Note how the current National government, which came to power in the wake of the global financial crisis, has generally spent slightly more (as a % of GDP) on health and education than the previous Labour government (which enjoyed good economic times and substantial budget surpluses)

by Phil Duncan

The latest ColmarBrunton poll is not good news for National, showing their support dropping by 2.2 percentage points to 45.2%.  This would make it very hard for them to form a government with their current coalition partners – the Maori Party, Act and United Future.

However, the news is far worse for Labour.  Less than 8 weeks out from the general election, they have dropped a further 2.3 percentage points to just 24.1 support.  Their leader, Andrew Little, is only fourth in the preferred prime minister stakes.  Not only is he on less than a third of the support registered for National Party prime minister Bill English, he is now well behind New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and even behind his own deputy-leader Jacinda Ardern.

The only traction Labour seems able to get is in reverse.  Meanwhile New Zealand First continues to expand support, as do the Greens.

If Labour falls just a couple more percentage points then Little could actually be out of parliament, because he is only a List MP; he hasn’t been able to win a constituency seat.

Given that we are at the end of the third term of National, Labour’s position in the polls is especially dismal for them.  Can anyone remember a government that, at the end of its third term, was as popular as National and an opposition that was as unpopular as Labour?  It certainly hasn’t happened since Labour and National became the two dominant parties post-1935.

While a section of Labourites are in denial, pretending the polls results are not accurate, Little himself knows better and has said he is prepared to resign.  But Labour’s woes go far deeper than who happens to be the leader.  After all, they’ve had four leaders in less than nine years and what has happened?  Under Phil Goff, Labour wallowed, so he was replaced by David Shearer; under Shearer, Labour wallowed, so he was replaced by David Cunliffe; under Cunliffe, Labour wallowed, so he was replaced by Andrew Little; under Little, Labour has wallowed; in fact, it’s at its lowest point in decades.

Running deeper than the inability of successive leaders to grow Labour support is that there has been an ongoing erosion of its party vote in many of its old general roll heartland areas.  In 2014, for instance, more blue collar workers voted National than Labour and National now has the party vote in traditional Labour seat after Labour seat.

Put in short: the big majority of the working class don’t see Labour as ‘their’ party, don’t support it – in fact, couldn’t care less about it – don’t see it as much different than National and have no emotional or even historical attachment to it.  Labour’s support is in swathes of the middle class and a distinct minority of the working class.

If the collapse of the Soviet bloc was a good thing because it got rid of a very negative example of fake socialism, then the demise of Labour should be welcome for the same reason – although in the case of Labour, the NZ ruling class needs a stable political system with two large viable parties, so it is unlikely Labour will be allowed to collapse.

We explore what has happened and why in the articles below so, rather than make the same points in yet another article, we recommend those earlier articles to readers.  The analysis in them has stood up pretty well.

But to make one final point, one we’vemade again and again, but is worth repeating here.  Most of the left have a view of National which is almost totally at variance with both reality and with how large numbers of workers see – and experience! – them.

Most of the left bang on about how viciously anti-working class National is, and that a Labour-led government would be better – but most workers simply don’t believe this.  And they are not stupid – their lived experience of National in power is not of a viciously anti-working class party.  It’s of a middle-of-the-road capitalist management team who sometimes tag a bit to the left and sometimes a bit to the right.

Moreover, if you took half a dozen important issues – from immigration to social welfare to state repression – the National Party has been to the left of Labour on most of them.  That’s a simple fact.

National raised social welfare benefits; Labour chose not to.  Labour’s main campaign in recent years has been trying to whip up xenophobia against “people with Chinese-sounding surnames”; National has denounced them as xenophobes.  The last Labour government carried out the October 2007 ‘terror raids’ and tried to stitch up and railroad to prison a number of left activists on very serious charges.  The last Labour government presided over the growth of zero-hours contracts without doing a thing.  National has significantly restricted the ability of employers to use zero-hours contracts.  Labour campaigned to raise the retirement age when National kept it at 65.  Despite coming in with the effects of the Global Financial Crisis impacting New Zealand, it even seems that National has generally spent a greater percentage of GDP on health and education than the last Labour government.

The reality is that most workers rightly see so little difference between National and Labour that they either don’t vote (“the missing million”) or they vote National.  They actually understand things better than the auto-Labour left which is sadly out of touch with where the working class is politically.  They spend far too much time hanging around with Labourites and pro-Labour union officials.

Anyway, in the articles below we look at what Labour is now and why their fortunes are currently so dismal.  And, once again, we recommend that people Not Vote.  Don’t choose between this crumb or that crumb.  Or, as my friend Andy has just pointed out to me, between this shit sandwich and that shit sandwich.

April 2016: Latest poll – Labour can’t catch a break

September 2016: Can the Labour Party survive?

December 2016: Labour’s continuing malaise – good for the left

June 2017: Labour still in swamp – no rescue in sight

See our wider list of articles on Labour, here.

  1. Gun Lobby says:

    Great article! I particularly like the last sentence!