An­drew Lit­tle: Labour chameleon

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

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.

GOR­DON CAMPBELL

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