Forlorn Labour faces identity crisis
The 2014 election delivered a smashing victory for John Key and the National Party, while Labour faces an identity crisis of extraordinary proportions.
Nationwide, the political landscape looks bleak for the centreleft.
Even the victory in Napier by Labour’s Stuart Nash was the fluke outcome of a strong Conservative Party candidate splitting the centre-right vote.
Current MPs Andrew Little, Moana Mackey and Maryan Street have fallen victim to Labour’s low party vote, and that’s indicative of a wider problem.
Even where Labour stalwarts won electorates handily – Annette King in Rongotai, Ruth Dyson in Port Hills etc – they proved incapable of conveying a ‘‘ two ticks for Labour’’ message, and came in behind National on the party vote.
Thus, from Auckland to Dunedin, even where Labour won, it lost.
The same trend was noticeable in Wellington seats that have formerly been Labour strongholds. On election night figures, Labour lost the party vote contests to National heavily in Rongotai, Wellington Central, Rimutaka, Hutt South, and Mana even though Labour candidates carried those electorates.
Hutt South was a striking case in point.
On election night, Labour’s Trevor Mallard finished ahead of National’s Chris Bishop by a slender 378 in the electorate race, yet Bishop delivered the party vote for National by a whopping 6372 vote majority.
In Wellington Central, even the Greens won more party votes than what Labour’s Grant Robertson managed to inspire for Labour – and that was despite National’s Paul Foster- Bell being seen widely as a mediocre candidate. National’s party vote lead over Labour in Wellington Central was a convincing 4655.
While some Labour electorate MPs still command a personal loyalty, the party has comprehensively lost the argument over the stewardship of the economy.
Nationwide, the party vote outcome has shrunk Labour’s capacity for renewal, by starving it of new entrants on the party list.
Essentially, the survivors are the veterans of the Clark government era.
Whatever now happens to the Cunliffe leadership, his party’s problems extend well beyond who is at the helm.
Currently, Labour looks like one of those old department stores that has no core reason to exist any longer.
That’s because Labour’s social conservatives have decamped to New Zealand First, its young liberals to the Greens and its economic conservatives to National.
Throughout 2014, Labour flirted with New Zealand First in the hope that Winston Peters could be recruited to a centre-left formation. At least that fantasy can now be buried, in the process of renewal.
Usually when the Labour vote recedes, the Greens go up. Not this time though.
In passing, one can feel sympathy for the injustice done to the Conservatives.
Thanks to the Epsom gerrymander, the 14,510 people nationwide who voted for the Act Party got one MP, while the 86,616 people who voted for the Conservatives will have no representation at all.
National will now be able to fulfil its third- term agenda virtually unchecked.
Its challenge will be to manage an economy forecast to register lower growth amid falling commodity prices, and with a weakening dollar raising the cost of imports, including petrol.