by Phil Duncan
In the latest Roy Morgan poll, support for Labour continues to slide. The poll puts support for this capitalist party at a mere 26%, after months of Labour trying everything it could – like anti-Chinese racism – to get a lift. Moreover, Andrew Little just hasn’t caught on with the masses. And so-called political shrewd operator and wonder worker Matt McCarten – Little’s chief go-for – has turned out to be incapable of devising a strategy for success.
Desperate Labour supporters, trying to put a brave face on the stagnation of their party, can only seek solace in the fact that National support has dropped to 42.5%, the lowest in two years. However, on the figures, taking into account National’s support parties, the current government could be returned for a fourth term in 2017.
Moreover, Labour faces a deeper problem. In traditional Labour seat after traditional Labour seat, the party has been losing the party vote. It is only in the big Pacific Island working class seats of south Auckland and the Maori seats that Labour these days has a secure hold on the party vote. In most other places, it has lost that vote.
Take Mount Albert, a traditional Labour seat where former party leader David Shearer – remember his brief misadventure atop the outfit? – had a majority of almost 11,000 votes over his National opponent Melissa Lee. National won the party vote by 3,500.
Or how about another veteran Labour seat, Mt Roskill. Former Labour leader Phil Goff retained that in 2014 with a big 8,500 majority, but National won the party vote there by over 8,000 but National took the party vote by over 2,000.
Or how about the traditional Labour stronghold of Christchurch East? Labour’s MP still managed to get 4,500 more votes than the National candidate and retain the seat, but National won the party vote by about 2,500.
Christchurch as a city was overwhelmingly Labour when I was a kid; there was only one National-held seat. In the last few elections that has changed dramatically. Now National holds half the seats and has the largest party vote in all of them. In another traditionally Labour city, Dunedin, Labour has lost the party vote across the board to National.
Indeed, in 2014 more blue-collar workers voted National than Labour. While this might surprise – not to say disappoint – some of the soft left (and even some of the ostensibly hard left) – it should really come as no surprise. A great many workers understand, if only instinctively, what the supposedly more theoretically-inclined white-collar left don’t: that there is no fundamental difference between these two parties of capital. In this case, workers make the choice to vote for the devil they know. They also know that National has increased social welfare benefits – something the last four Labour governments didn’t do – has kept the retirement age at 65, has consistently raised the minimum wage, as well as voting to end zero-hours contracts, and has done all this in the context of budget deficits and economic bad weather.
This is not to praise National – everything they’ve done in the way of improvements has been vastly inadequate. Just as one would expect from a government that rules in the interests of capital. But it’s a fair bit more than the last Labour government did in far more propitious economic conditions. Moreover, Labour has for decades now been engaged in the process of lowering workers’ expectations – that’s its key service to capital these days. If anything workers expectations have been raised by Key rather than by Labour.
And while Labour supporters bang on about what a liar Key is, it’s clear that a lot of workers understand that, when it comes to lying, Key has nothing on Labour. Grief, Helen Clark couldn’t even tell the truth when it came to a wee painting for a charity auction! When it comes to issues of some importance – maintaining the retirement age, raising the minimum wage to name two – Key has actually kept his word. Meanwhile Labour makes little promises that people don’t believe, because if it meant them it had nine years in power, nine years of budget surpluses, in which it could have implemented the promises it now makes.
Labour also faces the problem that there is no internal left to ride to the rescue the way Corbyn has in Britain. Over there Corbyn has attracted enough support to put Labour ahead of the Tories while over here Little continues to hemorrhage support. Moreover, the young people Labour attracts in New Zealand are yuppies in the making. They’re the kind of young people who toy with a few completely safe liberal ideas, which they pretend are left, adopt a few poses and build up their CVs for posts in the trade union hierarchies, the Labour apparatus and parliament. They are a principle-free and scruple-free zone.
These days Labour is so unconvincing to so much of the working class that bigger and bigger sections of workers, especially the poorest, make a far more rational choice than voting for the ‘B’ team of the ruling class (Labour) – namely, they don’t bother to vote at all. Labour simply cannot turn this situation around. Because it is structurally so integrated into the political parts of the mechanisms of exploitation and oppression, it is impossible for it to mobilise opposition on the streets, even if it wanted to (which it doesn’t). Electorally, it is now the lame dog victim of its own anti-working class politics.
No doubt this slimy bunch of middle class self-seekers will be back in power at some point. Eventually National will become worn out and Key will seek other pastures, having come to the end of his vanity project of being prime minister for the sake of being prime minister and a gap will open up for Labour. The transition from National back to Labour will be seamless, as was the transition from Clark to Key. And the working class will be in the same conditions and the same morbid state as ever.
But if this country was hit by a serious recession, we only need to look at the Labour Party in Ireland to see what a Labour government here would visit on the working class. Just like it did in the 1980s.
For some ideas about how we can start, at however primitive a level, to challenge all of this, check out the articles below: