26 Oct 2014

Insight for 26 October 2014 - Turning Labour Around

From Insight, 8:12 am on 26 October 2014

Labour supporters looking for charismatic leader

Labour supporters still seem to be clamouring for the days of Helen Clark and strong leadership.

Insight has been exploring how Labour can turn its support around and gathering thoughts from voters about what's going wrong.

Shopper looking over vegetables at Otara Market in South Auckland

Labour supporters at Otara Market want the party to get its act together. Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

It's mid-morning and the queue of traffic leading into the Otara market backs up on to the main street.  Every Saturday a tent city pops up with rows of stalls - fruit and vegetable stands, small booths selling clothing, carpet and bric-a-brac.  Caravans selling hot chips, burgers and roti sit on the edges. With the hum from food trucks, shop keepers touting for business, music blaring and people milling around, it's noisy and busy.

This is Labour's heartland.

Labour won the party vote in three of its five seats in South Auckland - Mangere, Manukau East and Manurewa - as well as those in Kelston and Dunedin North.

Many of the shoppers here are likely to have voted for a Labour MP, if not the party.

One of those says he voted Labour because

"National is selling off state housing as fast as it can go and we need more housing for the students I used to teach.  Big groups of them in their houses. They're there because they can't afford anywhere else to live and it makes life difficult for everybody."

"The island people, they just need cheaper things, " another says.

A man says he voted Labour because of the young ones in Manukau East. "You see them on the road wiping motorcar screens and that. They shouldn't be there, they should be given an opportunity to go through studies and get jobs - that's why I put my vote for Labour."

But another shopper says he didn't vote Labour because "they seem weak".

Auckland's Avondale Market creates a tent city on a bright sunny day

Auckland's Avondale Market creates a tent city Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

Across town in Auckland's west, the Avondale markets are a weekly fixture on Sundays at the local racecourse.

David Cunliffe, the local MP, won a 5000 majority, but lost the party vote to National.

Socks pilled up on long trestle at stall at Auckland's Avondale Market

Sock stall at Auckland's Avondale Market Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

Voters at the market weren't convinced by his leadership.

"I don't think he had much of a presence," one says.

"Although he presented very well against John Key, I think Labour is traditionally working people and I don't know if he came over necessarily in that," another says.

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Mark Gosche

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Mark Gosche Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

Former Labour Cabinet Minister Mark Gosche, who now works with Pasifika people in Auckland, says the election result shows support from core Labour voters is still there, but it needs to appeal to a wider audience.

He says the party hasn't recognised the needs of the baby boomer generation, who hold a lot of sway at the voting booth.  And he says policies like raising the age of retirement and introducing a capital gains tax didn't appeal to them.

Labour MP and former leader David Shearer has voiced similar concerns, saying the party needs to connect with middle New Zealand - office workers, contractors and tradespeople.

"It's a centre left party, it needs to be broad. What I'm seeing is and what I know from the past three elections is that the middle has moved away from us, so the people in the $60,000 to $160,000 household group have diminished."

But the head of the Council of Trade Unions, Helen Kelly, says Labour shouldn't be differentiating between blue collar workers and contractors.

"Lots of white men and contractors are struggling day to day and are not "middle".  Actually they are going to work, being fingerprinted, being pushed, being hurt are being underpaid ... and actually they have as much in common with a Pacific Island cleaner at Wellington Hospital."

She says she doesn't think Mr Shearer understands the needs of workers and accuses him of making up the examples he gives.

Plate stall at the market

Plate stall at the market Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

At the Otara markets, shoppers agree that the party is in disarray.

This is one woman's view:

"I think there's too many hard-heads there. They're not really a team. They want the same thing, but they want it their own individual way."

This market-goer wants clarity: "We don't know what's going on, they need to sort themselves out really," .
 
There is a feeling amongst Labour supporters that strong leadership is lacking, with one shopper suggesting that the politicians need to "pull up their socks". 

"We need something like the Helen Clark. Someone like Helen Clark - she's a strong lady, the iron lady. There's no one that can beat her, but we're waiting for that person to come, to level with her, then we are on again, " a woman says.

Those sentiments are echoed by another shopper.  "I would like to see someone as strong as Helen Clark or David Lange back again. I can't see anyone there at the moment - and it distresses me a little."   

Former party president Jim Anderton says Labour needs to look at what has worked and ask why.

"There are a number of Labour MPs that have very strong organisations and very powerful support and very good community contacts. Now ask those people how they are working and emulate it in the next door neighbour electorate and outwards from there."

He says there's no miracle to finding a solution and it's not a question of just waving a wand.

Kumara with from Dargaville sign piled high behind stall with pots and pans etc

Kumara and household goods on sale Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

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