Gordon Campbell has an overview and intelligent critique on this, but briefly, one of David Shearer’s recent speeches opened with an anecdote about a work-shy sickness beneficiary in his electorate who was painting his roof instead of out looking for a job (in totally unrelated news, unemployment increased again in the last quarter).
There’s a lot a Labour MP could say about welfare and unemployment, but Shearer said what a National MP would say:
it wasn’t bloody fair, and I said so. I have little tolerance for people who don’t pull their weight. We don’t like others ripping the system off . . .
I think this sort of stuff is calculated to provoke a reaction from ‘the left’. Sue Bradford and Hone Harawira (or whoever) are supposed to condemn Shearer and call for him to resign, and this is supposed to boost his credibility with ‘middle New Zealand.’ But parties generally shore up their base before they move to the center. And you usually move to the center with a watered down populist take on your own values, not those of an opposing ideology. John Key ‘swallowed dead rats’ in 2008, sure – but he didn’t campaign on his deep affection for government regulation and progressive taxation, which is the rough right-wing analogy to Shearer’s strategy. This just seems like it’ll alienate Labour’s activist base, most of whom already hold the parliamentary wing of the party in contempt.