This election has further exposed the deep cracks in the Labour Party.
Throughout the past three years since its deft and experienced captain left it unceremoniously, it has been meandering in choppy waters like a rudderless ship, with tattered sails, hopelessly divided shipmates and no steady, credible hand at the helm to navigate the stormy seas.
After last month’s elections, the Labour vessel has taken in even more water, registering its lowest over vote in history. Its senior leadership is now scrambling to gain control of the helm of a vessel that is listing dangerously. By all portents, it looks as if it is set for a further three years of turbulent sailing unless its new leader does nothing short of the remarkable.
One would have thought the party would have done some serious soul searching after the 2008 election. It obviously didn’t – and is facing the consequences. The contenders for its leadership are all talking about rejigging the party’s appeal to make it look like a 21st century entity, to rebrand and reinvent itself to attract young New Zealanders and so on. But it just so happens that the men who are saying this belong to the jaded, old guard mind set.
The new leader of the party would have to show exemplary vision and creativity. One of the biggest challenges it faces is that the Green Party is already dangerously encroaching on its left of centre mind space. It is believed, with considerable justification, that thinking, younger voters abandoned Labour in droves in favour of the smarter, far more coherent and intelligent-sounding Greens.
The Greens have now emerged as a credible medium sized party, aggressively snapping at Labour’s share of votes. If it continues at this pace, which indications are it very well will, it will prove even more dangerous for Labour come 2014. Labour stands to lose even more of its well-educated constituents.
Labour, therefore, has not only the National Party to counter in the next elections – the Greens are an even bigger threat. What’s more, the Greens are on a roll, being the first minor party to garner more than 10 per cent of the vote in a New Zealand MMP election.
Contrasting with the Labour leadership’s brusqueness, seeming unwillingness to listen and come up with unintelligent, alarmist and unconvincing messages, the Greens have shown an uncanny capability to manage contradictions in the interests of the country. The success of the healthy homes insulation policy it put together with National is a case in point. Labour has never demonstrated that spirit of cooperation in the larger interest.
Labour’s new leadership has a lot to learn from the young and intelligent twin leadership of the Green Party and their refreshing green tinged approach to almost everything they do. The new leader will have to come across as being more conciliatory than combative, a listener more than someone who is keen to talk down to and one who is respectful rather than someone who simply sniggers at a disagreeable point of view.
As part of its soul searching, Labour needs to overhaul the party through and through. It must weed out the deadwood and bring in inspired fresh blood by appealing to that very segment that is currently swayed by the “occupy” movement’s anti-establishment fervour.
But most of all, it must put all its strength behind a single leader and not send signals out every so often making the world wonder when he or she is going to be rolled – as was the case over the past three years. For, if the party itself shows little confidence in its leader, it simply cannot expect its supporters to do otherwise.
Just as it must analyse the reasons for the rise and rise of the Green Party, the Labour Party can possibly take a leaf out of the book of someone who has mastered the art and science of rising from the grave – Winston Peters.