Andrew Little: Labour chameleon
In Andrew Little, that old trio of ‘‘left’’, ‘‘right’’ and ‘‘centrist’’ political labels may have finally met its Waterloo.
The man defies easy categorisation.
Last week for instance, as soon as he had won the Labour leadership – by the narrowest possible margin – Little was being described by commentators as (a) the left-wing creature of the trade unions and (b) the most centrist of the four candidates.
They are not easy positions to occupy simultaneously.
Former academic Bryan Gould – currently chairing a review of Labour’s election campaign – has been urging Labour to resist labels of this sort.
‘‘It certainly suited John Key,’’ Gould told me recently, ‘‘to say that anything that differed from his policy was ‘far left’.’’ It’s nonsense, Gould insists. ‘‘There’s nothing ‘far left’ about raising the superannuation age.
‘‘I’m not sure that I necessarily agree with it – but at least it was supposedly a response to a legitimate problem . . .’’
Any suggestion that Labour should move towards the centre is something of a trap, Gould believes.
‘‘What you should be doing is putting forward policies that you think will work, and that will address the major issues . . . If your opponents want to call that ‘left’, well, you can’t stop them. ‘‘But I don’t think [Labour] should go along with that. Otherwise, you get pushed by your opponents more and more left along this linear spectrum.’’
Evidently though, the media feels compelled to create an instant storyline about Little.
Some have traced the roots of his pragmatism back to his upbringing in a National Party household.
Initially, the centrist tag was attached to Little as a compliment – as a code for ‘‘not left wing’’ – after he suggested that Labour should be willing to dump such policies as the capital gains tax.
In context, Little’s comment seemed far more about the abysmal way that the policy had been marketed on the campaign trail than a judgement on its merits.
For good reason, Little sees his first task as being to improve Labour’s chaotic internal organisation, before addressing any deep matters of ideological positioning.
Other attempts to create a narrative about Little have been no more coherent than the ‘‘he’s left wing/no, he’s centrist’’ attempt.
Mid- week, Little was being pronounced ‘‘ grey’’ under the headline ‘‘Is New Zealand ready for a grey Prime Minister?’’
Simultaneously though, the same news outlet also depicted him as a no-nonsense straightshooter under the headline ‘‘Little Shoots From The Lip’’.
So, is he Mr Boring or is he Clint Eastwood? So hard to tell, thus far.
One thing stands in Little’s favour. On some recent polling, John Key seems more popular than the government he leads.
Consequently, there would be few gains for Little in seeking to mimic the Key Government’s social and economic policy agenda in a quest for ‘‘credibility’’ as defined by the mainstream media.
It is not Happyland out there.
On current settings, many Gen X and millennial voters face the prospect of paying off their student debt with their pensions, while living in rented accommodation and caring for their aged boomer parents, as the eco-system collapses outside.
If Labour cannot make political gains in 2015 from that entirely plausible outlook, it will be needing to do far more than change its leader next time.
No fixed abode: Andrew Little is at once left, right and centrist.