Labour's non-Stalinist conflict

23:56, Dec 07 2009

The first poll to have covered any of Labour leader Phil Goff's nationhood speech is out, and Labour is down 2.5 points.

I should say right upfront that the Roy Morgan poll closed three days after Goff's speech on November 26, and therefore only caught the tail end of responses. It's also a small-ish sample size and can be a bit flaky occasionally.

So there's no need for Labour to panic just yet. It must wait until this weekend for a better snapshot of the public mood, when TV3 releases its next poll, which takes in the whole period of Goff's speech and its aftermath.

Anyhow, the Roy Morgan poll has National up 2 to 53.5, Labour down 2.5 to 30.5, the Greens up 0.5 to 7, ACT down one to 1.5, and the Maori Party up 1.5 to 3.5.

Working on the theory that virtually any publicity is good publicity, then the whole Hone Harawira saga doesn't seem to have done the Maori Party any harm at all.

The first poll to have covered any of Labour leader Phil Goff's nationhood speech is out, and Labour is down 2.5 points.

I should say right upfront that the Roy Morgan poll closed three days after Goff's speech on November 26, and therefore only caught the tail end of responses. It's also a small-ish sample size and can be a bit flaky occasionally.

So there's no need for Labour to panic just yet. It must wait until this weekend for a better snapshot of the public mood, when TV3 releases its next poll, which takes in the whole period of Goff's speech and its aftermath.

Anyhow, the Roy Morgan poll has National up 2 to 53.5, Labour down 2.5 to 30.5, the Greens up 0.5 to 7, ACT down one to 1.5, and the Maori Party up 1.5 to 3.5.

Working on the theory that virtually any publicity is good publicity, then the whole Hone Harawira saga doesn't seem to have done the Maori Party any harm at all.

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National will also be pleased that its poll rating continues virtually unchanged. The Morgan poll backs up what I've been hearing from overnight tracking polls done by the two major parties.

Labour held its first caucus meeting since Goff's speech this morning, and on his way in Goff was flanked by Labour's president Andrew Little in the traditional show of support for a leader under fire.

What I found interesting was that neither Goff nor Little tried to deny that there had been discontent within the party over the speech - they simply used the usual political euphemisms such as "robust debate'' and the intriguing comment that "the Labour Party is not a Stalinist organisation''.

That's normally code for "lots of people are unhappy''.

I also thought Goff was a little too voluble in his own defence, rather than dismissive of the media stories about unhappiness over the direction he is taking the party, which tends to give them a bit more credibility.

There is a theory in Parliament that perhaps Goff and his strategists cooked this whole leadership story up simply to make sure Goff got some headlines, and then looked strong when he stared down his detractors.

That's probably a little far-fetched, because such a plan is high-risk - especially if there really are opponents of Goff in the party who might use such an opportunity to destabilise him.

Also, as Goff well knows, leadership stories tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and once the rumours start it's virtually impossible to stop them.

Ironically while Goff claims Labour is not "Stalinist'' and has always vigorously debated issues, that actually isn't true. It didn't debate very much at all when Helen Clark was in charge, and that's why Labour was so successful.

I've no doubt the party is probably a more relaxed and even pleasant place to be now that Clark and her iron-fisted rule have gone, but the free flow of debate and opinion can always be interpreted the wrong way if one isn't careful.

That's all I think has happened with Goff's speech - at least, so far. No one is going to use this to challenge the leader, partly because no one else wants the job right now and partly because there are so many people in that caucus who think they are next in line that they'd never get any agreement on a candidate to replace him.

But the whole thing is a salutary reminder for Phil Goff that if he does want to take Labour to the political Right, as he seems to want to do, he is going to have a fight on his hands.

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