Friday, March 18, 2016

Is Labour Trying To Be NZ First-Lite?

Due perhaps to an ongoing lack of vision on the part of our theoretically 'lead' Opposition party, we're quite used to thinking of Labour as being a watered down version of the beliefs of others.

Throughout much of the last ten years, this has meant perceiving much of Labour's economic policy as fairly transparent attempts to be "National-lite". The reasons for this were obvious: Labour wanted to reach out and appeal to middle-of-the-road "centrist" (and centre-right) voters in order to prise them off National and so form the basis for the next Government.

At the time, this made a certain sort of tactical sense. National rode high in the polls, while Labour's vote continued to spiral downwards, and the twin enfant-terrible titans-in-waiting of The Greens and New Zealand First grew their own votes by eating into Labour's left-wing and angry-protesty-vote flanks.

Unfortunately, the strategy resoundingly failed to bear fruit. Labour didn't manage to pull National-leaning voters in by attempting to ape the monkey-business of our nation's leading party. "Why have the inferior model when you can go straight for the source?" seemed to be the thinking.

Worse than that, Labour's curious (for a nominally left-wing party) strategy of attempting to secure votes by delivering a budget surplus through sacrificing funding for social programs, and pleading for the "fiscally sensible" option of raising the retirement age ... only seemed to drive its previous sources of support further away to other parties, without producing any meaningful electoral dividend. Its more recent lukewarm opposition to the TPPA is in a similar boat.

The Labour Party's response to what's pretty much its worst drubbing in living memory was predictable. First, it turned inward and attempted to marshal its creativity and nanny-state-approving social-justice-warriorness into developing authentic endogenous policy solutions that would enable it to gain some form - any form - of traction out there in the electorate.

This didn't work out perhaps as well as they had hoped (because really - 'coercion' about the sugar-content of foods is hardly election-winning policy), leading them to start looking to other Parties' manifestos and ethoi for points of inspiration.

It was in that spirit that they announced a watered-down version of a key element from NZ First's Tertiary Education Policy earlier this year as a Labour flagship initiative. This did rather well ... so they kept on going.

The end result of this is that we now have a Labour Party who, despite their own record in office, makes militant-sounding noises about protecting the ownership of Kiwi farmland, getting the ruinous influence of predominantly Chinese speculators and foreign buyers out of the Auckland housing market, defending Kiwi economic sovereignty, and a seemingly novel enthusiasm for putting a cap on immigration numbers.

The reasoning for this gradual volte-face should be clear: Labour recognizes what it must do if it wishes to reverse its seemingly inexorable decline in time for the 2017 - or, more realistically, probably the 2020 - General Election:

Adopt policy and a philosophy which *actually* resonates with voters. In this case, New Zealand First's.

Because if there's one Party out there who's consistently growing - in fact, arguably the *only* Party that has continued to grow year in and year out since Labour was last in Government - it's New Zealand First.

Small wonder, then, that Labour's public branding has come to so closely - if inexpertly, and arguably somewhat inauthentically - mirror our own.

So while Labour's previous comments about Chinese-surnamed buyers of Auckland housing seemed to be roundly pilloried in the media, and Little's statements about Indian chefs were walked back live on-air a little less than 48 hours after he first made them ... we should nevertheless gear up solidly for a year and a half worth of Labour increasingly attempting to sing from the same song-sheet as New Zealand First going into the next Election. Even if they appear to possess a regrettable penchant for doing so in a frequently somewhat off-key if not outright tone-deaf manner.

Perhaps this is why National insisted upon comparing Labour to Rob Muldoon this week, rather than the more contemporary point-of-similarity, Winston Peters. Because they know if they said the latter, they'd run the risk of increasing Labour's popularity.

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