7 mins to read

NZ POLITICS DAILY: Can the Labour Party renew itself as a broad church

The Labour Party is having trouble selling itself to voters

Mon, 16 Jan 2017

The Labour Party is having trouble selling itself to voters. Part of the problem is the public perception that Labour has become a narrow clique of politically correct time-servers. But is that about to change?

Ex-Police Association boss Greg O’Connor recently described himself as “leftwing” to me, explaining that while he might have come across as a resolute advocate for a conservative Police agenda over the years, his personal views were not always reflected in the lines he pushed – he was simply doing his job. 

O’Connor’s declaration is now more understandable in light of news reports that he wants to be a Labour MP. That’s the rumour at least – see Nicholas Jones’ article on the Ohariu electorate race: Peter Dunne will contest 2017 election

Andrew Little won’t comment on the O’Connor rumour except to say “'watch this space” – see Nicholas Jones’ Labour MPs to plot election strategy: 'We know we have work ahead of us'

If O’Connor does stand for Labour in Ohariu, he surely has a good chance of taking the seat off Peter Dunne. The Greens seem set to stand aside and tell their supporters to vote for O’Connor, and National voters will be more comfortable with O’Connor winning than other Labour alternatives. And defeating Dunne could prove to be a crucial part in denying National the numbers to form a government after the election. 

Making Labour a “Broad Church” 

O’Connor’s candidacy for Labour would also be a smart move for the party because it would bolster Labour’s law and order reputation – as Martyn Bradbury points out in NZ Labour taking former Police cheerleader Greg O’Connor on as a candidate will be their final mutation into National lite.

His candidacy would also send a very strong signal that the party was broadening itself ideologically. Currently the party is hamstrung by the public perception that it is a narrow clique of Wellington-orientated liberal social reformers. There is little apparent ideological diversity amongst its caucus, especially with previous departures from the likes of Shane Jones and, more recently, Phil Goff and David Shearer. And Nick Leggett also explains: Why I've ditched Labour for National

There are many voices painting a picture of Labour as increasingly limited in its range of political views. Peter Dunne, who of course was a Labour member for decades, has even commented on this in a blog post that argues dogmatism now reigns: “I felt I was back in the time warp. “My party, right or wrong” thinking has returned with a vengeance under the current Labour leadership. The focus seems to be more on building a cadre of proper-thinking members, rather than a broad based organisation, capable of accommodating many different voices, but coalescing around some common broad goals to present to the electorate. No, the primary goal now seems to be to ensure the ideological purity of those who represent the Party, which narrows its base considerably” – see: A Narrow Sect, not a Broad Church

The narrowness of Labour’s team was also identified last month by Duncan Garner as being part of their problem: “But where's the hunger and impatience for success? Where's the frustration at the lack of cut-through? Where's the anger in the factions? In fact, where are the factions? Gone, is the answer. The 'everyman' has been ditched in favour of this current mob. This is a narrower Labour Party, the so-called broad church has been given its marching orders” – see: After nearly 3000 days in opposition Little's Labour has lost the 'everyman'

Of course if O’Connor represents a more rightwing element for Labour, he might well be balanced out by the return of a decidedly more leftwing candidate. Long-time activist Laila Harre seems poised to run for Labour against Nikki Kaye in Auckland Central. Andrea Vance recently profiled Harre’s return in a two-minute video and article – see: Laila Harre rejoins Labour Party, sets her sights on standing in election. See also Nicholas Jones’ Long-time activist Laila Harre returns to the Labour Party

The Quality of Labour’s team in question

New candidate talent will be welcomed by political commentators pointing to Labour’s weakness of personnel. The latest is Simon Wilson who has just published a six-part series of articles on The Spinoff – see: Wilson on Labour. In Welcome to election year in NZ. Here’s how the Labour Party can make it a real race, Wilson provides a list of “Tasks for Labour”. The number one task, according to Wilson, is to “Choose a charisma army of candidates”, because the party is “short of top-quality MPs”.

In another article, he pleads for a broader church: “Labour is short of top-tier talent and they need to address that right now. This makes the broad church even more important. They won’t get enough talented, ambitious, likeable people who could become stars without actively promoting and supporting people across the breadth of the party. The point of a broad church is not merely that it contains people with diverse points of view. It is that members embrace the breadth: that they support the talent whichever part of the organisation it comes from” – see: The identity politics debate has become cancerous for the centre-left.

Wilson’s second task for Labour is: “Refresh the front bench now”, including a call to replace deputy leader Annette King with Jacinda Ardern. This is a point also stressed by long-time Labour Party activist Enzo Giordani, who has written his Ten steps towards victory for Labour

According to Giordani, “Annette King has served well, but she needs to stand aside from the deputy leadership and the health portfolio. Having two Wellingtonians in the one and two spots looks terrible, as does having a deputy who served in the fourth Labour government. Further, as a former Minister of Health, Annette is not the best person to attack a system that she had a big role in putting in place. Health should be a key attack point in any centre left opposition. Jacinda Ardern and Iain Lees-Galloway should be promoted to deputy and health spokesperson respectively as soon as possible.” Giordani also complains about the lack of renewal in his party, saying “Every other party has done better than Labour on this front.”

It’s yet to be seen whether King will step down from her leadership position, but she has said that “it is time for a generation shift, a renewal” in her electorate of Rongotai, and has therefore decided to run on the list instead – see Tom Hunt’s Paul Eagle looks at running in Rongotai as Annette King heads for list

With a number of commentators pushing Ardern as a replacement for Annette King (or even Andrew Little), the NBR’s Rob Hosking has questioned her abilities and achievements: “Ms Ardern failed to regain what had been a mostly safe Labour seat in Auckland Central, against National’s Nikki Kaye and also despite being anointed as a future party leader. Nor, despite giving several plum portfolios, has she made much of a splash in Parliament. Her biggest chance to do so and to position itself as a future Labour leader with both the policy grunt and the political weight of her hero, former Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Helen Clark, was when she was social development spokesperson during the government's legislative changes, which introduced social investment approach to delivering welfare services. Instead, she was absent for much of the time on an offshore study sabbatical and, when she was in New Zealand, her impact was minimal. It has earned her a reputation as a dilettante” – see his paywalled column, Mt Albert byelection, Rongotai selection battle: Labour gets worst of both worlds.

But for the ultimate guide to who should be axed in Labour, and who outside Parliament should be brought in, see rightwing commentator Matthew Hooton’s very well-informed NBR column, How Labour can win in September (paywalled). Hooton argues that Andrew Little should vigorously refresh his caucus, as “there is easily enough talent hanging around Labour’s wings”. 

Labour’s “deadwood”, according to Hooton, are: Trevor Mallard, Ruth Dyson, Annette King, Nanaia Mahuta, Sia William Sio, Sue Moroney, Clare Curran, Kris Faafoi, and Adrian Rurawhe.

Hooton’s long list of Labour talent who need to come in are: Ginny Andersen, Campbell Barry, Duncan Webb, Jo Luxton, Liz Craig, Deborah Russell, Penny Hulse, Greg Presland, Claire Szabo, Jerome Mika, Conor Roberts, Arena Williams, Analiese Jackson, David Lewis, Greg Loveridge, Greg Milner-White, and Laila Harre.

As with other commentators, Hooton stresses that new talent could be brought in to broaden the party, increasing both the left and right of the caucus: “How impressive would a Labour finance team of Mr Loveridge, Dr Russell and Mr Milner-White look up against corporate welfare addict Steven Joyce and current associate finance minister Paula Bennett? Should Mr Little fear such a line up would upset the hard-left Labour activists and union bosses too much, he would have the option of adding former Alliance leader Laila Harre to the mix to demonstrate Labour is indeed committed to representing people across the political spectrum.”

Finally, it’s worth considering whether a broader Labour Party is necessarily a good thing. And Chris Trotter discusses this in response to one of Simon Wilson’s articles – see: Critiquing Simon Wilson at the ‘TheSpin’ – Leading Labour’s Broad Church.

© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
NZ POLITICS DAILY: Can the Labour Party renew itself as a broad church