New Zealand politics: Labour needs to remember who they’re fighting – ramblings of a #Māori socialist


National will win the 2014 elections, but it won’t be due to any politicking by the Right. Since David Cunliffe became the leader of the NZ Labour Party, the political Centre-Left has gravitated more towards creating factions and discord than a sense of political direction and unity against the capitalist National government. Labour needs to remember who they’re fighting, and who they’re fighting for.

Labour needs to renew rhetoric of a Labour-Greens coalition, instead of asserting itself as ‘the’ opposition to National. The leadership honeymoon is over, the hype of last year’s Labour conference is vague, and the Christchurch-East bi-election win means nothing this year if the Labour caucus doesn’t get over themselves and learn the word ‘unity’. Stuart Nash, NZLP propagandist, recently posted a blog about Labour needing to get its language right this year (it’s not what you say, but what they hear’). The post was unmistakably a rally call to push Labour to the forefront as ‘the’ opposition to National, instead of appealing to a united (yet diverse) political Left. Indeed, Nash articulated his intentions from the get-go by labelling talk of a Labour-Greens coalition as damaging to Labour’s brand.  Ironically although Cunliffe is a better leader than his predecessor, at least David Shearer gave the impression of a somewhat united Labour-Greens front with the NZ Power ploy. If Labour distances itself from coalition partners or asserts itself as ‘the only voice’ of the Left, it will spend another term outside of government.

Labour needs to utilize the MMP electoral system, rather than trying to go it alone. Cunliffe and co. are still only polling mid to late 30’s, and it seems that what gains they make are at the expense of the Greens, while National is still around 48%. In light of this suicidal tactic, Labour doesn’t gain anything and I doubt that they will take any votes off National just by throwing mud at Trader John. Here are four things Labour should be doing this year:

1)    Aim for the 800,000 people that didn’t vote last time. I don’t blame the Kiwis that didn’t turn up to vote last elections. Some say they didn’t vote because there was nobody worth voting for, or that it didn’t matter who they’d vote for because Labour was just as bad as National back then (I wouldn’t disagree). These are the people that Cunliffe needs to aim for, not the constituents of his potential coalition partners. Great economic, social development, education and housing policies will entice the naysayers to tick Red come election time. A good start would be sorting out the Labour caucus factions and snuff out all the wannabe chiefs;

2)    Play the game not the player. Labour needs to stop the childish contempt towards John Key (the Kim Dotcom court case amongst other things will vilify him enough) and start playing the ‘MMP Game of Thrones’. Too much effort is spent on either pointing the finger at National or distancing themselves from policy cooperation with the Greens. Labour should be building a Left coalition image to get the Left the 62+ seats needed to govern. Deals akin to National’s Lannister-esque cup of tea with John Banks are the type of election politicking the Left need to partake in this year. I’m not advocating for curtailing manoeuvres in the dark, but Labour could cut pacts with both the Greens and Mana;

3)    Realize the importance of the Māori electorates. A deal with Mana in the Māori electorates could see an end to the Māori Party, an all but politically dead yet still important National coalition partner. Putting Kelvin Davis against Hone might possible take out a key partner. If Labour plays the game then Mana will surely get Te Tai Tokerau and Waiariki (Annette Sykes should win against Te Ururoa Flavell), and Labour will get the other five electorates. There is a resurgence of Red support in the Māori roll, and I’d give Shane Jones the nod for Tāmaki Makaurau (who came second to Pita Sharples last election). This year, Labour needs to learn how to lose battles in order to win the war. Labour don’t need a whitewash victory in the Māori electorates, that (like their harmful skimming of Green votes) will prove to be more detrimental than good for their government aspirations;

4)    Address the issues of the now. Labour cannot afford to rock up to another election with either a ‘counter-National’ policy framework or a template for ‘things Labour says to working class people every election.’ The present needs of the masses cry loud and strong, if the Left doesn’t capitalize on what the people need then they have only themselves to blame if they lose the elections. Child poverty, the living wage, climate change, housing prices, the TPP, the growing presence of multinational oil companies, and the Bennett welfare ‘reforms’ are issues that need addressing.

Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi. The story of the 2014 elections will be whether the Left works together or fails to play the game of politics to get across the line. Instead of focusing on what John Key does this year, Labour needs to unify its caucus as well as cooperating with the Greens and Mana. The Left will also profit by creatively wooing the 800,000 non-voters from the last election, rather than trying to devour the Green vote. Since Trader John is scrambling for coalition partners, a Labour-Mana deal in the Māori electorates could see the end to the Māori Party’s assistance to a Blue government. Lastly, Labour needs to address the socio-economic and environmental issues that are troubling the New Zealand public.

The Left will win the 2014 elections, but only if they work together and fight for the people.

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