It's Helen on Earth to get Labour right

08:00, Sep 03 2011

This week another rash of political polls confirmed the November 26 election will be about how big a slice of the total vote National will have. Labour is now polling on average around 30%.

How did it come to be in such a difficult position? A number of factors ensure it does not present itself as a viable alternative Government.

The first was the takeover of the Labour Party machine by Helen Clark supporters Margaret Wilson, Ruth Dyson and Maryann Street from 1991. The full takeover occurred in 1993 when Clark secured leadership of the Parliamentary Labour team. The control of any party or organisation by one leader ensures new talent will always find it hard to make ground.

Politics is the opposite of normal good practice, where you bring on merit and talent as a survival and succession method.

Consequently, the present Labour Party list is lacklustre and full of a number of very average performers stretching back to the ministerial positions some held under the David Lange regime.

Another factor which can solely be attributed to Clark and her lieutenants was the destruction of any overt, robust, healthy contest of ideas. Instead of debating a cohesive and comprehensive ideology that defined what modern Labour stood for and how it was going to advance and implement that, Clark saw this very necessary conversation as a challenge to her leadership. The notion of left and right-wing factions in the party was done away with.


The Labour Party was broken up into a number of interest groups, in effect powerful lobby groups that chose the lacklustre party list. The interest groups are the women's division, the gay division, the Pacific Island division, the Maori division – you get the picture.

The union movement, which was the foundation of the party, when smoko sheds up and down this country vibrated with political discussion, is now gone. The unionists within the party now help negotiate marginal changes and conditions.

They no longer have a rationale other than to be paid advisors for a bunch of employees.This all worked well in ensuring Clark maintained absolute authority.

But Labour now has a tremendous opportunity to renew, revitalise, and re-position. National was devastated in 2002 and had to renew. John Key is a product of that renewal, Labour leader Phil Goff is merely a byproduct.

Sunday News