Labours challenge

Labour faces a difficult challenge this election. They have been in office for three terms, and voters are getting tired of them. Only once, 1969, since 1950 has a Government in New Zealand won a forth term. Things are not going well for Helen. The economy isn’t doing as well as it has been. Voters are feeling the pain with rising petrol and food prices, and many want tax cuts that they only trust National to provide. The Government is also seen by many voters as arrogant, and it has suffered a public backlash against the Anti-smacking Bill and Electoral Finance Act. To make matters worse, Labour suffers in the polls, and is well behind National. Although Labour has been a long way behind National before in the polls(e.g. after the Brash Orewa speech)  the current poll deficit isn’t the result of a one off event (like the Orewa speech) and is very consistent, indicating that many voters have made up their minds about which way to go.

 Things are bleak for Labour. But a comeback in these circumstances is not impossible, but it will be difficult. Helen is a very experienced politician and may have better ideas than I do, but I’m going to try think of a plan for labour to win the election.

In order to win an election, an opposition must convince voters they are a safe pair of hands. If the opposition can not do this, they will loose. In order to make National loose they must convince the public they can not be trusted to run the country. So far Labour has tried to do this in two ways:
1) Key is a wolf in sheeps clothing. He is not a centrist, but has a hidden right wing agenda to return the country to the 90s. This line of attack worked well against Brash and Labour is trying it again on Key.
2) Key is an inexperienced poll driven man whose only ambition for the country is to be PM. He goes round telling people what they want to hear, and has no principles. He is unprincipled, inexperienced and incompetent.
The two messages are contradictory. Key can not be both unprincipled and a right wing ideologue. labour must choose one over the other. My choice would be 2, because it is more accurate, and more likely to stick. It must wage a negative campaign to reduce trust in Key, but must avoid the danger of being seen as all negative and have no vision for the future.

In order to stop the later from occurring, and prevent the perception building that it is a tired third term Government out of ideas, Labour must outline some visionary programme for the future, that will win the support of many New Zealanders. It must go where National can’t, so its ideas aren’t neutralised by being stolen by National. The ideas must be bold and visionary enough to capture much attention. They must be big.

Last election, Labour ran the option 1 negative theme against Brash very well, with the “don’t put it all at risk” message frightening enough voters into giving them a third term. It also had two big bribes, firstly interest free student loans, and the extension of working for families. Labour will need similar bribes if it wants a forth term. Currently it looks like Labour will deliver tax cuts this budget. This is a mistake, as it will reduce the money available for other election bribes, but having built up expectations it is now too late to renege on them. Labour giving tax cuts will make it difficult for it to argue that (Nationals) tax cuts are bad, when it has similar ones of its own.

If it wants to win the election, it can not simply portray itself as a safe pair of hands and experienced and competent. As Howard found to his cost, when voters want change this will not save you. Labour should try to outline a positive vision for the country, instead of defend its record. Building on what Labour has already done will enable it to focus on both its achievements and its vision. A Working for Families extension II instead of tax cuts, including making beneficiaries eligible for WFF, will help show Labours social conscience. universal student allowances, removal of GST from rates,public transport, medicine and school and university fees, food and other basic necessities can be defended as tax cuts, will help the poor. All three ideas are bold and visionary. A $15 minimum wage will also be a bonus. A capital gains tax can be used to show action on affordable housing, and provide money for additional election bribes, such as completely free doctors visits, prescription drugs and all medical treatment for all under 18s (similar to what they already get from dentists). The alternative budget by Dr Susan St John could be worth looking at.

The big question is will it work. Idiot/Savant and Chris Trotter think so. If all the programmes suggested above are announced week after week during the election campaign it will be noticed. And how will the public react? I suspect in labours favour. Even though the strategy is risky, Labour has to be bold, as its backs are against the wall.

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