David Shearer is both right and wrong about trying to position as a centre party. But it depends on the outcome he wants to produce. If it’s simply a win for Labour and maintaining the status quo then sure, embed in that centre space that is entirely indefinable.
If what Labour wants is to achieve an attitudinal shift in social outlook i.e. progressive governance, then that goes beyond simply crafting policy and narratives that appeal to new wave of blue voters.
Much of the post-election commentary has centred on the apparently shocking result in Christchurch. National’s triumph over Labour. Prior to the election, most people thought the electorates would return to Labour given the abysmal efforts with respect to the Rebuild. It is easy to make those kinds of assumptions when living outside Christchurch, and probably also easy if you associate predominantly with like-minded people.
National MP’s claim the victory is the result of the strong leadership and great ground made with regard to the rebuild. If you’ve not been to Christchurch recently, you should know that there is currently not a CBD, well, maybe there is a shadow of a CBD. There are still ongoing road works, houses in need of repair or demolishing and the ongoing stress of those whose homes and claims have been forgotten.
Some commentators suggest National’s victory is not an endorsement of any kind in respect of the rebuild but instead a fear of the unknown through a policy re-frame which could potentially cause unwanted setbacks.
I imagine these are wholly relevant factors, however, overlooked in the analysis is that the vote share might also reflect a rejection of the Labour Party’s social outlook.
A Labour-Green government in the language of blue voters represents special treatment for Maahries, Islanders, gays, beneficiaries, and wimmin.
It’s easy to pretend NZ is progressive because we were the first to grant women the right to vote back in the 1890’s or that time in the 1980’s when we established NZ as a nuclear free zone in contravention of an agreement between big powers like the US and Australia, thereby asserting our independence. Oh and more recently, how we passed a Marriage Equality law showing how tolerant we are as a nation. That we can probably count our progressive moments in NZ’s political history on one maybe two hands suggests there is a deep denial about the state of NZ’s political system.
In any workplace, people are still demonising the poor and stereotyping along ethnic, nationality, race, religious lines. People are still degrading women, reviling LGBTQIA people, mocking the disabled while simultaneously claiming they are not poor hating, beneficiary bashing, racist, sexist, homophobic, trans-phobic, ableists. How dare you! They cry. THEY are tolerant because they have a friend or friends that belong to one or more of the marginalised groups they are attacking.
On the topic of workplace, we see another shift too: the stigmatising of the worker as unskilled, uneducated individuals deserving of the minimal pay they get because they had choices and chose poorly. This shift also played into National’s favour – why?
Because middle NZ are status chasers: they work in “respectable” roles as team leaders, managers, co-ordinators, secretaries, salespersons etc. Essentially middle NZ have traded their overalls for corporate attire and discarded the workers label because nah uh, they aren’t “lowly” workers, they are professionals. In this skewed worldview, professionals are taxpayers while workers are bottom of the pond scum – the “types” that vote for Labour, Greens, MANA.
So you see Labour, you can take the centre ground and dissociate from the left and sure, you’ll probably be able to turn blue votes back into red ones. But, what you’ll also do, is further intensify the marginalisation of our most vulnerable groups in society.
The Labour Party is supposed to represent ‘labour’ i.e. the workers – whether they are in factories, or in offices or shops in the middle of town. It’s not just about converting blue votes into red by appeasing the professionals. It’s about popping their status bubble and reminding them they are the worker, and that National’s interests groups – business and agriculture are still working against labour, i.e. them the workers.