by Phil Duncan
Just two months ago, back on September 12, an article on Redline noted, “The latest Colmar Brunton poll, taken in the first week of this month and issued earlier this week, shows yet another fall in support for Labour, now down to just 26%, with National steady on 48% and the Greens and NZ First rising to 13% and 11% respectively. Given that National is now almost two-thirds of the way through its third term, one might expect the shine to have gone off the Key-led government and Labour to be ahead in the polls instead of so far behind. Moreover, Andrew Little is the fourth Labour leader since the party, then led by Helen Clark, lost the 2008 election. Plus, it’s not as if there aren’t some serious issues which National has been very clearly unable to get sorted – in particular rising house prices, especially in Auckland.”
It then asked, “So why can’t Labour get traction? Is the Labour Party in terminal decline? Should serious leftists be at all concerned?”
Well, ten weeks on, Labour has dipped even further. The new Roy Morgan opinion poll has put Labour at just 23%, even lower than their abysmal showing in the 2014 general election and with just under a year to the next election – and two-thirds of the way into three terms of the current National-led government. Yes, just when Labourites might have thought it couldn’t have gotten any worse – it has.
Moreover, this is not the only bad news for this particular band of capitalist managers. Popular former Porirua mayor Nick Legget has jumped ship from Labour to National and will run against Labour in the Mana electorate in 2017, an electorate which he could well win for National. Legget was pissed off that Labour decided on Justin Lester as their preferred mayoral candidate earlier this year. Legget was, however, quoted on Stuff on Wednesday as decrying Labour for moving away from their loyal voting base and no longer being in touch with workers.
It’s interesting comparing Legget and Lester’s class position, because they tell you something about the modern Labour Party. Both come from working class origins but were very much part of the upwardly mobile set. Legget went to university, graduating with a BA and majoring in political science. He then worked as a real estate agent, primarily focusing on commercial and industrial property. Lester attended the University of Otago and then went off to Germany, where he graduated with a Master of Laws degree. He worked in property and asset management and commercial real estate before moving on to be joint founder of Kapai, a salad bar chain.
Both Lester and Legget are social liberals.
They are pretty typical specimens of the professional, business and managerial class which today is the dominant force within Labour. Some claim to be slightly left, others might identify as slightly right. However, these distinctions are far less important than their class outlook, which is thoroughly that of capitalist managers. They aspire not to create a new, different society – even in the rather limited way that Labour politicians once did – but simply to manage the existing society of slump capitalism, growing inequality, and low horizons for workers.
Legget, who says he holds the same ideals as in the past, can easily drift to National because the differences between these two parties are minimal. Both are socially liberal parties utterly dedicated to managing the malaise-ridden capitalist society. National is a bit more generous to social welfare beneficiaries, somewhat less racist in relation to Asian migrants and more friendly to older workers (eg keeping the retirement age at 65). Labour is marginally more liberal – eg more Labour MPs voted for gay marriage – but more vindictive towards beneficiaries who are seen as the ‘undeserving poor’ by the gregarious social climbers who make up the Labour caucus.
Given the political interchangeability of Labour and National, whichever is in power has a significant advantage. People seem to operate these days on the basis of “Better the principle-free bland we know, than the principle-free bland we don’t.” The situation was roughly similar when the last Labour government was in power and dished up a massive defeat to National in 2002. After three terms in government, Clark and Labour simply ran out of steam and National returned to power. Key and National do appear, however, to have greater reserves of steam and, short of some major disaster befalling Key (or the government as a whole), are likely to win in 2017. Maybe they’ll be exhausted by 2020 and the public will decide a change is as good as a break and return a National-lite sixth Labour government.
At present Labour is certainly running out cards to play. They’ve tried the Changing Leader card – with five leaders in eight years – and it didn’t work. They’ve tried the Racist, Asian Immigrant-Bashing Card – several times over – and it hasn’t worked. They’ve tried to cash in on nationalistic opposition to the TPPA – and it hasn’t worked. They’ve tried opposing National on the flag referendum, and that didn’t work. And they tried to pretend they don’t like state asset sales, and that didn’t work either.
In the last general election, more blue-collar workers voted National than Labour. And more people didn’t vote than voted Labour. Labour got just over 600,000 votes while almost 730,000 enrolled electors decided not to vote. (National got over 1,130,000 votes, nearly twice the Labour vote.)
Moreover, recent elections have seen a steady decline in Labour’s crucial party vote in heartland Labour seat after heartland Labour seat. In some cases, this trend has result in National winning actual long-time Labour seats, but in each election it has resulted in their position in the party vote being strengthened. It’s not always that National’s party vote has substantially increased. In some cases, it is that Labour’s party vote has systematically declined, election after election.
Tomorrow night the results of the Mt Roskill by-election will be in. This is a classic example of the trend I’ve just mentioned. Historically a staunch Labour seat, the party vote in this seat now is with National. Labour has held the seat, however, mainly due to the profile of Phil Goff. With Goff now gone to run Auckland, Labour is in some predicament. They have to win the seat, while National doesn’t. If Labour holds the seat, it will just mean the maintenance of the status quo, and they could still lose it in 2017. If National should happen to win the seat, it would be a huge blow to Labour and it would also add to National’s numbers. Their candidate is already a list MP but, should she win the seat, the next person on National’s party list will automatically become an MP, securing an even stronger position for National in parliament.
Labour should win, given that the Greens and NZ First decided not to run as neither of them wants National to be even stronger. Also, the People’s Party candidate may well take some votes from the National Party candidate as both are of Indian origin and the Indian-NZ community makes up a significant section of the electorate. However, even with these factors working in Labour’s favour, it is not a given they will hold the seat. If they do, it will be interesting to see whether their majority is smaller than what Green and NZ First candidates might have received had they stood.
Overall, then, these are grim times for Labour. Real leftists should be happy about this. This rotten-to-the-core party has stifled left politics for a hundred years.
See our collection of articles on Labour, here.