Yesterday’s joint Labour-Greens State of the Nation event was big on symbolism but light on substance. However, that was entirely by design and might serve the parties well.
The news reports from yesterday’s Labour-Greens campaign events might be troubling for anyone wanting to see what new policies and vision those parties have to offer in 2017. Nothing of significance was revealed – no new policies announced by either party, and no new stances signalled. The whole event came across as being quite empty and lacking substance. The speeches were full of the same rhetoric and theatre we’ve seen from party leaders Metiria Turei and Andrew Little.
This is all well communicated in leftwing blogger Martyn Bradbury’s post, Joint State of the Nation – is this a Government in waiting? Really?
He pronounces Metiria Turei’s speech to be “Pretty bland and empty” and a “surprising wasted opportunity”. He’s not much kinder about Andrew Little’s: “Makes some fair points but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before.”
In summary, Bradbury condemns the whole event: “Amazingly no new policy mentioned at all. It’s all come off like a group hug session in a safe space. It’s hard to even know why they did the Joint State of the Nation as there is bugger all in this. I don’t think anyone who voted National in 2014 would change their vote based on today and no one who didn’t vote will come out and vote because of this Joint State of the Nation.”
The NBR’s Rob Hosking also points to the lack of substance on display yesterday: “Oh, Green party co-leader Metiria Turei talked about the women who had inspired her. It wasn't a bad bit of personal history and colour. The Greens are in favour of feminism, she proclaimed. But yeah, we kind of knew that. The main event, the speech from Labour leader Andrew Little, also spoke of a personal journey, in his case a battle back from prostate cancer, coupled with his hopes for his own kids about owning their own home and turning that into a critique of the current government. But policy? There was none. In both cases the Labour and the Green parties declared themselves in favour of nice things, and firmly against not nice things. Oh, and they have a “shared commitment” to” changing the government”. Which is a mealy mouthed way of saying they both want to get into power. Again, we kind of knew that. It wasn't so much state of the nation, it was more state of the Labour and Green parties. Which is nice, one supposes” – see: Labour-Green speeches: plenty of sizzle, but where's the steak?
Hosking puts the emptiness down to complacency: “There is a presumption across the Left that now Mr Key’s particular political genius has departed the stage, natural entropy will take its place and sweep a Labour-Green government into power later this year. And that, too, underlies the lack of substance in the speeches on Sunday. There is a sense Labour and the Greens think they have this pretty much in the bag.”
Maori TV’s Heta Gardiner was also critical and lambasted Little for the lack of attention given to Maori: “He spoke for over half an hour without a single mention about Maori or Maori issues” – see: Labour and Greens deliver state of the nation speech
. In the report and video, Gardiner challenges Little: “But you didn’t mention Maori specifically. The Green Party found a place, they talked about the treaty and honouring the treaty, you didn’t find a place a half an hour speech didn’t find any place for Maori so why should Maori think about voting for you?”
Of course Labour and the Greens had no intention of providing anything substantial yesterday. Instead the event was all about symbolism – particularly a display of unity. It was designed to show that the two parties can work together, and compliment each other. And in this sense it worked incredibly well and was very positive in terms of appearances.
Unity is extremely important in New Zealand electoral politics. And this was one of the flaws of Labour and the Greens’ 2014 bid for government – they looked unwieldy and divided. So the 2017 Labour-Greens strategy is to emphasise that they are capable of acting as a united team.
The success of the unity strategy is highlighted in Patrick Gower’s opinion piece: Labour-Green combo best Left vibe in years
. This really is a must-read article to show how well the event came off, as Gower is extremely impressed: “The vibe at the Mount Albert War Memorial Hall was the best I have seen on the Left for years. The leaders gelled, and so did the crowds. Labour benefited from the Green energy. And the Greens benefited from the extra size of Labour. They both looked better together. But the most important thing was that it felt real. The Green supporters liked Andrew Little. The Labour supporters liked Metiria Turei. They clapped each other like they meant it. It was interesting to see the crowd clap just as strongly when Turei talked about water quality as it did when Little talked about the health system. Turei got it right for the crowd by singing the praises of Helen Kelly. It showed that in the Left, they have the same heroes - be they red or green.”
Vernon Small was also quite taken: “As it was, the parties pulled the event off reasonably well. The Mt Albert memorial hall was jam-packed and hot, the crowd were enthusiastic for both leaders and the symbolism of the leadership, candidates, and hand-picked ‘diversity’, on the stage as a backdrop, sent the right message of two parties prepared to work together to change the Government. Even the placards waved by supporters were matching in size, shape and design – red for him, green for her” – see: Labour-Greens carry off State of the Nation double-act
Audrey Young also gave the thumbs up to the event: “As an attention-grabbing device, the idea of a joint state of the nation worked for Labour and the Greens. The media turned out in droves compared with last year's showing - probably double the attention… Little shone. He looked sharp, in a new dark suit from Hugo Boss and new black shoes. He sounded confident and polished. His message was a mix of oppositional attack and inspirational rhetoric. And the crowd went wild” – see: Double billing at 'state of the nation' rally gives Labour and the Greens double the attention
Hints of what’s to come
Labour’s attack lines on Prime Minister Bill English are also becoming clearer. Labour will not challenge his economic management credentials, but will try to build up a narrative in voters’ minds that the new National leader is ill-suited for leadership, innovation, and “doing the right thing”. This is seen particularly strongly in this line from Little: "Bill English is a competent bean counter. But he is showing he is not a leader." See more in Audrey Young’s Labour leader Andrew Little attacks Prime Minister Bill English in State of the Nation speech
In terms of Labour’s policy focus, the speech from Little suggested Labour would be strongly pushing a more traditional emphasis on health, education and housing – particularly the latter.
Some hints of problems
There is likely to be even greater unity shown by the two parties in the future, with Felix Marwick reporting that “Little promised some joint policies would be on the way, signalling greater co-operation on economic policy and principles” – see: A show of unity, but no new policy
But Marwick also raises the issue of the elephant in the room yesterday, saying that Little claims that he “hasn't even thought about” whether Winston Peters’ support might be necessary to form a coalition government, “nor whether someone like Peters would take a Deputy Prime Minister role over Turei.”
Little is reported as saying that "I'm not going to negotiate the formation of a government before the voters have their say." Similarly, he won’t say who would be his preferred Deputy Prime Minister if not Annette King, again using the line that voters need to have their say first.
And Greens are also showing their discomfort about doing a deal with Labour to get former Police Association president Greg O’Connor elected – see Jenna Lynch’s Labour, Greens contemplate Ohariu deal
And finally, there’s the biggest global issue of the moment – Trump’s latest moves against certain Muslim countries and citizens who wish to migrate to the US. Could a Labour-Green New Zealand government be complicit in helping the Trump administration? Labour and the Greens have very different views on our intelligence and security arrangements. Jane Patterson reports on this: “Mr Little was asked if New Zealand should stay in Five Eyes after comments made by the US President Donald Trump about sanctioning the torture of terror suspects. He said Labour supported staying in the network, and that had not changed under Mr Trump's presidency. "Five Eyes is about getting information that helps with the security of our nation. "New Zealanders care about making sure they're safe and secure." Ms Turei said the Greens had always opposed New Zealand's involvement. Their view remained unchanged” – see: Labour, Greens deliver joint State of the Nation speech, divided over Five Eyes intel network
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