for a further collapse in public support, for the Greens usurping Labour as the main opposition party, and even about another leadership change. But despite the widespread negativity there are also some reminders that all is not yet lost for Labour and David Cunliffe.

Much of the commentary is in response to yet another terrible opinion poll result for Labour – yesterday’s Herald DigiPoll was the worst yet for Cunliffe – see Audrey Young’s National, Greens up, Labour at new low. In response, rightwing commentator Matthew Hooton has given the most doom-laden commentary on Labour and Cunliffe in his NBR online column Labour in crisis (paywalled).

Hooton blames Cunliffe’s leadership for Labour’s doledrums, arguing that ‘Labour is doomed if it keeps him’. Writing yesterday, Hooton said, ‘This morning’s Herald-DigiPoll is utterly disastrous for Labour, especially in Auckland where it has argued the election will be decided.  The party needs to urgently begin the process of getting rid of David Cunliffe as leader – possibly with a discussion at today’s caucus meeting – or face the prospect of meeting the Greens at around the 21% mark on September 20’.

Yet it’s also worth noting that just a few days earlier – albeit before the latest poll result – Hooton also argued that it would be a mistake to see National’s victory as a foregone conclusion and that, based on MMP history, it’s likely that Labour will recover to produce a closely fought campaign: ‘With the exception of 1999, all MMP elections have gone to the wire.  Even in the weeks before Bill English’s nadir in 2002, there was a mathematical possibility of a National/NZ First/UnitedFuture/Act coalition, limiting Helen Clark to one term.  In 2005, National’s Don Brash, along with the leaders of Act, UnitedFuture and the Maori Party, held talks with Winston Peters about forming a government but Mr Peters chose to give Ms Clark her third term.  More recently, Mr Key scraped home in both 2008 and 2011 by the narrowest of margins’ – see: What would Winston want? (paywalled).

Gordon Campbell has made a very similar argument this week: ‘At the same point in the electoral cycle in 2005, when the Clark government was seeking its third term in office (just as John Key is this year ) the polling situation was looking remarkably similar for the incumbent. In mid March 2005, the combined centre-left vote was registering 51% in the One News Colmar Brunton poll, while National (under the leadership of the quintessentially goofy-at-times Don Brash) was languishing at 35%. Yet eventually, the 2005 election proved to be a very, very tight contest.  What all this suggests is that it is entirely possible for David Cunliffe to survive his current, largely self-inflicted problems. The great thing about self-inflicted problems is that once you stop hammering your head against the concrete, things suddenly feel a whole better – and you haven’t actually hurt anyone else, much as you may have alarmed them’ – see: Labour pains.

Another Labour leadership change?

Today’s Otago Daily Times newspaper editorial raises the possibility that Cunliffe may have to step down: ‘anything is still possible in six months. In reality, unless Mr Cunliffe can pull something out of the hat soon, it seems increasingly unlikely Labour will make it to Government in September.  If that is the case, it seems inevitable another leadership battle will be fought’ – see: Labour: down and out? The ODT discusses potential replacements, including Grant Robertson, Shane Jones, David Parker, Jacinda Ardern and David Clark.

Hooton also suggests that a leadership change to Shane Jones is on the cards: ‘Since before Christmas, Shane Jones has been privately briefing lobbyists and journalists that if Mr Cunliffe could not poll better than Mr Shearer, there would be a move to roll him before the election.  More recently, other senior Labour frontbenchers have been speaking more and more candidly that Mr Cunliffe is by no means guaranteed of making it to the election’ – see: Labour in crisis (paywalled).

A leadership change is extremely unlikely according to John Armstrong’s must-read column on the matter – see: Cunliffe safe in spite of poll shock. Armstrong’s main point is that such a lengthy leadership contest would be hugely damaging to Labour’s campaign, and it would provoke ‘something that would be little short of civil war within the party’. Rather positively, he also says that ‘Cunliffe still has more than a chance of becoming prime minister if the numbers start bouncing more favourably for Labour and the Greens in coming weeks’.

Tracy Watkins also discusses a potential leadership change, and the negative ramifications of that happening, but seems to suggest that Jones and Robertson might be open to it – see: Can Cunliffe turn things around?

Could things get worse for Labour?

Chris Trotter is one of the commentators forecasting a further collapse in support for Labour as a possibility – see his column from last week, All Over Bar The Counting. Trotter is also fairly pessimistic in his latest column, which suggests the party’s hope of mobilising disenfranchised voters has been dashed by the creation of an atomised society – see: How will Labour 'get out the vote'?

For further elaboration on how such an electoral catastrophe might occur, see Cameron Slater’s What happens next for Labour? He says that ‘Labour are in exactly the same place as National was for 2002. A party bereft of ideas, populated with deadwood, lead by an idiot whose sycophants think he is the chosen one’. But the main point worth reading is this – Slater says that Labour MPs ‘will realise that with every drop in their numbers it is starting to affect their seat. So they will go back to their electorates and run a candidate only campaign. They won’t put up signs with Cunliffe on them and they will focus on local issues in a bid to keep themselves in a job.  As a result the party vote will sink lower and then voters will realise that Labour and Cunliffe are losers and people simply don’t vote for losers.  The list MPs are the ones who are in real strife. Every percentage point knocked off labour’s party vote puts more fear into their ranks. But they can’t do anything to arrest the slide. Mostly they are useless, led by a more useless leader.  Once the fear sets in it really is all over for Labour’.

What’s Labour’s problem and how can they turn things around?

Despite the concentration on leadership problems, there’s possibly even more of a policy problem for Labour. Many commentators are arguing that Labour is failing to pitch any sort of real alternative or vision to that of the current government. For instance, the ODT says today that ‘Labour seems to be stuck in the one role, that of attacking and denigrating, while failing to offer viable alternatives’ – see: Labour: down and out?

Labour’s economic policies and statements continue to come under scrutiny. For the latest interesting critique, see Act Party leader Jamie Whyte’s NBR column Cunliffe peddles foreign ownership myths (paywalled). He argues that there is ‘a fundamental conflict between Labour’s economic goal and its proposed monetary policy’.

For an interesting discussion of Labour’s problems, watch Paul Henry’s 7-minute interview with leftwing commentators Josie Pagani and Simon Wilson: Labour confidence falls – poll. And for a lengthy discussion about where Cunliffe is taking Labour, read the transcript of Gordon Campbell’s interview with the leader – see: Labour pains.

Much of the commentary is turning to a search for what Labour might do to reverse its poor performance. Possibly the most realistic advice comes from John Armstrong, who says Labour's best hope for Key to hit political banana skin pre-election. And for a reiteration that Labour will concentrate on helping National trip itself up – especially over allegations of ‘corporate cronyism’ – see Adam Bennett’s Cunliffe on poll result: 'We've got more work to do'.

Voters are relatively happy at the moment and there’s little chance of Labour dissuading them, says today’s Dominion Post editorial Change? Why bother when all is well. Nonetheless the newspaper advises Labour to go hard on the issues of inequality and poverty. It says, ‘The best question Labour could ask is: ''They say the economy is improving. Do you feel better off?'' This would possibly focus minds and foment discontent’. Similar arguments about appealing to working class voters are put today in the Manawatu Standard editorial, Labour must focus on voters' interests.

Part of Labour’s solution is to question the veracity of the latest opinion poll and suggest there’s reason to believe the polling is already turning around – see for example Cunliffe’s 4-minute interview this morning on TV3’s Firstline: Labour already bouncing back – Cunliffe.

In response to this approach, the Herald’s Audrey Young elaborates on why the latest poll result is no aberration – see: Cunliffe, Key and that poll. Similarly, Mike Hosking complains of Cunliffe not getting his facts right.

One area in which Labour could make a serious improvement is in its digital strategy. Social media blogger and scholar, Matthew Beveridge has been publishing a number of useful posts containing advice and warnings for the party – see: What I would do: If I was running @nzlabour ‘s social mediaConsistency in branding,  Labour moving the goal posts again?, and A breach of Parliamentary Service Guidelines?


Finally, for some humour, see Scott Yorke’s The Thinking Pundit: No need for panic.

Today’s content

John Key in China

Claire Trevett (Herald): Key aiming for turn of fortune for Fonterra

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Chinese dinner hits the spot for Key

Claire Trevett (Herald): PM to dine with China's President

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Key: China currency deal a boost

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): NZ pays in first China currency trade

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): China-NZ agree currency deal

Radio NZ: NZ firm signs big deal in Beijing

Claire Trevett (Herald): Why Key needs to spread the milk message in China

TVNZ: PM begins damage control in China

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Key to dine with China's President

Rachel Smalley (Newstalk ZB): An important task for John Key in China

Tracy Watkins, Cathy Bell, and Vernon Small (Stuff): Better to lease, not buy, Govt tells China

Mike's Editorial (Newstalk ZB): The facts about the Chinese buying our property


Labour Party

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Can Cunliffe turn things around?

Adam Bennett (Herald): Cunliffe on poll result: 'We've got more work to do'

Chris Trotter (Stuff): How will Labour 'get out the vote'?

Matthew Hooton (NBR): Labour in crisis (paywalled)

Liam Hehir (Stuff): Big test looming for David Cunliffe

Gordon Campbell (Werewolf): Labour pains

Scott Yorke (Imperator Fish): The Thinking Pundit: No need for panic

Audrey Young (Herald): Cunliffe, Key and that poll

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Labour plunges in poll  

ODT: Labour: down and out?

Pete George (Your NZ): What if Grant Robertson…

Radio NZ: Cunliffe struggling to lift support

David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Mr Cunliffe the poll trend doesn’t lie

Matthew Beveridge: Labour moving the goal posts again?

Adam Bennett (Herald): Labour set to reveal forestry jobs plan

Pete George (Your NZ): Was the Herald poll an outlier?

Rob Crawford Jr (The Watercooler): Politics: Trust & Track Records


Judith Collins

Bryan Gould (Herald): Thin end of the corruption wedge

TVNZ: Judith Collins claims ignorance over Oravida dinner

Adam Bennett (Herald): Collins ducks for cover over Beijing dinner bill

Radio NZ: Collins still quiet on who paid for meal

Simon Wong (TV3): Collins avoids China dinner questions

Felix Marwick (Newstalk ZB): Politicians not learning from the past

Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): John Key wonâ t be paying Oravida a visit

Corin Dann (TVNZ): Key: Oravida on Kiwi milk providers guest list in Beijing

Adam Bennett (Herald): Collins ducks for cover over Beijing dinner bill

Brook Sabin (TV3): Labour: Collins went out of her way for Oravida visit

Laura Walters (Stuff): Oravida building work in dispute

Frank Macskasy (Daily Blog): When will Taxpayers Union criticise Judith Collins the way they did Mojo Mathers?

Hamish Rutherford (Stuff): Oravida focus bad for votes – Key

Laura McQuillan (Newstalk ZB): John Key 'over' Oravida issue

Barry Soper (Newstalk ZB): The Soap Box: Labour's lows and Creamy Collins

Newswire: Collins faces another grilling

Adam Bennett (Herald): Long way to go for a cuppa


National Party

Rob Salmond (Polity): Adams' ECan Cabinet paper released

No Right Turn: A clear conflict of interest

No Right Turn: More cronyism

Hamish Fletcher (Herald): National MP appeals $340,000 civil dispute



David Farrar (Kiwiblog): The Greens provisional list

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why the Green Party list matters so much to Labour for possible coalition Government

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why MANA is Green’s best friend and not the mythical blue greens


NZ First

Tim Watkin (Pundit): NZ First conundrum - the road more or less travelled

Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Why NZ First won’t get over 5%



Peter Wilson (Newswire): Parata grilled over comments in Parliament

Stacey Kirk (Stuff): Parata backtracks over decile reform – Labour

Allan Allach (Daily Blog): The Destruction of New Zealand’s Public Education


Maori politics

Radio NZ: Review clears trust over public funds

Tracy Watkins and Michael Fox (Stuff): Kohanga Reo probe avoids key claims

Audrey Young (Herald): Kohanga Reo Trust cleared of mis-using public money

TVNZ: Te Kohanga Reo Trust cleared of misusing public funds

Newswire: Kohanga Reo trust cleared over funding

Muriel Newman (NZCPR): Equal Rights an Election Issue


Electoral reform

Radio NZ: Electoral Amendment Bill passes final reading

Democratic Audit: Canada’s “Fair Elections Act” risks disenfranchising voters and handing an advantage to wealthy candidates

Mojo Mathers (Frogblog): Voting against new barrier to voting

Newstalk ZB Staff (Newstalk ZB): Rosette ban missing from updates to electoral legislation



3 News Online Staff (TV3): Home ownership drops to below 50pc

Kurt Bayer (Herald): Census 2013: Property ownership keeps falling

Liz McDonald (Stuff): South Islanders more likely to own homes

Herald: Editorial: Drop in home ownership no great calamity

Newswire: Greens want foreign home ownership restrictions

The Jackal: Smith's housing mirage


Christchurch rebuild

Christine Rose (Daily Blog): ‘Disaster Capitalism’ and Christchurch

Tony Milne (Daily Blog): Another broken promise. Another failed test

James Dann (Rebuilding Christchurch): Those Left Standing: The Majestic



Tim Hunter (Stuff): Genesis float may provide right music

Bryce Wilkinson (Stuff): New Zealand's debt legacy

Paul McBeth (Newswire): Law at fault for Chorus price cut – lawyer

Kim Campbell (Herald): Government must play its part to keep the reform ball rolling

Radio NZ: Labour critical of Guy's leadership


Inequality and poverty

Tracy Watkins (Stuff): Beneficiary pay on the rise

Duncan Exley (New Statesman): How inequality is costing the economy billions

CPAG: Youth Forum 



Ben Heather (Stuff): Reruns bolster local television content

Rob Crawford Jr (The Watercooler): Media: Seven Sharp sharpens up its act



Stuff: Today in politics: Wednesday, March 19

Rebecca Wright (TV3): MP aims to end street prostitution

Newswire: Anti-monorail petition handed to Parliament

NZ Parliament: Flags on Parliament’s forecourt

Newswire: NZ closer to crime info sharing treaty with US

David Kennedy (Local Bodies): Gerry Brownlee, Making Stuff Up Again!

The Ruminator: We don’t need your…

Sue Kedgley (Herald): Time to swallow hard truth on mercury

Melissa Brown (Stuff): Early start on super pays off

Lynda Murchison (Stuff): Controlling nitrates is not simple