RAW DATA: Jim Anderton, Helen Kelly and Selwyn Pellet on Labour's leadership fight
RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Jim Anderton, Helen Kelly and Selwyn Pellet
Watch the interview here
Lisa Owen: Joining us now to make sense of that and to talk about where Labour goes from here, tech businessman and investor Selwyn Pellet, who is also a past donor to the Labour Party. Alongside of him, Council of Trade Unions president, Helen Kelly. Good morning to you both. And a man with a long history in left-wing politics, former Labour Party president-turned Alliance leader and one-time deputy prime minister, Jim Anderton is joining us from Christchurch. If I can come to you first, Selwyn.
Jim Anderton: Good morning, Lisa and panel.
Lisa Owen: Good morning. If I can come to Selwyn first, what does that tell us what we just saw?
Selwyn Pellet: It's pretty consistent and it's across the board. In the electorate seats, I think, we got another 200,000 more votes for the electorate seats than we did for the party vote. So we actually scored 33% of the electorate seats. So that was what you would have expected. But we lost 189,000 votes in the transfer from there to the party vote.
Lisa Owen: So why did you do so well in the electorates but not— Why were they trusting MPs to look after the neighbourhood but not be the government?
Selwyn Pellet: I think there were a lot of things in this, and we've been discussing, obviously, during the last week. But I don't think you can underestimate the impact that Kim Dotcom had on positioning the entire left as the 'loony left', and that shadow... He's relatively a small player but cast a big negative shadow. And so people were confident and positive about their MPs but they weren't positive and confident about a left-wing coalition. And they had reasons to have some concerns.
Lisa Owen: Why do you think that was a problem, though, because Labour was out in the open pretty strongly saying that Internet Mana wasn't going to be part of their government.
Selwyn Pellet: And they did. And I don't think they went out soon enough, but regardless of that, people still know where the votes in the polls were and could see for themselves that there was a possibility that they would need Internet Mana, at least at a supply and confidence level, to form a government. So even that was too much for the general population.
Lisa Owen: Helen Kelly, even the working-class support was down. That's got to be a worry for you.
Helen Kelly: Yeah, it has, and I think even in areas where you pointed out where Labour's vote went up slightly, the turnout was very low. So in the Maori electorates, for example, and in the poorer electorates of New Zealand, the turnout was very very poor. So those were also, I would say, people who didn't go and vote for Labour in a positive way. What I think we saw in the election campaign, and I travelled around the country and talked to a lot of working people, was Labour had many of the pieces but not the whole puzzle to reassure them of the consistency and competency to deliver the programme. And if you have a look back at the past when Labour has set out its policy platform, it has been very connected to those workers about how the alliance will be different under a Labour government. And I don't think they did that this time.
Lisa Owen: That was what was missing as far as you were concerned?
Helen Kelly: Yeah. For example, the healthy housing promise. People couldn't work out how that was going to make their houses dry or warm or do anything like that. But when Labour said, when it was originally elected, to retail workers in '35, 'You will have a chair in your shop, and you'll be able to sit down when you're working,' or 'You won't have to work more than 50 hours.' Workers identified with their real problems linked to the real solution.
Lisa Owen: You referenced the missing voters there. Up to one million voters. But if Labour had done its job, wouldn't they have been motivated enough to go to the ballot box?
Helen Kelly: Yes. And that's what I mean. There wasn't that consistency and confidence, and it was affected by the Internet Mana Party, but it wasn't just that, to believe in the programme. So they had the pieces there, but they didn't have the puzzle connected. And they have to reconnect with that working group.
Lisa Owen: Let's bring Jim Anderton in on the conversation. Jim, it's fair to say that you've been involved in a few electorate campaigns in your time.
Jim Anderton: More than I want to remember
Lisa Owen: We saw Mana, Mt Albert, Christchurch there, where the party vote was seriously eroded. What do you think went wrong there on the ground? What was wrong?
Jim Anderton: Well, there's two serious points you haven't mentioned — one is that 13 of the Labour electorates got less than 15% of the party vote, and in the strong Labour electorates, mostly the Labour vote went down in the party vote. In truth, we had more people not on the roll or not voting than the entire vote that the National party vote got or the entire vote of all the parties opposing National. Now, that's a very worrying trend for the first time. And the worrying thing for Labour is that this isn't the worst result that's ever been had. I mean, the National party had a worse result in 2002; they got 22% of the vote, but in the three years following that, they caught up and nearly beat the Labour party in 2005, and in the three years since 2011, when the result was not good for labour, they've done even worse. So this is really a very major problem to face.
Lisa Owen: It took them two terms to come back, and we'll talk more about that later, but I'm interested in what your thoughts are and why these people didn't come out and vote. Why couldn't they be bothered?
Jim Anderton: Well, I think the Labour party are very wise to have put a stamp on having a very careful root-and-branch review of what actually happened, and I'll give you one example — 10 months ago, a young Cook Island girl, if she wouldn't mind me calling her a girl, probably woman, from Auckland came to Christchurch and thrashed the National party in Christchurch East, thrashed. They got a hiding to nothing. And over 60% of the vote; she actually polled more votes than a very well-respected long-time member, Lianne Dalziel. Now, how come 10 months later, in the whole of Christchurch, the vote in Christchurch was lower than the national average? Now, that's a very serious question to answer. I have one idea about it, and that's organisation. I was a campaign manager for that by-election, and I said to Labour, 'The reason that we're doing well here is that we're highly organised. We've focused on the policy.' And I agree with Helen about reflecting to people what they really need and what their aspirations are and working out specific policies that meet those needs. Now, that's exactly what we did in Christchurch East, and I don't think that was done in this election.
Lisa Owen: I just want to do a round robin here.
Jim Anderton: And one of the reasons for that is that Labour no longer has the mass membership of a party that can accomplish that. It can do it in one by-election, but you can't do it across the country, and that's the lesson from this election.
Lisa Owen: I just want to do a round robin here, Jim, and bring the others in. So, do you agree that policy wasn't the issue? The policies themselves weren't the issue; it was communicating that. Do you agree on that?
Selwyn Pellett: So, my opinion is that our brand was very tarnished going into the election, and there's a lot of reasons for that, but we were tarnished, and we were easily displaced. But policies were great.
Lisa Owen: Helen?
Helen Kelly: The policies were great. What they weren't pitched as was being available for everybody, so there was a lot of pitching them as for others, not for you, for the poor or to deal with inequality, and people don't see where they are on that continuum so that connecting those policies up to people's real life experiences wasn't done.
Selwyn Pellett: Talking about building a staircase out of poverty applies to the people in the poor. Talking about a stairway to prosperity applies to everyone. It's aspirational. And I think we've spent too much time talking about the small groups, rather than the big groups, and by osmosis, you're taking everyone with you.
Lisa Owen: So, when you talk about the tarnished brand, and you put that down in part to Kim Dotcom, but what other things tarnished the Labour brand?
Selwyn Pellett: Clearly, three leaders in six years, infighting, public infighting as well, has not done us any favours, so our relationship with the Greens could've been better. There could've been clearer segmentation about why a Greens voter would vote Greens and not Labour and vice versa, but I think when you're voting for a party and you're imagining them in government, you actually have to imagine the collective, not the individual party, and that's something the left has to get through its head well and truly, is people are voting for a potential government, and they need to understand the segmentation between the parties.
Lisa Owen: Jim, I want to bring you back in here. Selwyn said there... Well, internal ructions is basically what you're indicating. There was this distracting talk from Trevor Mallard just before the election about bringing back the moa. There was the man-a culpa. People see a party that had people fighting internally, a leader who didn't have any mates, not a prospective government.
Jim Anderton: Well, Labour changed three leaders in 1990, and that didn't help, and we've had three leaders in the last three years, and that worked well, didn't it (?) So if changing the leader is the answer, it's a pretty stupid question, actually, and I think the problems for Labour go way back. But here's an example — during the by-election in Christchurch last year, we had a city in ruins. I mean, over in the east, we had sewage problems; water problems; power problems; the roads were wrecked; the local services were wrecked; the schools were closing; jobs were at a premium; and so on and so on. And during the campaign, I had to cope with the stupidity of the issue of the day for Labour was gender equity in the caucus. I never once had anyone in Christchurch East come up to me and say, 'Gee, this gender equity problem in the Labour caucus is a real problem, isn't it, Jim?' Never. We had to focus on the reality of the people's lives and what was going on and identify with them and reflect that back.
Lisa Owen: All right, let's bring Helen Kelly in here, Jim. The apology, the man ban — were you discussing things that didn't actually resonate with your average voter? Was that your problem?
Helen Kelly: Well, I think there were a range of problems and that's why the review is important, but I think when you continually talk about people in groups, rather than the vision for New Zealand, then people feel excluded rather than included. And the reality is on the left, there were lots of choices for people. If you wanted a right wing government, there were very few choices; you know, you basically voted National, and that vote consolidated.
Lisa Owen: Did you do yourself no favours with that though — discussing things like the man ban and the gender equity?
Helen Kelly, Sure, so the noise overtook the proposals. The values proposition that actually Labour was a party for everyone; it became Labour as a party for some groups.
Lisa Owen: But the problem with that was it was the Labour Party making that noise. It was David Cunliffe that got up and apologised for being a man. It was the Labour Party that was talking about gender equity.
Helen Kelly: Well, I think that if Labour had had the full puzzle in place to say this is the vision for New Zealand across all those issues and focused on the economic issues. When we were talking about spying, people were having their power cut off and, so, you know, we actually got distracted by the noise, rather than the core issues that were facing New Zealanders, and when you have a look at who did vote Labour, they were people genuinely concerned about the core issues and anxious for those to be addressed.
Lisa Owen: Selwyn, I'm hearing a lot from inside the party that this is a party that's been hijacked by special interest groups. Would you agree with that?
Selwyn Pellet: I think you're— Let's using the skiing analogy; where you look is where you go, and so from there— Yeah, outside, people looking and if we talk about the poor people think it's hijacked by a special interest group. If we talk about gender equality, they think it's hijacked, but the reality is Labour has the best economic policies I've ever seen in my life time in looking at politics, and people don't understand it, so we've failed — we've got the right product, but we've failed in the sales and marketing piece.
Lisa Owen: So how do you move on from this?
Selwyn Pellet: Well, the review, as everyone said, and it's in circulation now in draft form for people to have a look at and comment about the terms of reference, and I've seen it and I think it's excellent. So I think when that's been done we'll have a much clearer idea of a) where we've failed, but if I go back to the review we did in 2011, we only reviewed our people, and that was a huge mistake. 27.4% of the people were reviewed, and that was our voting base. What do you think you find out? You then— you get 24.6 and do you want to keep going down—
Lisa Owen: So what can you tell us about the detail of the review?
Selwyn Pellet: I can't.
Lisa Owen: Well, there's lots of talk about moving, recapturing the centre ground. What does that mean and is that the right?
Selwyn Pellet: Well, you're certainly not going to increase your vote from 24.6% or 24.7 without actually going somewhere. So you can get the left out who didn't vote, but you fundamentally have to look at the more aspirational, and I think Helen's nailed it multiple times, we need to actually look at the working class and the working people of New Zealand, and how do we better their lives.
Lisa Owen: In the time that we've got left, I want to talk about the leadership. So Jim Anderton, it seems to be widely acknowledged that David Cunliffe is, you know, going to resign. There's a lot of talk about his lack of authenticity. Why doesn't he connect with voters?
Jim Anderton: I don't know the answer to that. I think what part of the review may well focus on some of those issues; I'm not one who believes that the leader is the only problem, as I said. Labour won't recover from this, unless they have a presence on the ground everywhere and a contact with the majority of New Zealanders is real, and at the moment the party organisation is not up to deliver that.
Lisa Owen: Jim what is your personal view in relation to David Cunliffe as to why he's not connecting with voters?
Jim Anderton: Well, the leader has to take responsibility for what happened on this chin — that's true — And I think David in not doing that on election night probably didn't help much, but in truth, Labour's problems are not just changing the leader, if they were— God, we've had so many leaders, there's hardly anyone who hasn't been a leader. Now I think you have to settle this properly, and that means the whole of the party has to stare hard in the mirror and look at itself and have a real presence in real New Zealand for the rest of the next three years and build the base. We had 100,000 members when I was president. At the moment I'd be generous to say that they've probably got less than 10.
Lisa Owen: Helen, what do you think? Well, have you spoken to David Cunliffe recently?
Helen Kelly: Not since the election, I haven't spoken to the Labour Party really. I've been getting on with my job obviously. This new government—
Lisa Owen: Well, do the unions still support him? What's the feeling? You must be having talks with your members.
Helen Kelly: No, the reality is — we've got 36 unions affiliated to us, and only five of them are also affiliated to the Labour Party, and it's those unions that make the decision around their members vote, and they involve—
Lisa Owen: Are you hearing that the support is still there for him?
Helen Kelly: No, what I'm hearing is that what we want is to have this review and decide what that means for the values, for the proposition that people will vote for, to attract people back to the party, and then what does the leadership look like.
Lisa Owen: So you can't say either way whether you're getting a feel for support for him or not.
Helen Kelly: No, and it's not the focus of those unions. Those unions are talking about what Labour needs to do to reconnect to the voting people.
Lisa Owen: Selwyn, who's the alternative? Is it Grant Robertson? His name is thrown around a lot, but he's very Wellington — people don't know him, and he would be the first openly gay leader of a major political party.
Selwyn Pellet: He's certainly the popular choice at the moment, but I agree with Jim. We need to steady the ship. We need to actually slow this process down and review exactly what we've got wrong and understand what we need to do right before there's any talk of changing the leadership.
Lisa Owen: But do you think it's inevitable that the Labour Party will have a new leader?
Selwyn Pellet: I think it's possible and probably, but that will be— it will be a run-off in my opinion.
Lisa Owen: Would David Cunliffe get your support?
Selwyn Pellet: I would have to see the results of the review that we're going to do, because, to be honest, structure follows strategy. We need to understand what our strategy is before we start electing leaders.
Lisa Owen: All right, that's a great place to leave it. Thank you very much to Selwyn Pellet, Helen Kelly and Jim Anderton. And later Tau Henare, Mike Williams and Andrea Vance weigh in on Labour's next step, but next — National still has the power, so what will it do with it - a free trade push, more labour reform, even tackling child poverty? What does John Key really want? We're back in a moment.