David Cunliffe is the “unifier of the left”?

Following the Green Party’s passive-aggressive attack on Labour via its proposal to form a “Labour/Greens” campaign coalition, one of the more bizarre attempts at spinning Labour’s point blank refusal came from Martyn Bradbury over at the Daily Blog. Mr Bradbury’s post is so curious that it deserves a paragraph by paragraph commentary:

One of the great ironies of this campaign could be Cunliffe using a unifier of the left strategy. An irony because so many in his own caucus aren’t unified under him.

Maybe because of that, Cunliffe has had to become an MMP Jedi Master. By walking away from the ‘Labour-Green Government’ language, as breathlessly reported by Audrey, and opting for ‘Labour led Government’, Cunliffe has expanded the opposition base from which his Government can source a parliamentary majority.

It’s difficult to know quite where to start with this. “[E]xpanded the opposition base”? What utter rubbish. Since David Cunliffe took over the leadership of the Labour party, the polls have repeatedly shown a Labour/Greens power bloc as being short of being able to govern; often, well short. In every poll, the very minimum coalition needed has been every Parliamentary party on the left (Labour + Greens + Mana), in addition to the Maori party transferring support to Labour, and NZ First getting back over the 5% line and siding with the left. By ruling out the Greens’ proposal, all Cunliffe has done is maintained the status quo – Labour is going to need everyone.

Cunliffe was elected as Leader with a huge mandate from the Left of the Party. Watching David build a unified Left would appeal to those who helped him get elected and keep faith with them at the same time. 

That’s all very well, but Cunliffe isn’t even remotely trying to “build a unified Left”. His language has been about Labour building its share of the vote – and whether that’s at the expense of the parties to the left of Labour, then so be it. (Hell, his leadership of Labour depends on him growing Labour’s share of the vote.) Let’s be clear: there is no unified left. Labour doesn’t trust the Greens. The Greens want to supplant Labour as the dominant party of the left. And everyone finds Mana to be a minor annoyance – an annoyance that once had principles, but has now sunk to the level of everybody else.

(Focussing on Labour v Mana, Kelvin Davis is of course standing again for Labour against Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau. If Cunliffe’s going to be building “a unified Left”, then no one told Mr Davis’ campaign manager, Kaye Taylor:

 “Look at Hone’s history. He’s had the visit to the great leader Nelson Mandela’s funeral and walked with Aborigines in Australia. But that’s not who votes him in. In past elections we played the nice opposition and haven’t said anything about his past record. Now enough is enough. We need someone who can do the hard yards.”)

Back to Martyn Bradbury:

Currently we have a coalition of the less than thrilling comprised of National, ACT, United Future and the Maori Party. Labour led would be Labour, Green, NZ First with a support arrangement from MANA. Key can’t operate a multi-headed arrangement and then damn Cunliffe for doing the same.

The problem is that we still haven’t had a poll this year showing the apparently more thrilling coalition of Labour, the Greens, NZ First and Mana actually being able to govern. They’ve always still needed the Maori Party, although I will accept that it only takes a small swing in the polls for Bradbury’s coalition to make it over the line.

The issue I have is that of voter perception of stability. Labour needs to persuade swing voters that they should abandon National and its current coalition, which has been remarkably stable for almost six years (despite the occasional minor hiccup, such as Peter Dunne being temporarily removed as a minister). Against that, voters are looking at a left wing grouping of parties that seem determined to rip each other to pieces, with the the most recent example being (of course) the Greens’ leaking of their failed proposal to Labour, and Cunliffe’s fairly contemptuous public responses to the Greens.

By unifying the opposition, Cunliffe generates the momentum and energy of a collective of volunteers and members and with Matt McCarten’s strong relationship with the other parties maintaing open lines of communication, this strategy could be the best opportunity at removing National from office.

To generate momentum and energy among the left’s activists, the unification of the left has to come before the election. It’s a wee bit too late afterwards. And currently, Labour and the Greens seem to have declared a war for the left-wing vote…

How the Greens react to what they see as a reducing of their relationship is the issue now. What is most absurd about the msm headlines that are screaming Labour have walked away from the Greens is that by insisting on Labour led Government as the language to use rather than Labour Green Government, Labour are showing they have a real means of becoming Government because they are including NZ First and MANA into that language for the first time. This is great news for those who want to kick John Key out of office. 

The likely culprit for the leaking of the Greens’ “campaign coalition” proposal to the media is the Greens. Let’s face it, the Greens are doing what they need to do in order to maximise the number of MPs they get come election day – they’re getting as much publicity as they can and trying to present themselves as an opposition party on a par with Labour. They’re trying to steal Labour voters.

The question for Labour is whether it tries to fight the Greens on the left or whether it goes for National on the right. Bradbury wants it both ways. He wants Labour to be moving left (which will definitely trigger a battle with the Greens), but he wants (and indeed needs) swing voters to move from National to Labour (which won’t happen if Labour moves left). Unless he’s running with the “missing millions” strategy, in which case, good luck to him

Now is not the time for the Greens to get angry. Now is the time for them to do what they claim to be best at, building relationships. Met, Russel and Andrew should be meeting David, Matt, Hone and Winston far more often than they currently are. 

Cunliffe can only become PM by unifying the opposition and the Greens are a major part of that opposition and right now they need to be working out how best to approach Winston so that they can uphold their side of the responsibilities of being such a major part of that opposition.

The Greens meeting with Winston Peters? Hmm, good luck with that. Peters doesn’t trust the Greens and more than the Greens trust Peters. Neither will meet for the simple reason that they won’t trust the other not to leak the contents of any meeting to the media for personal gain.

When the Greens proposed to Labour that they work out a strategy together for dealing with NZ First, it was because Peters scares the hell out of the Greens. They know he despises them and would love to shut them out of ministerial roles, just as he’s done in the past. There will be no dialogue between them…

There is a Government in waiting, Cunliffe has identified it, now the leaders of the opposition have to lead and forge dialogue between one another or John Key gets a third term and we all end up sitting on our hands for another 3 years.

Sorry, Mr Bradbury, there isn’t a government in waiting. A government in waiting needs cohesion, and I doubt many voters see much  of that from the left at present. The possibility of the parties of the left reaching some sort of pre-election day accommodation is certainly not the same thing as an accommodation actually existing in the now.

However, Bradbury is entirely correct that the leaders of the opposition have to “forge dialogue” or face three more years in opposition. Note his language though – not “Leader of the opposition”, but “Leaders of the opposition”. If David Cunliffe is the prospective unifier of the left, there can be only one leader of the opposition…

The Left has to ask itself, do we want to Govern or do we want to just fight?

Indeed.

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