Despite the succcess of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, Andrew Little remains stubbornly wedded to the neoliberal orthodoxy. With the tide rapidly going out on centrism, it may well be that Andrew Little and Labour will find themselves being left behind...
THIS WEEK'S Newshub-Reid poll showed the National Party steady at 47.4 percent but Labour slipping by 4.2 percent to a terrible 26.4 percent. The Green's were up 1.3 percent to 12.5 percent.
The Poll of Polls told us that while National was averaging 48.0 percent at the beginning of the year, it has fallen to 45.3 percent, with Labour sitting at 29.4 percent. The selection of Jacinda Ardern as deputy leader, hailed by some as a vote winner, has provided minimal bounce.
The last time Labour was shown to be polling as low as 27 percent, leader Andrew Little questioned the accuracy and credibility of the poll. That was in April of last year when the TVNZ Colmar Brunton poll showed Labour languishing at 26.5 percent.
This time Labour has reacted by releasing details of its own recent internal polling, which paints a slightly brighter picture. But even this poll shows Labour is trailing National by 10 percent.
We can argue abut the merits of the polls - good news, I'm not going to - but the overall picture is, that with a general election looming, Labour is still not gaining any traction. The momentum just isn't there. There is no real enthusiasm for Andrew Little's doggedly centrist Labour Party.
So we can expect there to be little excitement for Labour's 'Campaign for Change'. Announced by Little's former Chief of Staff Matt McCarten on Q+A last Sunday and with details promised for Monday, it didn't actually see the light of day until this Saturday - with the appearance of a short press release and a Facebook page. At the time of writing, the Facebook page had four followers and no posts. Not exactly an auspicious start.
Although the campaign claims to be "independent' and "non partisan' it is being run out of the Auckland office of the Labour Party. There is no big secret about this so I don't know why Labour are pretending otherwise. It does say it has the support of 'progressive organisations' but they have yet to step forward to reveal themselves
Professor Raymond Miller of Auckland University has pointed out that this campaign is very similar to one Labour ran in 2014:
"Both Labour and the Greens were also keen to target young voters, which were given the label of the “missing million” and assumed to be chiefly latent support for left-wing causes. And for the most part, the focus was on “getting out the vote”, rather than changing the substance of the party platforms to offer something non-voters wanted.
To this end, in 2014 Labour used data-mining techniques and then headed off to persuade voters in areas identified as home to large numbers of non-voters who were predominantly young – such as South Auckland. Much of this data work was driven by Rob Salmond, now Labour’s deputy chief of staff.
The 2017 version of this seems to be Matt McCarten, formerly Andrew Little’s chief of staff, heading to Auckland to set up a regional office which will be focused largely on getting out the vote."
But the shadow of Jeremy Corbyn and UK Labour has fallen over New Zealand Labour. Corbyn's success in attracting a substantial chunk of the disaffected vote, particularly young voters, is going to weigh heavily on Labour and raise expectations of Andrew Little and co that they are simply unwilling to fulfil.
Raymond Miller observes:
"The lesson from the surge of young voters for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK is that to get young voters to vote, you need to give them something to vote for. In Corbyn’s case, this was a traditional, ideologically-driven left-wing manifesto which included an end to student fees, nationalisation of railways and increasing taxes on the rich."
Similarly Bryce Edwards told TVNZ's Breakfast that "only way we're likely to see anything like the British experience happening here, is if political parties offer meaningful programmes of change that resonate with youth."
But, if anything, Labour's chances of winning the 2017 election are even more problematic than they were in 2014 because it is continuing to stubbornly campaign as an avowedly centrist party - exactly at a time when the tide is rapidly going out on centrism.
The "Corbynisation' of New Zealand Labour isn't going to happen though. Over three decades of slavish devotion to neoliberalism has hollowed out Labour and left it with little more than its conservative parliamentary MP's and its diehard supporters, including some union officials who should know better, rattling around inside.
While Jeremy Corbyn campaigned on the slogan 'for the many, not the few", Andrew Little's slogan seems to be little more than "I'm not Bill English".
Last week the results of a Stuff.co.nz/Massey University election survey were published. The
survey makes for interesting reading. Completed by nearly 40,000 people or one percent of the voting population, it revealed that two-thirds of respondents thought that our representative democracy" is either "completely broken" or "working but needs to change".
Only 23 per cent said they wanted a leader who didn't want to change things. Only 21 percent disagreed with the statement that our political representatives are "out of touch with the people". More than half disagreed with the statement that "New Zealand is a land of opportunity".
Discontent with the status quo was highest among the young, with nearly 80 percent of 18-24 year olds saying that they thought they got "a poor deal" compared to their elders.
But while more and more people are expressing dissatisfaction with the political and economic status quo - a view articulated by both Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders - the centrist Andrew Little is continuing to tell corporate lunches that a Labour-led government would not rock the boat. While it is undoubtedly true, as Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine has written, that Jeremy Corbyn has delivered another blow to centrism - "another blow to the defining myth of our era" - Andrew Little and his followers appear not to have noticed.
Labour says it wants to give the country "a fresh start' but it simply doesn't recognise a mere change in government is not the 'fresh start' that most people are looking for. They want more. A lot more.
In the end all centrism has ever given us is the continued rule of the one percent, the dominance of neoliberalism and... the presidency of Donald Trump.