Tuesday, July 31, 2012
A dying party
I am inclined to agree with Paul Little that we are, in his words, witnessing the long, slow and inevitable death of the Labour Party. There is nothing inherently tragic about this. Parties are formed, rise up, win power, lose it, fade away all the time. Exactly 100 years ago it might have seemed to New Zealand voters that the Liberal and Reform parties were the only games in town, so dominant were they; yet within 25 years both were history. The same fate would have befallen Labour sooner or later, whatever it did; but it seems to be happening sooner for one overwhelming reason: the party has never truly recovered from what it did to itself in the 1980s - a time of political betrayal, I'd suggest, pretty much unequalled among Western democracies. Something broke in Labour then, and although it kept going out of sheer historical momentum, even winning power again under the wily Helen Clark, it feels more and more, with every passing month, as though it's running on empty now. No matter how it flossies itself up and piles on the pancake make-up, it can't conceal that, essentially, it no longer has a clear core of political philosophy. In the immediacy of the daily grind of politics that might not seem to matter much but in the long run it begins to tell with voters. A party has to stand for something distinctive and different; and Labour these days is at best National-lite. Even so, it could have gone on for quite a while yet as 'one of the two main parties,' so long as a credible alternative didn't arise. That, as Little says, has now happened with the emergence of the Greens as a real political force. Whatever you think of the Greens, it can't be denied that they have a clear core of political philosophy - and one much more in tune with the times than Labour's blurry jumble. Everything points to the Greens gradually supplanting Labour as National's major rival, either by subsuming it, merging with it or simply overtaking it poll by poll in voters' affections. It could even happen relatively suddenly, if there were another global or national crisis, or Labour did something seriously stupid. The Greens won't last forever either; probably in time their name will come to seem as much of an anachronism as Labour's is now. But for the moment, and for the first half of this century anyway, they have a following wind; and Labour has run out of puff.
Posted by Denis Welch at Tuesday, July 31, 2012