Thursday, May 16, 2024

Peter Dunne: The contest for the future heart and soul of the Labour Party

It is no coincidence that two Labour should-have-been MPs are making the most noise about public sector cuts. As assistant general secretary of the Public Service Association, Fleur Fitzsimons has been at the forefront of revealing where the next round of state sector job cuts is occurring, and in his role with the E Tu union Michael Wood has fronted the campaign for redress for TVNZ staff laid off in the recent programme cancellations.

Fitzsimons will be remembered as the Labour candidate who unexpectedly lost the hitherto safe seat of Rongotai to the Greens' Julie-Anne Genter at the last election. At the same election, after a series of self-inflicted mishaps that led earlier to his Ministerial resignation, Wood was tossed out of the Labour stronghold of Mount Roskill by National's Dr Carlos Cheung. This was only the second time since 1957 that Labour had failed to win the Mount Roskill electorate.

Both Fitzsimons (a former Wellington City Councillor) and Wood seem keen to resume their thwarted political careers. Their good fortune is to now be in positions where they can promote their political profiles and attack the National/ACT/New Zealand First coalition government at the same time. Both are doing so with shameless vigour. In addition, Wood has also become a member of Labour's powerful Policy Council, so is already in a strong backroom position to influence Labour's future policy direction, alongside another Parliamentary wannabe, Council of Trade Unions' economist Craig Renney, who reportedly fancies himself as the next Labour Minister of Finance.

However, Labour, like most parties, does not have a good record when it comes to political forgiveness, so despite their current very public penance Fitzsimons and Wood may struggle to secure immediate redemption before the next candidate selection round. Political parties have long memories when it comes to electoral failures, especially if that failure contributed to the defeat of a government. This may be especially so in Wood’s case where it has been reported that Labour’s internal polls recorded a critical 4% drop in its support after his repeated failures to disclose various personal shareholdings were revealed.

But even if they are to be selected again, neither Fitzsimons nor Wood face a certain route to Parliament. Fitzsimons’ defeat at the hands of Genter was part of the Green wave which washed over Wellington at the last election and shows no signs of abating, Genter’s recent public behaviour embarrassments notwithstanding. While Wood’s conduct failings as a Minister played a large part in his electoral demise, a significant underlying factor in his loss of the Mount Roskill seat was that just under 50% of that electorate now identify as Asian, hence their attraction to Cheung. As that trend intensifies, Wood will increasingly appear the pale, stale, odd-male-out in that electorate.

But behind this, a bigger picture is playing out. After the last election, there were few who expected Hipkins to stick around as Labour leader for very long. The conventional wisdom was that he, like most former Labour and National Prime Ministers, would find the return to Opposition tedious and soul-destroying and would quickly move on to greener pastures elsewhere. That may still prove the case for Hipkins, but so far, he has shown no signs of doing so, and indeed looks to be increasingly relishing his role as Opposition leader. In any case, no credible potential challenger to his leadership has yet emerged, nor seems likely to, given the talent in Labour’s current ranks. The likelihood that Hipkins will lead Labour into the next election is therefore increasing.

Hipkins is innately prudent, cautious and pragmatic, very much in the Helen Clark mould. His immediately circumspect reaction to the government’s revival of charter schools is an example. While some of his colleagues fulminated against the plan, Hipkins pointed out that the nature of the contracts to be concluded with the new charter schools would ultimately determine whether a future Labour government would be able to abolish them, as they might wish.

But Fitzsimons, Wood, and Renney are distinctly more left-wing and doctrinaire, so may find Hipkins lukewarm about their becoming part of his line-up for the next election. (This may be especially so in Wood’s case, given Hipkins’ interaction when Prime Minister with him over the shares disclosure issue.) For his part, Hipkins seems anxious to portray Labour as credible, compassionate, progressive, inclusive and fiscally responsible – not a bunch of wide-eyed ideological enthusiasts ready to cut loose on New Zealand society.

The crunch point for Labour, Hipkins, and the current wannabes will be the outcome of Labour’s internal policy review. A pragmatic result, building on the perceived gains of the last Labour-led government, will be a positive boost for Hipkins and his leadership, which in turn should be reflected in the type of candidates selected for the next election. However, a significant shift to the left in areas like economic management, taxation and industrial relations, while potentially beneficial for the likes of Fitzsimons, Wood and Renney, could create real problems for Hipkins’ ongoing leadership, which, given the talent within Labour’s current Parliamentary ranks, are unlikely to be resolved by the time of the next election.

So, the public positions now being taken by Fitzsimons and Wood are not just about their carrying out professionally and properly the responsibilities assigned to them by their current employers. Nor are they just about helping promote their personal political agendas, although that is certainly a factor. Rather, they are part of the deeper contest for the future heart and soul of the Labour Party.

Peter Dunne, a retired Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, who represented Labour and United Future for over 30 years, blogs here: - Where this article was sourced.


Valid Point said...

This article is interesting, but it misses the key point that both Woods and Fitzsimmons were ineffectual as MPs and, in Woods's case, Minister of the Crown. The fact that neither of them progressed in their careers after the last Election but went back to non-productive roles speaks volumes for their abilities.
Two case studies for the Peter Principle perhaps.

DeeM said...

"Heart and soul of the Labour Party..."
That was destroyed during Ardern's tenure, wasn't it? Now they're just an empty woke vessel drifting around looking for the next crazy Left policy to hitch onto.
As for Michael "river of filth" Wood, if that's the best they can do then they really are whucked.

Although, never underestimate the NZ voting public's enigmatic capability to re-elect the same useless bunch of racists we just got rid off.

Ken S said...

Seriously, if these clowns are the best Labour has to offer as a potential leader it just adds to my belief that the next Labour PM hasn't been born yet.

Anonymous said...

“Heart and soul of the Labour Party” - they’ve no heart and their souls are all dead. How else could they have voted in favour of legislation that allows people to kill themselves and vulnerable others with drugs used to kill death row inmates and to murder unborn children until birth with no life saving measures for infants that survive the attenpyed murder? Their souls are pitch black and the only place they can lead the country is to hell. Which is where they’ll be going if they don’t repent.