Labour's last-minute leader change: How did we get here?

5:59 pm on 1 August 2017

Opinion - Labour now needs to redefine itself by appealing to our best instincts as a country, Stephanie Rodgers writes.

Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party Leader addresses media at Parliament after Little stands down.

Jacinda Ardern at her first media conference as Labour leader. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

I was clearly wrong when I said on Morning Report yesterday that no one would be silly enough to cause a leadership change two months out from an election.

The only silver lining is that Andrew Little has done it himself; and neither Jacinda nor Kelvin can carry any of the blame for it.

But the prospects are bleak. There isn't much time. And everyone is saying we just have to look forward and pull together and keep the faith. It's true. Wallowing in misery doesn't help anyone.

But those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, and Labour has spent nearly a decade doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The prevailing myth of Labour Party strategy since Helen Clark has been that we (for I can't deny I am, indeed, a Labour Party Insider) must "look like a party ready to govern". And this has translated to buying into the proper, grown-up, governmental ways of doing things - promising endless reviews or well-costed schemes.

It doesn't inspire people. It doesn't feel like a real alternative. The proof of the pudding is in the polls.

It did not start with Andrew Little and the problem is not confined to Andrew Little.

I helped get him elected, and the leader I campaigned hard for was the man who said injustice stuck in his craw and he was not willing to stand by while the powerful oppressed the weak. We saw a glimpse of that man today as he announced his resignation. I think if we'd seen more of that man over the past two years, we wouldn't be here now.

It would be unparliamentary of me to mention Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn here, so I shall not, Mr Speaker. Instead look to the Greens as a counter example.

They got a tremendous boost this week, but they will sell themselves short if they don't see why that happened - not with high-minded rules around fiscal responsibility or rational numbers-based discussions about immigration, but with powerful, emotional truth from Metiria Turei that told a good chunk of the disaffected, here is a party that will not promise more anaesthetic: here is a party that will refuse to chop your leg off just because an economics textbook tells them to.

There is an opportunity here for Labour to redefine themselves and get the kind of resurgence that Don Brash achieved by dogwhistling to our worst instincts as a country - but they must do it by appealing to our best. That's what Labour is meant to do.

The strategies of triangulation, reaching for the mythical centre and pulling "soft National" votes is deeply entrenched in the Labour Party right now, and its advocates will be pushing hard to keep it that way.

They must be overcome, or Ardern/Davis are going to take the fall for another historic election defeat, and then the question is not who will want to take the reins, it's how many people will literally die on decade-long waiting lists and starvation wages in cold, damp houses until a viable progressive alternative can be rebuilt.

Stephanie Rodgers is a unionist, blogger and director of Piko Consulting. She tweets at @bootstheory.