All Smiles: The failure of Labour's caucus to address the fatal disconnection between themselves and their traditional supporters threatens to drag the entire centre-left to an historic electoral defeat. Reid Research has Labour support at just 27.1 percent - a level not seen since 1996. And still they smile.
LABOUR IS DRAGGING the whole of the centre-left to an historic defeat and the selfish bastards don’t give a damn.
The latest Reid Research Poll, commissioned by TV3, puts Labour at 27.1 percent – its worst performance since 1996.
Fifteen years ago, however, Labour’s parlous polling didn’t matter so much because, overall, the centre-left was on a roll. With Jim Anderton’s Alliance and Winston Peters’ NZ First regularly polling between 15 and 20 percent apiece, the combined vote of the Opposition parties hovered around 60 percent of the electorate. In 1996, with the first MMP election looming, Jim Bolger’s National Government was staring down the barrel of a humiliating defeat.
That is most emphatically not the case now. Seven months out from the 2011 General Election it is the parties of the Right that can count on 60 percent-plus of the electorate’s support. And, as Kiwiblog’s David Farrar points out, the combined Labour-Green vote has fallen to a derisory 35 percent. Even if you throw in the 2.8 percent of centrist voters who support NZ First, the result falls well short of 40 percent.
What this means is that the centre-left is heading for an electoral catastrophe even worse than the disaster which befell it in 1990. (And before you all remind me that the 4th Labour Government wasn’t a centre-left government, for the purposes of this argument it’s enough that upwards of a third of the electorate still considered Labour to be a centre-left party.)
If you look at the popular vote figures for 1990, you’ll find that when the votes of the Labour Party, the NewLabour Party and the Greens are combined, the result – 47.15 percent – is just 0.67 percentage points behind National’s winning tally of 47.82 percent. This is almost exactly the same difference which separated the combined Labour-Values vote from Rob Muldoon’s winning tally of 47.6 percent in 1975.
I’m presenting these figures merely to reinforce the severity of the crisis which looms ahead of the entire centre-left. Labour’s pathetic performance as the largest opposition party has not, so far, sent the voters flocking to its electoral competitors – the Greens and NZ First. On the contrary, Labour’s failure to articulate a clear and persuasive alternative to the National-led Government’s policies seems to have been interpreted by voters as proof that there isn’t one.
The conclusion of nearly two-thirds of the electorate that “there is no alternative” (or, at least, no acceptable and/or believable alternative) to John Key’s policies constitutes a potentially devastating political judgement – not only upon the leadership of the Labour Party, but also upon the leadership of the Greens and (to a lesser extent) NZ First. If nothing changes between now and November 26, the centre-left will sustain its worst electoral defeat in New Zealand political history.
WHAT HAS BROUGHT US to this parlous state? Surely, in the midst of a recession, with high unemployment, falling real wages and constantly rising prices the messages of the centre-left should be falling upon ears that are more than usually receptive? As the old Stalinists used to say: New Zealanders are “objectively” ready for a change of government.
But what the Stalinists never quite grasped (until Hitler’s armies were battering at the gates of Moscow) is that human-beings are almost never motivated by what is objectively in their best interests. Politics is driven by how people respond subjectively to the options placed in front of them.
And the brutal truth about New Zealand politics at the moment is that, subjectively, the voting public is drawn – overwhelmingly – to John Key and his National Party colleagues. Whether the centre-left commentariat likes it or not, these guys strike a chord with roughly two out of every three voters – to such an extent that they are willing to overlook the real-world consequences of National Party rule for themselves and their families.
Now, John Key, Stephen Joyce and Gerry Brownlee are all pretty likeable guys – but they’re not that likeable. For roughly 15 percentage points of electoral support to have vacated the centre-left camp something else has to be going on. Much as we hate to admit it, what seems to be happening here is not so much a case of people running to something, as it is of people running from something.
And what they are running from, comrades, is us – the centre-left.
They don’t like us and they don’t trust us. Why? Because long, long ago they got the very strong impression that we don’t like them.
We don’t like their values. We don’t approve of their culture. And we’re so infuriatingly certain that we know – so much better than they do themselves – what’s good for them.
We call them racists if they resist our bicultural programmes. We call them homophobes if they’re less than 100 percent supportive of queer culture. We call them sexist if they energetically celebrate all the delightful differences between men and women. We want their votes – you bet. But we would really rather do without the voters themselves.
Then, amazingly, we’re surprised and hurt when they turn away from us. In truth, what we should really be surprised about is how many ordinary Kiwis, in spite of our insufferable arrogance and condescension, still decide to stick with us!
And if you want to know why Phil Goff has become electoral poison it’s because he let these people down. For a moment there they thought he was going to turn Labour away from its effete social liberalism and back towards the robust proletarianism of yesteryear. But he didn’t. At the first sign of resistance from the social liberals in his caucus, he retreated. When push came to shove, Phil just didn’t have the balls.
In working-class New Zealand, if you step up for a fight, then you bloody-well-better throw a punch.
Of course, it’s not just Phil. In the whole damned caucus there doesn’t seem to be one person willing to address the problems I’ve outlined here. The selfish bastards are more concerned with clambering all over each other as they ascend the greasy pole, than they are with looking after the ordinary working-class Kiwis who’re going to be hammered flat if (as now seems certain) National wins a second term.
Bitter? Too bloody right I am!
Let me leave you, then, with this link to a wickedly clever little country song by Alan Jackson called “It’s Alright To Be A Redneck”.
As you watch and listen, think about the demographic the music video is aimed at, and ask yourself: “Aren’t these the sort of people who used to vote for our political parties?”
Then ask: “Why the fuck would they vote for us now?”
This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.