Labour needs some focus

Last updated 11:53 22/07/2009

Labour needs some focus. That much is becoming abundantly clear as this new parliamentary session swings into gear. (Update below.)

After both sides slumbered through the two-week recess, I was expecting the Opposition to come out all guns blazing on Monday. But most of the shooting seemed to be straight into Phil Goff's foot.

The embarrassing U-turn Goff had to make over the payment of the dole to high-income earners yesterday encapsulated Labour's indecision at the moment over exactly what it is it stands for.

Eyebrows were raised during the last week of the election campaign when Labour came out with the idea of paying everyone who lost their job the dole, no matter how much their partners earned, while National offered a much more targeted scheme.

It was lost in the melee of the final few days, and God only knows why Goff and Annette King thought it a good idea to resurrect it. There can't be much mileage among its core supporters for offering to take the tax dollars of Kiwi battlers and give it to the spouses or partners of those on big salaries.

Presumably the idea was to put some heat on the Government over unemployment, but it backfired badly. Instead of putting John Key, Bill English, and Paula Bennett on the back foot in the House, Labour endured a kicking as the Nats hooted their way through Question Time over Goff's flip-flop.

Meanwhile, Labour is proposing a banking inquiry in conjunction with the Greens and the Progressive. It's the inquiry when you're not having an inquiry, however, since the Government has already blocked a real one from taking place. It's kind of like having a party with your friends in your bedroom after your parents refuse to allow you to invite the neighbourhood round for a proper shindig.

An unofficial inquiry has no status, no ability to call witnesses or other evidence, and frankly, no point. National, ACT, and the Maori Party will almost certainly boycott it. I'd be staggered if any of the big banks turn up. And ironically the heat has started to go out of the issue anyway.

It's doubtful the public's number one concern at the moment is interest rates. The housing market seems to have settled and may even be inching up again. The time for a banking inquiry was three months ago, not now.

Labour's also attacking the appointment of former National leader Don Brash to the new productivity taskforce, calling him a stalking horse for privatisation. Goff says it will lead to a renewal of ideas soundly rejected at the 2005 election.

Actually, as Key pointed out in the House yesterday, National wasn't "soundly rejected'' at the 05 election - it only lost by the narrowest of margins. And it was probably the Exclusive Brethren that spooked voters more than National's privatisation agenda.

Frankly, as Brash is so fond of saying, I'm interested in any ideas that might lift our productivity, wherever they may come from. I'm certainly not hearing any from Labour or National.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - Labour needs to work out what it stands for now. Maybe it's just me, but I can't quite work it out at the moment. It's front bench is a mixture of invisible men and egos looking for a platform.

Trevor Mallard just wants to cause trouble in the House with endless procedural points, David "I am Harvard'' Cunliffe is embarrassingly smug and twee, Goff is shooting all over the place, and Annette King is (surprisingly) losing the battle in the House against Paula Bennett, where the feisty Westie is more on top of her portfolio than she is given credit for. 

Parekura Horomia is invisible (no easy task for him), so is Chris Carter, and Clayton Cosgrove has been uncharacteristically quiet. Ruth Dyson and Maryan Street continue to plug away but - and no disrespect to either, they're both very nice people - I get the feeling at the moment that every time they open their mouths they remind the public of why they voted National last year.

Labour badly, desperately, urgently needs to promote some fresh talent. Jacinda Ardern, Stuart Nash, Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford, and David Shearer. Then it needs to work as a team.

The current lot are making the Government look good. And it isn't that good. 

UPDATE: Goff had another terrible day in Parliament today after the case of poor old Bruce Burgess, a constituent in John Key's electorate no less, who having worked hard all his life now couldn't get any assistance from the state after losing his job.

Labour shopped the story to the Herald this morning, which ran it without question. Trouble was, poor old Bruce owns two rental properties besides his lifestyle block in a leafy part of Helensville - in other words, he has assets of at least a million dollars. Now, that doesn't mean he isn't suffering, but that wasn't the picture presented to the public by Goff or the Herald this morning.

Also, according to the Government, Bruce is eligible for $92 a week state assistance - something that wasn't pointed out earlier either.

Once again, an issue that should have run in Labour's favour ended up backfiring badly.


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Sailor Sam   #1   12:05 pm Jul 22 2009

What Labour clearly needs is a change in leadership. Phil Goff and Annette King are so yesterday. The country has moved on and Labour is being left behind. Having leaders still attached to the Helen Clark era and philosophies is a millstone around Labours neck, John key must be hoping that it will stay there for a long time. Phil Goff is a political lightweight. He is only there because of good attendance over the years in support of Helen Clark. And that is the problem, Labour would like her back in charge, but she ain't coming back! They need fresh leadership, Shearer may just be the man, after all he inherited Helen Clark's old seat, he may as well get her old job as Labour party leader.

richard   #2   12:29 pm Jul 22 2009


Your blogs are always a good read. But I notice your regular swipes at MPs for taking time off during recess. Your argument would hold more water if yourself and your press gallery colleagues were likewise not awol during these periods.

Sheelagh   #3   12:29 pm Jul 22 2009

I don't think we can give Mr Goff all the blame. The Labour Party has admitted it didn't listen to the people.They were like over indulgent parents trying to win their children's love ,not with time,unselfishness and honesty,but with money.Doesn't work,so perhaps they should learn to try a different approach and stop blaming others for their failings.

Cullen's Sidekick. What's happened to your master ? He and his Dear leader should take some of this responsibility rather than leave their fledgling, Mr Goff to flounder.

Tom Gould   #4   12:46 pm Jul 22 2009

Phil Goff was indeed a capable Minister, but I can't help getting the feeling that there is a lack of drive and hunger for sucess from the leadership which is being masked by the sheer talent in the team, especially the newer and younger members. Maybe the top dogs have simply been Ministers too long and are incapable of transitioning to opposition? If someone asked me today for a good reason to vote for Labour, other than they are not National, then I would seriously struggle to give them an answer that would stack up.

Brett   #5   12:55 pm Jul 22 2009

Great commentary Colin. Its patently obvious that Clark and Cullen were the glue that held the Labour Party and Govt together and without them, they're impotent both in the House and out in the electorate. Until they find some half decent leadership they will be an opposition in name only. Any correspondents to this worthy medium who think they present any threat to the Govt in 2011 would have to admit Goff needs to be Gonn before Labour can be taken seriously.

Christie   #6   12:58 pm Jul 22 2009

Yes - I think Helen Clark had too strong a grip on power, and failed to groom a successor - and Goff is worse off for this. Also, Labour does need to reinvent itself - it needs the new members to rise up through the party ranks and take over the leadership. But these things take time. I have a lot of sympathy with Goff, as he is a capable minister, and has a more centrist approach, which would probably appeal to many voters. But it is too late for him now.

eddie   #7   12:59 pm Jul 22 2009

With 2 and a half years till next election I don't think there is any need to panic from Labours point, but a political party is like a steam train in respect to gaining momentum...start off slow and as speed builds it's on a roll and with that comes support/votes, as it stands the labour steam train is still sitting in the same platform that Helen left it after the defeat....wheel slowly spinning, but no forward momentum.

Keep Goff I say and King...they are Nationals best asset for a 2011 victory.

How long do you suppose the Labour cabinet will wait before the knifes come out and Goff/King are usurped?...end of the year, if no political gains are seen to have been made?

PS You'll cop it from Jennifer Colin, guess you knew that, you have written a piece that is critical of Labour...once again you are a 'hack'... :)

BK   #8   01:08 pm Jul 22 2009

The labour party seem a little rudderless at the moment. All that they seem to be saying at the moment is privatisation, privatisation over and over like a parrot or sorry the previous leadership was wrong. They need to take the bull by the horns and suggest viable solutions to the countries problems. Not just pie in the sky.

Richard Hurst   #9   01:17 pm Jul 22 2009

Clearly Colin you are in the pay of the NACT big money backers. Oh Yes! And the color on your blog title is Blue! HA! Deny it I dare you! And your a white male! Ha! Evidence enough by itself! Your nothing but a Hack! Yes, a hack I say!

Did I miss anything out Jennifer....?

Christie   #10   01:21 pm Jul 22 2009

Could it be that National has kept so many Labour policies that Labour has nothing to say? For a party that is supposed to be representing the working classes and lower income families, Goff's suggestion about the dole for all, regardless of family income, was a surprise. Or, is he working on the principal of - it doesn't matter what they are saying about you, so long as they are talking about you? He'll be suggesting the sale of Kiwibank next.

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