Labour are having their caucus meeting today: step one in the post-mortem of what went wrong in the election. There’s already the inevitable talk about Labour’s values, and Labour needing to reconnect with the voters so here’s my take, which is, admittedly, pretty much what I’ve been saying for about six years, only this time compressed into graphic form. I hereby present ‘Mclauchlan’s Hierarchy of Political Needs’, a summary of what I believe the majority of non-tribal voters look for when they’re choosing which party to vote for. As with Maslow, the base of the pyramid are the fundamentals: only when these are satisfied does the apex become significant.
Almost all the left-wingers in my twitter feed are bewildered as to how the country could endorse the Key government with its dirty politics and child-poverty and pollution economy, but the non-left-wing activists I’ve talked to about the election were also utterly bewildered as to why anyone would have voted for the inevitable anarchy of the Cunliffe-led Labour/Greens/New Zealand First/Internet-Mana alternative. The left were comparing National and Labour and only seeing the top of the pyramid. Everyone else was looking at Labour’s bottom and judging it pretty hard.
Labour isn’t the only party wanting in the basic unity stakes. The Greens called for an independent audit of Labour’s fiscals and sent out confusing messages about their relationship with National during the final weeks of the campaign (My wife insists these messages were misreported.) And Internet/Mana is the worst thing to happen to left-wing politics for decades. Every time Labour or the Greens launched a policy they’d get back to the office, turn on the news and see Kim Dotcom or the ‘Fuck John Key’ video, or Pam Corkery screaming at the media, all followed by Laila Harre grinning away and explaining that the left couldn’t form a government without her. That’s not Labour’s fault but they should have seen the disaster coming and ruled Internet/Mana out before the campaign even started.
Here’s something else I think Labour got wrong. They don’t understand the fucking electoral system. For the second election in a row they’ve run an FPP election focused on winning electoral seats and seen their party vote decline. They don’t seem to get that this is a problem. Josie Pagani, Mike Williams and Rob Salmond, who are the current official unofficial voices of the Labour Party have all heaped praise on Stuart Nash for winning Napier and Jacinda Ardern for coming close to winning Auckland Central. But Nash won Napier because the Conservative Party candidate split the right-wing vote, and in terms of party votes which is the only vote that matters Labour’s Napier vote fell by almost 1500 votes while Labour’s party vote in Auckland Central declined by over 3800 votes, one of the worst falls in the entire country. Poto Williams is the only Labour MP in the country who actually increased Labour’s Party vote in her electorate but for some reason Nash and Ardern are the ones getting talked up as future leaders. That’s bullshit.
In terms of the party’s direction, if I was them I’d be looking at the seventy or eighty thousand voters they lost to New Zealand First during the last nine months and trying to win them back. That means a more socially conservative Labour Party. It means swallowing dead rats, presumably in the form of public statements distancing Labour from Cunliffe’s apology for being a man and the ‘man ban’ and gender equity policies. This will generate howls of protest and outrage from the activist left, but I think one message left-wing parties will draw from Saturday’s result is that the activist left is loud but microscopically tiny and it doesn’t speak for anyone other than themselves. I’d also be looking to go into 2017 having reached an arrangement with the Greens to campaign as a coalition.
That’s all in the future though. The current priorities are leadership change followed by a period of sustained competence and unity. Voters are suckers for competence and unity.