Bright Sunlit Morning - Or Grey Rainy Day? In the final days of the US presidential election some Trump supporters waited in line for 11 hours to see their champion. Eleven hours! Forgive me for being harsh, but honestly, I can’t see too many Kiwis being willing to wait in line for 11 minutes to see Andrew Little.
IS OUR LABOUR PARTY capable of learning anything from the US Democratic Party’s stunning electoral defeat? Andrew Little’s recent string of lacklustre media performances offer few reasons for optimism.
Donald Trump won the White House because he made politics exciting. Newshub’s Paddy Gower was in the US for the final days of the presidential campaign and interviewed Trump supporters who’d been waiting in line for 11 hours to see their champion. Eleven hours! Forgive me for being harsh, but honestly, I can’t see too many Kiwis being willing to wait in line for 11 minutes to see Andrew Little.
And that unwillingness is not entirely attributable to the Labour Leader’s complete charisma by-pass. Possessing the wit and movie-star good-looks of Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, certainly wouldn’t impede Little’s political career, but it is not enough, on its own, to guarantee Labour’s electoral success.
Bernie Sanders is hardly what you’d call a matinee idol (more like the voter’s cranky old uncle) but that didn’t prevent him from electrifying huge crowds of young Americans. What lured all those millennials away from their I-Pads had nothing to do with what Sanders looked like. What made them “Feel the Bern” were the things Sanders said.
And even Justin Trudeau could not have become Canada’s PM solely on the strength of his illustrious parentage and pleasing countenance. Indeed, his Conservative Party opponents regarded his sense of political entitlement and youthful good looks as powerful negatives to be exploited.
Canadians, they argued, had no need of a pretty, upper-class dilettante with nothing more to offer them than a famous name. And if that had been all Trudeau offered Canada, then the centre-left New Democrats would have won last year’s election. What finally sealed the deal for the Canadian electorate was Trudeau’s strategic flair and the boldness of his party’s policies. These, combined with the Trudeau family’s indisputable lustre, were what gave Justin and his Liberals their historic victory.
No, Little’s lack of glamour is not Labour’s problem. What’s crippling his leadership – and his party’s chances of winning next year’s election – is that neither he, nor his colleagues, seem capable of inspiring the slightest enthusiasm or excitement in the electorate.
Labour either can’t, or won’t, commit to the sort of hard-and-fast policies its supporters want to hear. Like Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, Little and Labour are deaf to the cries of those who find themselves on the food-supply side of the dog-eat-dog struggle which now passes for life in the neoliberal West.
What Labour’s electoral base is presented with, instead, is wonkism. For nearly two years Grant Robertson and his Future of Work Commission have being toiling away. Their final report was released earlier this month at Labour’s centennial conference. Presented for our perusal were no fewer than 64 recommendations – none of them meriting, even slightly, the description of bold or exciting.
There wasn’t a single policy recommendation to match Trump’s in-your-face promise to build a wall to keep out illegal Mexican migrants. Nothing that came anywhere close to Sander’s promise to abolish student loans. Labour’s policy proposition in 2017 isn’t 50 – but 64 – shades of grey.
The worst thing is, Little and his advisors flatly refuse to see this as a problem. They have only the coldest disdain for the sort of wild-eyed populism which has swept across the United Kingdom and the United States in 2016, and which, in 2017, threatens to wreak equal havoc among the political classes of Italy and France. It’s simply not the way the shell-shocked party pulled together by Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Steve Maharey cares to do business. When asked whether he would have voted for Jeremy Corbyn, the present, British-born, President of the NZ Labour Party responded curtly: “No.”
In morbid conformity with the limp “Third-Way-ism” which still engrosses them, Little and his people – like Hillary and hers – have placed all their eggs in one technological basket. The mysterious algorithms of their data-manipulating, voter-identifying wonks will do what thousands of committed followers – apparently – cannot. They will locate all the shy, centrist voters Labour needs to win. That these same mysterious algorithms singularly failed to deliver the White House to Hillary has not shaken their confidence in electoral mechanisation.
To paraphrase Talleyrand’s celebrated dismissal of the Bourbon dynasty: Labour has forgotten everything – and learned nothing.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 November 2016.