Labour rush­ing to­wards the cliff

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

When a po­lit­i­cal party elects a new leader, the change is sup­posed to in­spire the re­ju­ve­nated team to carry the fight to their ri­vals. No such luck for Labour. Since David Cun­liffe be­came leader last Septem­ber, Labour has rarely been able to get up over the ad­van­tage line.

In World Cup terms, Labour has spent 2014 de­fend­ing des­per­ately around its own goal­mouth, at con­stant risk of putting the ball into its own net, while ap­peal­ing to the ref about the tac­tics of its op­po­nents.

Cun­liffe’s team has rarely been able to turn the spot­light on to those is­sues where the Govern­ment is known to be vul­ner­a­ble.

They might in­clude the so­cial ef­fects of in­come in­equal­ity, the bun­gled as­set sales pro­gramme, the un­met needs in health and ed­u­ca­tion, and the fail­ure of the much- vaunted re­cov­ery to put more money into the wage pack­ets of most New Zealan­ders.

Ar­guably, these are more sub­stan­tial is­sues than whether the Prime Min­is­ter has a more like­able per­son­al­ity than the leader of the Op­po­si­tion.

Re­gard­less, Labour spent last week in its usual de­fen­sive crouch, com­plain­ing about be­ing the vic­tim of a smear cam­paign.

The con­tro­versy could hardly be less rel­e­vant to the con­cerns of most vot­ers. Namely, had Cun­liffe ever (a) ad­vo­cated with the Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vice on be­half of the wealthy Chi­nese busi­ness­man Donghua Liu, and (b) had the Labour Party ever re­ceived money from him?

By week’s end, Cun­liffe’s forth­right ‘‘No’’ on both points had come down to a very fine distinc­tion be­tween ask­ing im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials when Liu’s res­i­dency would be fi­nalised – which Cun­liffe did in 2003 – and ‘‘ ad­vo­cat­ing’’ on Liu’s be­half, which he claimed he hadn’t done.

Pub­licly, Liu stated that he had do­nated to both ma­jor par­ties, while Labour main­tained that be­cause it couldn’t find any record of such a do­na­tion, it stood by its claim that no Liu do­na­tion had ever been re­ceived. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously though, Cun­liffe had been ar­gu­ing that since Liu was be­ing short on specifics, that should sig­nify that Liu’s do­na­tion to Na­tional was prob­a­bly big­ger than any he’d made to Labour.

Re­port­edly, Liu gave $15,000 and $ 100,000 re­spec­tively to Labour, via bids for items at a fundraiser in 2007.

Labour con­tin­ued to ar­gue that it could find no record of such pay­ments, and chal­lenged Liu to come clean with ev­i­dence of his gen­eros­ity.

Even as a mere dis­trac­tion, the Liu fra­cas has been a god­send for Na­tional.

Iron­i­cally, the is­sue had arisen only be­cause of Mau­rice Wil­liamson’s sack­ing from Cab­i­net af­ter his med­dling in a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Liu.

Labour had then cho­sen to treat Liu as the poster child for Na­tional’s links with its wealthy donors, links that Labour may (or may not) have shared with this par­tic­u­lar donor.

What­ever the out­come, the fall­out ap­pears bound to be neg­a­tive.

Any lin­ger­ing faith held by vot­ers in the trust­wor­thi­ness, com­pe­tence and rel­e­vance of politi­cians would have been shaken by last week’s events.

The Liu af­fair co­in­cided with a poll re­sult show­ing Labour’s sup­port drop­ping to only 23 per cent, and with In­ter­net Mana seem­ing to erode sup­port for the Greens.

Labour has roughly three months left to prove it can lead a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive govern­ment.

If, how­ever, the next po­lit­i­cal polls con­firm Labour’s down­ward trend, the elec­tion cam­paign may ef­fec­tively be over even be­fore it has of­fi­cially be­gun.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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