Which election is Labour trying to win?

Last Monday when interviewed by Kathryn Ryan, Labour leader David Cunliffe said:

“We all know the Government is going to change. It’s either going to change this time or next time. I think it’s more likely to change this time, and if it does, the question in front of New Zealanders is what is the composition of that new government going to be?”

For a leader to suggest he’s focussed on anything other than a win in the next election is unusual.

Could it be that he has a two-election strategy, to increase Labour’s vote at the expense of the Green Party this year in the hope that will give him a really strong foundation to win the election in 2017?

His interview on The Nation adds to that suspicion:

• Cunliffe refuses to guarantee the Greens’ place in Labour-led government – “that depends on how the voters decide.”
• Withdraws promise by previous Labour leader David Shearer that Greens will get a proportionate share of Cabinet seats – “we’re different roosters, I’m not doing it that way” – and won’t discuss coalition deals before election.

How the voters decide is the sort of game-playing Winston Peters indulges in.

Giving voters a good indication of what sort of government their votes might result in gives them the power. This shilly-shallying leaves the power with the parties.

But Cunliffe is firing a warning shot across the Green’s bow on purpose.

Voters in the centre aren’t keen on the radical left policies of the Green Party and many would prefer a strong National-led government than a weak Labour-led one beholden to the Greens.

All polls put National well ahead of Labour which would need Green support to govern, and probably some of the other minor players as well.

If Cunliffe could suck votes from the Greens on its left flank it wouldn’t increase the left-bloc but would make Labour stronger.

The swapping of votes within the left wouldn’t be enough to win this election.

But a stronger Labour Party would have a much better chance in the next one if it relegated the Green Party to a very distant third and therefore a much more minor player in government that it would be on current polling.

The trick for Cunliffe would be to lose but not so badly that he’d be deposed as leader.

That would be a delicate balancing act at the best of times and will be even more difficult if the ABC –  Anyone But Cunliffe – decide they’d prefer a big loss and the chance of a new leader.

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