Tuesday 7 July 2015

One Tick For Labour Isn't Enough.

Split Decision: Labour’s woeful 2014 Party Vote, at just 25 percent, was the party's worst electoral performance since 1922. Not so well known, however, is the number of votes cast for Labour Party candidates across the country’s 71 electorates. That total, at 801,287 (34 percent!) is 196,752 larger than the 604,535 Party Votes Labour received. If every Electorate Vote for Labour had been matched by a Party Vote, the National Government would, almost certainly, have fallen.
IF EVERYONE who voted for their Labour candidate in last year’s election had also given Labour their Party Vote, National would have lost. The discrepancy between the two vote tallies is startling. Everybody’s heard about Labour’s woeful 2014 Party Vote. At just 25 percent, it was Labour’s worst electoral performance since 1922. Nowhere near as well known, however, is the number of votes cast for Labour Party candidates across the country’s 71 electorates. That number, at 801,287, is 196,752 larger than the 604,535 Party Votes Labour received. If every Electorate Vote for Labour had been matched by a Party Vote, the percentage figure alongside Labour’s name on election night would not have been a derisory 25, but a much more respectable 34 – almost certainly enough to have changed the government.
Such a huge discrepancy between the Party and Electorate Votes indicates a political party in serious trouble. What it reveals is that where voters are either well acquainted with, or have been introduced effectively to their Labour Party candidate, they are much more likely to place a tick beside his or her name. When it comes to Labour as an entity in its own right, however, the inclination to give the party a tick is nowhere near as strong. In the Christchurch electorate of Port Hills, for example, the long-serving Labour candidate, Ruth Dyson, received 18,161 electorate votes. The Labour Party on its own, however, mustered just 9,514 Party Votes – a whopping 9,205 less than National’s 18,719 Party Votes. Small wonder, then, that 27 of the 32 MPs in Labour’s caucus are electorate MPs, with only 5 coming in off the Party List.

Ruth Dyson, Labour MP for Port Hills: 2014 Electorate Vote : 18,161; 2014 Party Vote: 9,514.
Unless this situation is turned around – and quickly – Labour’s electoral performance can only deteriorate. As the party’s well-known and affectionately regarded electorate MPs retire, the assumption that Labour people will replace Labour people is being called into question. Once again, Christchurch supplies the example. The parliamentary seat of Christchurch Central was for decades regarded as one of the safest of Labour’s “safe” seats. True to form, in the 2005 General Election Labour’s majority was 7,836. In 2008, however, with a new candidate, it’s majority shrank to just 935. Three years later, National’s Nicky Wagner took the seat with a majority of 47 votes. In last year’s election National increased its majority to 2,420. Significantly, National’s share of the Party Vote over those four general elections rose from 30.5 to 44.6 percent. Labour will have to work very hard to recover Christchurch Central in 2017.

Nicky Wagner, National MP for Christchurch Central: Increased her majority from 47 in 2011 to 2,420 in 2014.
What is to be done? Clearly, the most important issue that Labour must address is the current, very different, perceptions Labour voters have of familiar political faces – like Ruth Dyson’s – and the political face of the Labour Party itself. Inevitably, the face of the Party, per se, and that of the Party Leader become blurred in the minds of the voters. It is, therefore, essential that whoever is Labour’s Leader takes great care of the party’s “brand”. David Cunliffe’s “I’m sorry I’m a man” comment, though well meant, nevertheless inflicted enormous damage on Labour’s image – especially (and obviously) among its male supporters.
But if protecting and projecting the party’s brand is an important part of any Labour Leader’s job, having a clear idea of what the brand stands for is, surely, just as important? At the electorate level (and Labour’s electorates are mostly poor, brown and working-class) the local MP is generally perceived as being on “our side” – someone they can turn to for help in times of trouble. That perception of being on the side of the poor, the brown and the working-class once constituted the core of Labour’s brand.
That up to twice the number of poor, brown and working-class voters now vote for Labour candidates, rather than the party itself, suggests that their perception of what Labour stands for is very different from what they perceive their local MP to stand for.
The needs and problems of elderly folk soak up an enormous amount of Labour MPs’ time and energy – and that’s greatly appreciated. Not so appreciated, however, was Labour’s election promise to raise the age of eligibility for NZ Superannuation from 65 to 67. In the eyes of poor, brown and working-class people, that didn’t come across as a very Labour-like thing to do.
Labour’s challenge is to persuade its voters to give it two ticks. But that won’t happen until poor, brown and working-class people can be persuaded that Labour and its local candidates stand for the same things. Offering Labour’s traditional supporters economic policies that look and sound like those of the National Party will not rebuild Labour’s Party Vote.
The now demolished Christchurch Trades Hall once bore the graffiti: “You were supposed to help.” If Labour’s not very careful, those words may also become its epitaph.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 7 July 2015.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've lived in the same house for 30 years, and never been canvassed. I've never seen the local MP, except at school prize-givings. They never seem to hold public meetings these days or hardly ever. They're always surrounded by flunkies, and whenever you get within five paces of them they give you a cheesy grin and say "hello" in case you're somebody they ought to know but have forgotten. None of this is particularly impressive.

Anonymous said...

That's a little simplistic. While I have voted National more often than Labour, I have always voted for Annette King as a great loca MP.

greywarbler said...

The falling Party vote compared to the more robust Electorate vote and your explanation for it, might be an example of Labour being hoist by its own petard. Of it being a symbolic kick in the bottom that many people must have saved up for Labour over years.

Labour took the Third Way approach to governing, that of encouraging business and accepting neo lib economics, while concentrating on providing a safety net for those needing welfare, though controlling budgets through efficiencies and firm policies about getting work.
Because Labour still seems a little more concerned about fair welfare than Notional, so the dogged, interested local MP gets the vote.

But where the Party is, well there be dragons. Who knows what that body really stands for? Is there any substance behind the rhetoric, do they want to make a difference to employment, small business, can we have night classes back, will the prescription item cost go down? Housing, lots of talk but is there real money from the government? Or is it just jobs for the wolves? What about resurrecting sweat equity and 5% loans through Kiwibank? Things that people can grab onto personally.

There was that risk-averse side to Helen Clark's caucus with Closing the Gaps, criticised then dropped not sternly defended. Not argued for on the basis that it was aiming at high success, but considered useful if only 60%. And so on. If something couldn't be guaranteed to achieve 95%, then it hasn't been supported.

Some steel in Labour's backbone would be a treat with firm commitments to reverse some things, introduce innovative better ones, allow groups to criticise and advocate and challenge with complaints, that get heard and addressed, not stifle them. For those private projects we're tied into, a commitment to micro-monitor them, till they rue the day they ever poked their fat necks into our government business.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that this divergence in party/candidate vote splitting has a lot to do with the nature of the beast that Labour has evolved into.

If a large percentage of Labour voters are Maori/PI folk (especially from South Auckland) many of whom are socially conservative, church going folk, then they are not going to be naturally attracted to a Labour party which is by and large socially liberal and focuses (perhaps to its own detriment) on minority/gender/identity politics and policy.

The fact that electorate candidates are still able to attract the electorate vote is more testament to their personal ability to mitigate and interpret national policy to local audiences to their own electoral advantage.

Perhaps long-term the answer is for Labour to split into two parties.

1 Economically left and socially conservative to attract church going folk.

2 Economically left and socially liberal to attract the gender/identity/beneficiary voters.

Trying to marry both into one party as is now the case just leads to tensions and vote splitting which you have highlighted.


Nick J said...

Chris, Nice to see you single out Ruth Dyson. She has been a fantastic electorate MP for the people of Lyttelton over the years. The same can be said of Leanne Dalziels tenure in Chch East. Both ladies represent core Labour values on a one to one basis with their electors, and since the earthquake have worked tirelessly showing care and compassion.

Your question about how to leverage the local presence with a bigger story is tricky. Maybe the answer is right under our noses: great local presence from really good people talking local issues and linking them to national issues (as oposed to vice versa).Bbecome the party of the local people.

Anonymous said...

DPF (of curia research) piss cans this assessment with:
Let’s have a look at what the result would have been if based on electorate votes only. National got 46.1%, Labour 34.1%, Greens 7.1%, Conservatives 3.5%, NZ First 3.1%, Maori Party 1.8% Mana 1.6%, ACT 1.2% and United Future 0.6%.

The CR electorate vote was 51.4%. The CL electorate vote was 42.8% and the centre parties had 4.9%.

So if the election has been decided on electorate, not party vote, National would still have won.

Of course it is a silly comparison, because some people make a conscious decision to split their vote. They may never vote for a particular party, but like their local MP.

I cant but agree, my entire family vote CR (national or ACT) but a few of us split our votes giving local bovver boy mallard the thumbs up while giving his party the middle finger.

greywarbler said...

Perhaps your two Labours can be combined into one that not only professes concern about personal rights and human rights to be respected and fair, but also acts. It first consults and explains the perceived need for law changes and receives feedback and promotes discussion between differing parties. There is much discussion, with adequate time for it, before starting legislation to ensure fair and reasonable laws are passed.

That means the hard-liners, extremists and absolutists cannot shout or grind everybody else down. There will be a percentage of these in both of your two parties. Isn't this similar to what happens now but needs to be more grassroots involved? Old Labour tried going round the country, talking about its ideas, and asking for feedback. Similar to what has been done on the constitution recently, but with workshops and some attempt to record ideas though in a haphazard manner, I think.

But socially progressive matters should not take precedence over economic leadership. To get elected there must be encouragement for NZ to progress further into niche manufacturing and other areas away from over-reliance on milk, and commodity farming. And serious consideration of public investment in a fund to buy up some of our entrepreneurial successes to keep them NZ owned, separate from pension funds, but perhaps they would have a part share. Perhaps money from housing could be channelled into this other investment fund.

Continuing without deep thought and allowing agriculture to choose the easiest route, will likely result in our capture by a GE seeds-corporate control of our agriculture. Look at PGG Wrightson, the control of which has gone to a Chinese firm, with ambitions to be a world leader against Monsanto. Presumably using methods similar to the small group of nature-adaptive giants.

Labour chose an easy route, to follow Friedman, Hayek et al whose policies should have been anathema. What was needed was to encourage unions to stop those regular strikes, accompanied by mealy-mouthed apologies as they inconvenienced citizens yet again for their own advancement. Reasonable wages, bonuses in good years, and inflation control, with a firm hand on irrational union demands was needed. That would have been hard.

Now the country has done it hard, and Labour owes us some hard work to reverse this - on policy, vision and action, so we can make our way through our new uncharted 21st century environment.

This is a bit long! But it's not a topic that can be encompassed by snappy one-liners.

Anonymous said...

New Zealanders were well aware of the fact that if you were silly enough to give your electorate vote to Labour you wanted Cunliffe for PM, the Greens in cabinet and Mana/Internet being part of a coalition Government. To put that lot into Government would have proved that NZ is full of stark raving and barkingly mad people. It did not happen so most of us are proven to well adjusted normal people. Your article indicates that you may not be happy with that state of affairs amongst our populace. To bad. Have a mintie.

Anonymous said...

My first thought when Labour's 2011 list was announced was that it contained so little renewal, so much protection of tired, unpopular veterans, that they'd just lost the 2014 election as well. And now it seems 2017 too. Their strategy seems to be to just wait until National loses. I wonder if they are really that stupid, or if they do understand their predicament, but just have no idea how to fix it. Since he has little chance of ever being PM, the best contribution Andrew Little could make is to make a personal sacrifice for the good of his party by taking the hit for a nearly complete clean out of his Caucus and resetting the Labour Party for the next leader to build on. Time is wasting.

Jigsaw said...

If you are correct then it's worse than you paint it. Many of the those MPs who you say got good recognition as local MPs are now way past their use-by date and should retire soon - Ruth Dyson is a good example as it Annette King. The new MPs in these electorates will then have almost zero recognition and be starting from scratch. Unless of course Labour decides to run the same batch all over again.... Cunliffe's 'I'm sorry for being a man' apart from being a huge gaffe was also a symptom of their identity politics to which they still cling.

greywarbler said...

Anonymous Ref. 13.11
Thanks for your minimalist view of the political scene. I think by your skewed perspective you are lying on the ground taking your ease. You have the mintie while we try to get NZ on the tracks to resurrect itself.

I have no wish to be stumbling like a zombie, grey faced wild eyed and plucking randomly at any opportunity to hand. I want a full resurrection of the Left with fairy lights, trumpets, angels and a jazz band. Something different from the past for sure, and with some presence, vision and a new holy book, and perhaps a bit of incense. We will have a festive burning of Friedman's strictures after we have checked and removed the bits that offer sensible guidance.

We will peg our currency, and announce it's new value each month like the Reserve Bank with the OCR, and talk to entrepreneurs and invite people with business ideas to go to local hubs and do a plan and if sound apply for a grant. We will get existing small business to take on trainees for a subsidy, and set up Green Task Force plans with Councils to get people working and doing those jobs we can't afford to implement under Notional.
So you dilettante can sit and watch and sneer. We'll have a cunning plan and be doing it, and be bloody happy to be out of know-and-do-nothing land.

Mark Unsworth said...

Hi Chris
A very interesting article Chris ,despite the Curia note ,but I have a slightly different view on the data you covered.
To me the key factor shown here is the power of incumbency .It is very hard to shift a sitting MP these days . In the last election National lost only one electorate seat and it wasn't an incumbent .Labour gained 2 and the only incumbent MP to lose a seat was the hapless Hone Harawira ( arguably for other reasons ) All the action happened in the list seats while the incumbents ruled supreme .
Now while the Labour incumbents survived ,many in ( and outside of ) the party will tell you that a weakness of the past frequent leadership changes has been the inability of the party to rejuvenate .Labour has an " experienced " caucus one could say .The upside of this is that many Labour electorate MPs become well known and familiar names in their electorates and receive high electorate votes and the positive benefit of incumbency .The problem for Labour is that nearly all of them are electorate MPs (27/32) .While National " encouraged " 9 of its electorate MPs to stand down at the last election only 1 of Labour's did the same .
So Labour has mostly electorate MPs who have been around a while but you could argue that incumbency masks the actual popular party vote trends which have not been going in Labour's direction .

Angry Tory said...

Oh dear oh dear. This shows Trotter is unable to do simple mathematics, and neither is Whale who linked here. The situation for Labour is far, far, worse than Trotter makes out.

First of all: the combined Labour + Green party vote is the "Centre-Left" to and that's about 860,000 ---- rather more than Labour electorate votes. Even if you add in NZF it's still nowhere near National.

Second: when Labour electorate MPs go, they are more than likely to be replaced by National MPs. Steven Joyce has been quite... strategic in ensuring roads and development for National electorates and not for Labour electorates: anathema to the Roger/Ruth/Helen approach to politics, but brutally effective. Labour is now basically an electorate party, and a diminishing one as the "dead wood" will be replaced by National. When Phil Goff, Annette Kind, Ruth Dyson or whoever goes, they'll be replaced by National MPs not Labour!

Third: Labour has already split into two parties: old "Labour" and the "Greens". And "Mainstream" New Zealand (not to mention the Whale Army) absolutely hate the idea of the Greens in government. Labour will never be able to make government again without the Greens --- but NZ will never vote for the Greens in government. The only manoeuver by which Labour/Greens could make government is a country-wide version of the Maorimander: Labour votes only in electorate seats, Green takes all party votes, all Labour seats are overhang seats. That would give Labour government: it would also be widely seen as illegitimate.

The brutal truth is that the last time a traditional "Labour" government ruled NZ was in 1975 - and it was widely seen as a disaster. The Douglas/Lange pseudo-Labour government will be seen in retrospect as the first ACT government. Helen Clark's Labour was a tribute to the most talented politician of her generation, nothing to do with old Labour policies --- John Key (a mediocre politician) is leading a government that is significantly to the left of Clark's nominal Labour government.

NZ didn't want a Labour government in '75, haven't wanted one since, and won't want one in 2017 or 2020. There is zero chance of another Labour government (other than by the gerrymander) in the foreseeable future. National will most like be replaced by an ACT coalition some time in 2023 or 2026.

Brendan McNeill said...


Many would find AT’s assessment of NZ politics depressing.

NZ needs an effective opposition to National who has long since ceased to represent their base. It is conservative in name only and pragmatic by design. It rejects conviction politics, and like both major parties, now views those who hold sincere ‘convictions’ as a liability.

Chris, you are disqualified by default. Too progressive for Labour, too ideological for National, to sane for the Greens, too weird for NZ First.

You are therefore ‘illegitimate’ and expelled to the outer reaches of the blogosphere where you can do the least damage.

The bastards say ‘welcome’.

greywarbler said...

The only manoeuver by which Labour/Greens could make government is a country-wide version of the Maorimander: Labour votes only in electorate seats, Green takes all party votes, all Labour seats are overhang seats. That would give Labour government: it would also be widely seen as illegitimate.

Hi Chris I seem to have lost my comment which I put into Preview and wanted to edit. Is there no function to do that? Unfortunate if so, as righting a wrong word was needed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I find myself agreeing with Brendan, which is uncomfortable but he is correct. Politics has ceased if it ever was, to be a thing of principle and conviction. It's now just a question of finding out what the focus groupthink and tailoring your policies to that end.

Unknown said...

Labour will come back. Helen Clark was the face of the party for a long time and it will take time for another leader to grow into the role and be accepted by the party supporters. Even Helen spoke of the need to wait and watch as the leader grows and Andrew Little definitely has the intellect. Charisma is overrated but important as TV is our biggest information medium. It does take time and the important thing is that people understand clearly what the party stands for. At times that gets lost as side issues overtake the real message