Ron­go­tai re­flects Labour’s prob­lem

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Ron­go­tai looks like a safeas-houses elec­torate seat for Labour’s An­nette King – and it is – but scratch the sur­face, and Labour’s wider prob­lems emerge.

King has held the Ron­go­tai seat since it was cre­ated in 1996, out of the old Mi­ra­mar and Is­land Bay elec­torates, and from the re­draw­ing of Wellington Cen­tral – still a work in progress.

In 2011, King racked up a whop­ping 9047 majority over Na­tional Cab­i­net Min­is­ter Chris Fin­layson.

Look at the party vote though, and Ron­go­tai doesn’t look quite so much like a Labour fortress.

Na­tional won 12,168 party votes in 2011, only 432 votes be­hind Labour. The Greens were not far be­hind, with nearly 9000 party votes.

Seen in that light, Ron­go­tai seems more like King’s per­sonal fief­dom than a party strong­hold.

If that’s the case even in an ap­par­ent Labour bas­tion, one can see why Labour is strug­gling na­tion­wide.

It is only after com­bin­ing the Labour/ Greens party vote that Ron­go­tai looks, once again, like a strongly cen­tre-left elec­torate.

No doubt that’s a re­flec­tion of Labour’s on­go­ing lead­er­ship prob­lems.

Some of it also re­flects the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion process in south­ern and east­ern parts of Wellington.

Ron­go­tai stretches from south Brook­lyn across Is­land Bay, Ber­ham­pore, New­town and on­wards to the air­port and Seatoun, Mi­ra­mar and Rose­neath.

Put baldly, the east­ern part is more in­clined to go Na­tional, the south to support Labour. But fin­gers of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion are push­ing cen­trist vot­ers to­wards the right, while cen­tre-left vot­ers are in­creas­ingly hiv­ing off to the Greens.

So goes Ron­go­tai, so goes the na­tion in that re­spect.

All the same, King will hold Ron­go­tai as long as she wants. The wider prob­lem is that she can’t seem to con­vert her per­sonal fol­low­ing into a ro­bust ‘‘two ticks’’ out­come for her party. This year, Labour leader David Cun­liffe hasn’t helped her task.

After a strong show­ing in the first tele­vised de­bate, Cun­liffe has lapsed into his old ways, and fum­bled the de­tails of Labour’s cap­i­tal gains tax pol­icy.

At a can­di­dates’ meet­ing in New­town last week, King ef­fort­lessly framed the pol­icy as a fair­ness is­sue.

Just as or­di­nary work­ers have to pay in­come tax on their earn­ings, she ar­gued, peo­ple who make their money from in­vest­ments should have to pay tax on that, too. It’s fair, and we all stand to ben­e­fit from it.

Cun­liffe has been un­able to sell the pol­icy on those terms. In­stead he has man­aged to make the cap­i­tal gains tax pol­icy sound very tech­ni­cal, con­tra­dic­tory and some­thing that even he doesn’t prop­erly un­der­stand with­out the help of a team of ad­vis­ers.

The New­town meet­ing ex­posed another prob­lem for Labour.

It was Nor­man, not King, who looked and sounded like the ma­jor player: more en­er­getic and ar­tic­u­late, and seem­ingly, bet­ter able to make con­tact with the younger vot­ers present.

It has be­come a fa­mil­iar story. All too of­ten, Labour comes across as a well-mean­ing older relation, try­ing to get down with the kids.

At the New­town meet­ing for in­stance, Nor­man ac­knowl­edged that the Clark gov­ern­ment’s re­quire­ments about healthy foods in schools – since re­voked by Na­tional – could be de­scribed as the nanny state in ac­tion.

‘‘But,’’ Nor­man laughed, ‘‘it was the right sort of nanny.’’

He could have been de­scrib­ing An­nette King and the Labour Party.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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