Raring to go, Labour banks on new approach

Venkat Raman – 

The Labour Party has two resounding victories in the past three months in by-elections held in Mt Roskill (December 3, 2016) and Mt Albert (February 25, 2017) but this should not be treated as a turnaround in New Zealand politics.

These two electorates are Labour strongholds – the National Party fielded the wrong candidate in Mt Roskill and restrained from contesting in Mt Albert.

But the Party has consistently under-performed in the past three general elections, winning 43 seats in 2008, 34 seats in 2011 and 32 seats (later reduced to 31) in 2014. Its debacle at the polls – both electoral and opinion – have been orchestrated by internal squabble, a lack of direction and policies that would appeal to common people.

The National Party on the other hand has outperformed itself in these elections- 58 seats in 2008, 59 seats and 60 seats. The morale at National is high and its political allies have agreed to work together again.

Alliance with Greens

Labour, on its fourth leader since former Party Leader and Prime Minister Helen Clark was beaten by Mr Key in 2008, has won a measure of stability since 2014 under Andrew Little, a steady former trade unionist who calls for greater fairness, focusing on the rise of homelessness.

He and his colleagues have agreed to cooperate with the Green Party, a tactic that may help in the forthcoming general election on September 23, 2017.

Meanwhile Winston Peters, who leads the populist New Zealand First party, is calling for curbs on immigration and the free market. Although his party only polls around 10%, it could end up holding the balance of power in a close election.

Hostile Media

New Zealand’s Labour Party has since long suffered the hostility and prejudice of the mainstream media, leaving the left-leaning politicians to work out a strategy to reach the public directly. Such a strategy worked in the Mt Roskill by-election held on December 3, 2016, with its candidate Michael Wood meeting thousands of people in their homes, offices, shopping malls, restaurants and even buses. Jacinda Arden did the same in Mt Albert last weekend (February 25, 2017) taking away almost 80% of the total votes counted.

Although Indian Newslink and Radio Tarana are the only Indian media that provide Labour Party equal opportunity to conduct their campaign, these have limited reach and hence would not cover the entire catchment area. It is therefore imperative that the candidates contesting under the Labour banner engage with the communities in a manner that would help them to assess the public mood and align their strategies appropriately.

Confronting Issues

Labour can be expected to pitch its battle on a number of grounds, capitalising on many of the problems that New Zealanders encounter, not necessarily the making of National, but as a natural-cause and effect with demand-exceeding-supply syndrome. This is true of the Housing sector in which rising prices have distancing first homebuyers from becoming house-owners.

There are however some areas in which National would be called to account – areas which could work to the Labour-Greens advantage.

Mr Little has reiterated his Party’s commitment to increasing spending on health and education, although he made no new policy announcements.

In his State of the Nation Address held jointly with the Green Party on January 29, 2017, he spoke of programmes and policies to support hard-working New Zealanders.

Mr Key’s departure has boosted Labour’s election prospects, and Mr Little will seek to maintain the pressure on Mr English by questioning his leadership ability.

Low expectations and a relatively low voter turnout also hurt Labour in its urban strongholds, where many plumped for the Greens instead. To hold onto any chance of victory in next election, the Party’s working relationship with the Greens must be closer and stronger. Though pleased with their own performance, the Greens are not likely to find much common ground with National when they come to such cherished issues as agricultural emissions and rural watercourse pollution. National Party draws much of its support from farmers.

The need of the hour is not only discipline but also unity. Labour and its Leader can hope to move forward with greater thrust, provided the Party’s hierarchy and rank and file demonstrate their solidarity and ability to weather the storm.


Members of Parliament and the National Council of the Labour Party watch as their Leader Andrew Little launches the ‘Electionlink’ of Indian Newslink at a special dinner hosted by Indian Newslink at Raviz Restaurant in Botany Junction, Auckland on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.

Picture by Creative Eye Photography

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