Before I can lay down a challenge to Andrew Little, for the ultimate aim of winning the 2017 election, I want to challenge Labour itself and the party faithful. In times of renewal, it is not only the leader that has to change. It is the attitude. Since the rise and popularisation of John Key, which can be traced back to 2007, a negative mentality has gripped the Labour Party. The party faithful has adopted a unsettling itch, in that it believes it cannot settle on any one leader. Indeed, some even propose the re-installation of former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
We must change our mentality. We have to stop telling ourselves we are going to do poorly, or we will do poorly. We will do poorly again and again and again and again. It doesn’t have to stop anywhere.
Labour needs to be a party that looks like it is ready for government. It needs to prove to New Zealanders that it has changed. It needs to be the party of reform inside and outside of government.
The really tough decisions must be made now. It’s time for a new generation of leadership to grace the front bench. New Zealanders want to see new faces, new ideas and new Labour Party. There’s no secret about who these senior Labour MPs are. Trevor Mallard (MP from 1984-1990, 1993-present), Clayton Cosgrove (1999-present), Annette King (1984-1990, 1993-present), Phil Goff (1981-1990, 1993-present). No one doubts these MPs are very hardworking. No one wouldn’t thank them for their staunch service to the people of New Zealand. But if Labour is to win in 2017 it needs a fresh face, not a reminder of the Lange/Palmer and Clark governments.
Conveniently Andrew Little resides in Annette King’s electorate of Rongotai, in the up-market seaside suburb of Island Bay. Traditionally working class, this area has been staunchly Labour since the rise of the first Labour government in 1935.
One of the big arguments against Andrew Little becoming leader is that he ‘didn’t win over New Plymouth, how is he going to win over New Zealand?’. If Andrew Little were to take this step, and become the next MP for Rongotai, the argument would largely evaporate. By-elections tend to be very favourable for Labour, and a strong showing for Andrew Little would bolster confidence. Taking Andrew Little off the list and into the position of Rongotai MP would leave a position on the list for a new MP to enter parliament – perhaps even the well-liked Tamati Coffey.
Similar by-elections in Mount Roskill and Hutt South, both hypothetically being won by Labour, would both increase public confidence that Labour can win elections and that it is refreshing.
Labour, in recent times, has done pretty well when it comes to by-elections. In 2009 David Shearer trounced Melissa Lee to win by 63.4% vs 16.9%. Similarly in Christchurch East, 2013, Poto Williams thrashed Matthew Doocey by 61.3% to 26.0%.
Two or more by-election wins of the same magnitude, followed by new MPs from the list and consistences would be a positive thing for Labour.
The front bench must look new. Well-performing MPs of a good variety must take top positions. Stuart Nash would be a fine fit for finances, as he acted as a sidekick for Phil Goff and David Cunliffe when the ‘Stop Asset Sales’ program was launched before the 2011 election. Jacinda Ardern, a passionate and popular deputy. Grant Robertson, a young and loud shadow leader of the house. Carmel Sepuloni, an easy-to-like rising star should also be considered for top jobs. Phil Twyford, both fairly new and passionate, should retain his role in housing and Auckland issues.
Labour must make it’s big decisions now. Andrew Little, known for his toughness and lack of subtlety, is the perfect candidate to take these bold actions.
B. Morgan, 2014.