Wednesday 4 June 2014

Truth Or Dare: Why David Cunliffe Needs To Come Clean With The Labour Left.

The Member For Cheshire: But is David Cunliffe grinning from ear-to-ear at the 2012 Ellerslie conference because Labour’s membership has just seized control of their party, or is it because he knows that his pathway to Labour's leadership had just been cleared?
WERE YOU TELLING THE TRUTH, DAVID? When you told your party that the age of neoliberalism was over? That you, alone among all your colleagues, had grasped the meaning of the global financial crisis, and only you could lead Labour to an election victory that would restore New Zealand to itself?
Because they believed you, David. They believed you and they fought for you.
I remember the collective thrill that reverberated through the party conference at Ellerslie when Len Richards told the delegates that it was time to “take our party back!” That’s when the cameras homed in on you, David, seated there in the midst of your New Lynn delegation (not lined up at the microphone to oppose the democratisation of the party like so many of your caucus “colleagues”). And you were smiling, David. You looked elated.
But, were you smiling because Labour’s membership had finally seized control of their party, or was it because you knew that the pathway to the leadership was now clear?
That’s what your enemies said, David. They said you looked like a cat who’s got the cream. And, my, how they rounded on you: accusing you of fomenting a coup against David Shearer. Do you recall the poisonous outbursts of Chris Hipkins? Your demotion to the back benches? The vicious harassment of your allies Charles Chauvel and Leanne Dalziel?
The ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’ faction tried to break you.
But they failed, didn’t they, David? Because, throughout it all, the rank-and-file of the party and the affiliated trade unions remained loyal. And, when Shearer finally threw in the towel, they knew what to do. Over the strenuous efforts of a majority of the caucus, they elected you Leader of the Labour Party. The moral and political lethargy of their MPs had driven the membership close to despair – and you were their Great Red Hope.
So what happened, David?
One of the polls taken at the conclusion of the leadership contest put Labour on 37 percent – placing it within striking distance of 41.2 percent, Labour’s best ever election result under MMP, and just a couple of percentage points away from Labour’s winning Party Vote of 38.7 percent in 1999. You had momentum, David. New Zealanders liked your message. Labour’s social-democratic values were threatening to come back into fashion.
And then everything went quiet. The 2013 conference, which should have been a rapturous coronation, was a curiously strangled affair. Your more radical supporters were “persuaded” to pull their punches on important left-wing issues like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the age of eligibility for NZ Superannuation. The uncompromising language of 2012’s Draft Party Platform was watered-down to the point of blandness. Doubters were reassured that Cunliffe was still Cunliffe. That it was a matter of priorities. That, for the moment, “party unity” was paramount.
“Party Unity” – is that what this is all about? Party Unity. Of the sort we saw demonstrated last week by the likes of Kelvin Davis, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins and Trevor Mallard? Forgive me, David, but that didn’t strike me as evidence of a unified party. That looked to me like the ABC Faction flexing its muscles. And you, David. How did you respond to their rank insubordination and strategic stupidity? Did you slap them down? Did you bring them into line?  Like hell you did! You caved. Cravenly and very publicly, David – you caved.
It’s time for you to wise up, David. The voters who thrilled to your election as Labour’s leader won’t take much more of this. Nor will Labour’s left-wing membership. If they had wanted a continuation of the political lethargy and ideological flabbiness that’s characterised their party’s parliamentary leadership since Helen Clark’s departure, then the rank-and-file and the unions would have given their votes to somebody else.
That the Labour Left spurned your opponents was due in no small part to their interpretation of your “The Dolphin and the Dole Queue” speech. They simply assumed that you were readying the country for a Labour-Green coalition, and that this combination would generate a mix of policies well to the left of the caucus’s conservative positions. You can imagine the alarm-bells that started ringing when Labour firmly rejected Russel Norman’s suggestion of a joint Labour-Green campaign effort. Even more alarming was your own use of Winston Peters’ spurious justification for giving nothing away until after the votes have been counted.
In God’s name, man! What do you think Labour is? A minor party! Peters’ uses his “wait until the voters have had their say” line to give himself maximum flexibility when it comes to choosing coalition partners, and to prevent the desertion of his supporters (who are drawn from both the Left and the Right) by stating a clear preference for one over the other before polling day. Are you really telling the world that Labour is now so bereft of ideological confidence and coherence that it must resort to Winston’s opportunistic tactics? Is that how bad things have got? That you need to trick people into voting Labour?
Because if that is the situation, then let me tell you where Labour is headed. It is headed in the direction of entering a Grand Coalition with National. No, don’t shake your head in derision, in many ways the MMP system lends itself to this solution (and in MMP’s birthplace, Germany, there have been a least two Grand Coalition governments since 1947).
Just work your way through it logically.
If the Labour caucus is unwilling to concede ground on policy matters to the Greens; if this is the reason so many of them would prefer to work with the ideologically undemanding Mr Peters; and, if caucus’s antipathy to the prospect of having to deal with Hone Harawira, Laila Harré, Annette Sykes and John Minto is (at least) ten times greater than its hostility towards the Greens; then what will happen if the only government (other than a Grand Coalition) that can be formed when the votes have been counted is a Labour/Green/Internet-Mana Party coalition?
Can you guarantee both your party and your electoral base that the Labour caucus won’t split apart rather than accept the policy consequences of such a radical coalition? Can you tell us that the ABCs wouldn’t do what Labour’s Peter Tapsell did in the cliff-hanger election of 1993 – provide National the margin it needed to govern? If National was shrewd enough to offer Labour the premiership in return for their joining a “Government of National Unity” against “corruption and extremism”, can you promise us you’d turn it down, David. That you’d tell National, Act, Peter Dunne and the ABC’s to go to Hell?
Because I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person wondering why David Cunliffe is suddenly so coy when it comes to the parties and the policies he and his colleagues are willing to embrace. Why they cannot seem to see the obvious electoral advantages of running a strategy of co-operation and accommodation with the Greens and the IMP. Why it is that everybody – apart from the Labour caucus – can see that, from a derisory 30 percent in the polls, Labour cannot get to the Beehive on its own: that it must have allies.
You are where you are, David, because your party believed that you would seek for those allies on the Left – not the Right. And now they’re looking for some much needed reassurance.
So, David, tell them again: why do you want to be Labour’s leader?
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 2 June 2014.


Brendan McNeill said...


If Labour joined National in a 'grand coalition', from a policy perspective, would anyone notice the difference?

They have been pitching their tents in the same camping ground for decades.

However, if it kept Mino et al employed safely outside of parliament, then most New Zealanders would welcome the move, possibly even those people of good will who reside on the political left?

Anonymous said...

He is too watery, like Key, going with perceived populist opinion and trading votes for policy, and policy making on the hoof.

Cunliffe comes across as aloof and disengaged, but also power hungry. A major let-down, they should have gone with Jones, the man of the people and far more up front.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Brendan, they are one and the same. National have gone left as well under Key, almost hard left.

Will Winston save us this time around? yeah, right...

Both major parties are a joke, they don't listen to referendums and only care about the people's voice at election time. Sack the lot of them.

Loz said...

On current polling, a government of Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First is an outside numerical possibility.

However, a government of Labour, the Greens and Mana would require an astonishing rise in in across-the-board support for Mana. This strategy is only valid if Mana somehow absorbs all of New Zealand First's existing votes (which won’t happen). As transferring all existing votes from NZ first to Mana can't possibly occur, the only other way the strategy could work would be for Mana to bring in so many new voters that a Labour, Mana, Green group would enlarge the voting pool and dwarfing the existing numbers supporting National an NZ first.

With Honi Harawera being extremely unpopular with main stream New Zealanders and the lowest polling constituency candidate in Parliament - this groundswell seems highly unlikely.

Assuming Labour does reject NZ First to instead embrace Mana, the current voting numbers for National and New Zealand First (1.25 million odd votes) will have to be dropped to represent no more than about 48% of the total vote. If NZ First and National retain their numeric support levels it means the Mana / Green / Labour block will somehow have to increase their combined pool of votes to around 1.7 million. In the previous election the three parties could only muster 894,000. If we assume that the existing numbers voting for Labour and the Greens remains constant, for National and NZ First to be relegated to a combined electoral share of only 48%, Mana will have to bring in about 800,000 odd new votes - itself eclipsing the Labour party in popularity! Not a bad accomplishment for a party that’s been unable to solidify support above the 1% level!

These number games with Mana cannot bring about a Labour Government.

How wise can it really be for Labour to publically embrace the Internet Mana Party? The number of votes that need to be found for Labour to not rely on NZ first to form a government is impossibly high. The Realpolitik at is that Mana doesn't offer the numeracy required for Labour to form a government whereas the potential alienation of NZ First (and a great swathe of New Zealanders) by aligning with Honi provides a certain path to defeat.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guerilla Surgeon said...

Repost with edit :-).

First time ever I think I've agreed with Brendan. First 2 sentences anyway. On the other hand national is hard left? God helpus some people wouldn't know a left wing if it bit them on the bum.

Scouser said...

"Nurse! Nurse! Trotter is out his bed again and taken his angry pills!"

Teasing aside I don't think I've seen you this irate or maybe frustrated.

Drawing a long bow here I have a suspicion that Cunliffe is a clever chap and clever people are often poor strategic thinkers as they can deal with stuff on the fly as it hits them.

It's common to see a major personality with strategic thinking backed by a very clever chap or chapess or vice versa. Clark was a force of nature and she had plenty of smart support. Cunliffe seems to be running solo.

He's the boss so the buck stops with him but he just doesn't seem to have the appropriate support from appropriate others within the caucus. .... and again possibly drawing a long bow but such divisive behaviour does seem to be the scourge of Labour over the years.

One could argue that he's not organising or has alienated his support but it seems just as likely that there is no 'get in behind for the greater good' move within the caucus.

One of my favourite quotes "Anyone can make a mistake but truly f******g up is a team event"

Anonymous said...

Im sorry Chris, this is bullshit. Labour can't stitch up deals with the greens and imp - that will scare the shit out of the centre voters. Its too late to try and motivate the 'missing million' into voting. The only route to power for a labour led govt is to orientate somewhat towards the centre voters. Let the greens and imp grab the voters on the solid left ground. Labour WILL get this country moving again with properly leftwing policies if they win. Mark my words. He knows the madness of economic ultraliberalism and the need to make a rupture with it mark my words.

Anonymous said...

It's really not difficult Chris. The Non voters last time round are not going to suddenly get out and vote Labour because Labour has 'embraced' the Greens and Internet / Mana.

The centre voters who might switch from National to Labour are not going to suddenly get out and vote Labour because Labour has 'embraced' the Greens and Internet / Mana. In fact they would probably more likely stick with National rather than think about greens and internet / mana in government.

NZFirst voters are not going to suddenly get out and vote Labour because Labour has 'embraced' the Greens and Internet / Mana.

Centre Labour voters might indeed switch to National if they see Labour getting too cosy with the Greens / Internet / Mana although you'd hope not.

Green / Internet / Mana voters are not going to suddenly vote National because Labour isn't getting cosy with their parties before the election.

In summary, Labour has absolutely nothing to gain from getting to close to the other left leaning parties before the election. It does however potentially lose votes if it 'embraces' these other parties before the election. No brainer really. There's no point in having a nice unified left block before the election if that block doesn't get enough votes to govern.

The only places Labour can gain votes from are from previous National voters and from previous non voters. It won't gain votes from either by cuddling up to the Greens/Internet/Mana before the election so strategically they are doing the right thing.

In saying that, I do however think they could gain from the previous non voters by being a bit more obviously 'left' and proud of it but that could come at the expense of the middle ground. decisions decisions...