Bryce Edwards: Labour’s refocus is working

Bryce Edwards: Labour’s refocus is working

Labour’s shift in focus is working. Under Jacinda Ardern they were a party and government focused on the voters and ideologies of liberal Grey Lynn and Wellington Central. Now under Prime Minister Chris Hipkins Labour has a laser-like focus directed at the working class politics of places like West Auckland and the Hutt Valley. That’s the pragmatic thinking behind the bold redirection of their policy priorities towards the cost-of-living crisis.

It’s paying off in the polls. Last night’s 1News Kantar poll showed Labour in front of National again, and personal support for Hipkins escalating. His preferred prime minister ratings were up four points to 27 per cent, while rival Christopher Luxon’s were down five points to just 17 per cent.

The poll also asked the public what issue would most likely influence their vote, and 48 per cent chose “cost of living”, way ahead of climate change on only 12 per cent. This is in line with the recent Ipsos poll, which showed that a record 65 per cent believed that cost of living is the top issue for the country at the moment.

Bread and butter burn off

The poll boost came after Hipkins announced yet another policy bonfire, in which unpopular and difficult pet policies were jettisoned. This had the Greens complaining and the Act Party giving their endorsement to the burnoff. This will only reinforce to Labour that they’ve made the right decision strategically.

As with Hipkins’ first policy bonfire last month – which included a big increase in the minimum wage, yesterday’s burn off came with an announcement of a $2bn increase in government payments for lower and middle income New Zealanders.

Herald political editor Claire Trevett explained the two-step announcement like this: “So on the bonfire side there was a raft of transport programmes given the heave-ho, along with plans to try to lower the voting age and clamp down on alcohol sponsorship. On the bread and butter side there was the decision to boost benefits and superannuation by the rate of inflation, rather than the usual adjustment of the average wage.”

Some journalists have characterised this shift as being pitched at “middle New Zealand”, and others as reorientating to more working class parts of the country. As political journalist Richard Harman writes today that the “Hipkins Government looking to do the kind of things that resonate in the Hutt.”

It is clearly about differentiating the Hipkins-led Labour Government from Ardern’s, with Labour finally realising that voters expect action rather than rhetoric. Harman says Hipkins is therefore focused on actually delivering: “His approach is all about taking action; no more excuses, or blaming others or rhetoric, Hipkins is becoming a political action man.”

Hipkins himself explained his approach yesterday: “It’s a focus on making sure that the things that we are doing are deliverable within the timeframes that we’re doing them”.

Stuff political editor Luke Malpass explains the value of this new approach today: “after years of disaster management and a previous prime minister who was high on rhetoric but short on delivery in some key areas – including health, climate and housing – Hipkins’ cheerful concentration on getting rid of stuff people don’t care about or find irritating is refreshing.”

Malpass also paints a picture of Hipkins focusing more on traditional Labour social democratic concerns, including the Prime Minister’s stated focus on “social mobility”: “He is in the older Labour tradition of improvement in people’s lives rather than the more amorphous progressivism… This is an important shift from the Ardern administration which talked a lot about fairness but not much about opportunity or aspiration.”

Room for the Greens to grow

The Green Party is probably having to carefully contain their glee that Labour has given them more space to grow their support amongst liberal voters in places like Grey Lynn and Wellington Central. Labour has effectively said that if you want a greater prioritisation of the environment instead of cost of living issues or the concerns of working class voters, then vote for the Greens.

This provides greater differentiation between the two left parties. And potentially allows the Greens to take up more of Labour’s vote, while Labour wins back working class support from National. Therefore Stuff reports today that “Labour drift into the centre has created room for the Greens and party strategists are working out how to best capitalise on it.”

The Greens are therefore likely to be perversely and secretly happy with Labour’s bonfire of environmental policies. Not surprisingly, Hipkins was able to report that when he met with the Green co-leaders to let them know, “We had a really positive conversation”. Asked about this, James Shaw confirmed that the conversation was “really positive”.

Of course, to the public, the Greens need to communicate their displeasure about Labour dropping their Green-friendly policies. Shaw told the Spinoff’s Toby Manhire, “I’ve been pissed off for a while now. It’s just exasperating and disappointing that we keep making short-term decisions at the expense of the future. It drives me nuts.” Likewise, Chlöe Swarbrick said that Labour’s dropping the alcohol sponsorship reform was an “absolute slap in the face”.

Does the Labour Government believe in anything but pragmatism?

The big problem with Labour’s abandonment of so many of its policies created under Jacinda Ardern’s leadership is that it has little to show for its past five years in power. Labour has had a historic majority under MMP, but don’t seem to want to make use of it to bring about any type of real transformation.

It now looks as if Labour is so purely driven by electoral pragmatism, that it offers nothing substantial for those wanting to see a progressive agenda implemented. Some voters might wonder if Labour is now just a party of the status quo.

Writing today for Newsroom, political editor Jo Moir is scathing, saying “Labour has overtaken National as the party of doing nothing. Both leaders are now in a race to do as little as possible to rock the voter boat right through until the election in October”. She says yesterday’s policy bonfire “was a depressing reminder of how cynical politics can be.”

Moir challenged Hipkins yesterday to name policies that the Labour Government might be remembered for, and he struggled. And as to what his political ambitions for the year are, he said rather honestly, “well, I’m aiming for us to have at least three more years after this where we can do a range of things as well”. In response, Moir sums this up as “the focus is getting back into power.”

She says therefore, the “next seven months won’t be about policy that will progress New Zealand and New Zealanders’ lives but a strategic game of vote winning”, and it’s simply “a fight for the status quo, a fight to not progress or improve, a fight for the worst kind of politics.”

It looks like Hipkins and Labour are outmanoeuvring Luxon and National in their renewed refocus on working class concerns and voters, but without any real progressive policy agenda, they might have trouble mobilising that voter base.

Labour will therefore increasingly face the accusation that they hate the most: you have “sold out”. If Labour is re-elected, having ditched so much of their substantial and distinctive policies, some in the party might find themselves reflecting on Mark 8:36 in the Bible: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

 

Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  

 

Other items of interest and importance today

POLICY BONFIRE, COST OF LIVING FOCUS
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Arch-pragmatist Chris Hipkins is dragging Labour back to the centre – and the left into election contention
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Labour and National scrap it out to do very little
Claire Trevett (Herald): PM Chris Hipkins hits the bonfire and cost-of-living combo – will it do the job? (paywalled)
Richard Harman (Politik): No more time for words; Hipkins becomes action man(paywalled)
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Newshub-Reid Research poll: Kiwis want Superannuation age to stay same as Govt increases rates
Newshub: AM co-host Ryan Bridge rips into Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’ policy bonfire
No Right turn: Labour: We can’t do this
Michael Neilson (Herald): Cost of living: Government’s $2 billion boost to benefit levels, superannuation, PM Chris Hipkins’ ‘bread and butter support’
Luke Malpass, Bridie Witton and Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Chris Hipkins’ policy purge sees Labour set stage for a cost of living election
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): ‘An absolute slap in the face’: Green MPs on Chris Hipkins’ latest policy purge
Adam Pearse (Herald): Prime Minister Chris Hipkins draws ire of Greens with latest policy bonfire, accused of kicking climate action can down the road
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): It’s with some sadness I watched Labour dismiss the ‘Make It 16’ policy
Rachel Sadler (Newshub): National, Greens, ACT criticise Government after it announces policy bonfire
RNZ: Transport Minister Michael Wood says transport cuts are ‘right thing to do’
Herald: Waka Kotahi reviewing state highway speed plan after PM’s handbrake
Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): Unions signal disappointment over Hipkins’ delay to contractor reforms
1News: Pensioners, beneficiaries to get more money in April – PM
Bridie Witton (Stuff): Cost of living: Benefits, including pensions and student allowances, to rise
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Policy purge: Chris Hipkins cuts a swathe of once trumpeted Government projects
RNZ: PM Chris Hipkins announces second ‘reprioritisation’, with $1b in total savings
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Chris Hipkins lights policy bonfire: episode 2 (paywalled)
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Prime Minister Chris Hipkins abandons plan for legislation to lower voting age for general elections
1News: PM’s policy bonfire: Voting age bill, transport schemes ‘reprioritsed’
Adam Pearse (Herald): PM Chris Hipkins’ policy bonfire turns to transport, speed limit changes
: Govt abandons plan to cut speed limits on most state highways

1NEWS KANTAR POLL
Felix Desmarais (1News): Poll: Labour could lead coalition govt, Luxon slumps in PM ratings
1News: Cost of living top of Kiwis’ minds ahead of election – poll
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Labour-Greens ahead in latest political poll, as Hipkins’ popularity continues to rise
Michael Neilson (Herald): Latest poll: Chris Hipkins’ popularity rises, Christopher Luxon tumbles, Greens the big winner

PARLIAMENT
Matthew Hooton (The Australian): ‘Centrist’ PM Chris Hipkins may deliver NZ’s most left wing government ever (paywalled)
Duncan Garner (NBR): Billions spent so why is health and education broken? (paywalled)
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Racist and sexist attacks won’t drive Mahuta out of politics
Luke Malpass (Stuff): Christopher Luxon tests positive for Covid-19
Madeleine Chaman (Spinoff): Fine, I will fight Chlöe Swarbrick

CONSULTANTS AMD CONTRACTORS, PUBLIC SERVICE
Nicolas Lewis, Tom Baker and Russell Prince (Newsroom): The real problem is consultants’ influence, not their cost
Chris Trotter: Pruning The Consultancy Money-Tree
David Burton (Stuff): Why did Maharey get to keep roles when Campbell was pushed out?

COST OF LIVING
1News: Annual food price increase biggest since 1989 – Stats NZ
RNZ: Food prices rise at fastest annual rate in more than 30 years
Annemarie Quill (Stuff): ‘Terrifying’ mortgage hikes and food costs force people into second jobs

BANKS
Rob Stock (Stuff): KPMG bank report shows banks lifting margins despite claiming ‘concern’ for borrowers
Tamsyn Parker (Herald): Record profits: Banks made $7 billion last year – a billion-dollar increase on 2021 (paywalled)
Gareth Vaughan (Interest): KPMG’s annual banking sector review showing profits topping $7 billion likely to add to calls for bank competition probe
Jonathan Mitchell (NBR): Banks bursting with cash, but is a deep dive necessary?(paywalled)
Jenny Ruth (BusinessDesk): There’s a fine political tradition of slamming profits(paywalled)
Jenny Ruth (BusinessDesk): KPMG says banks aren’t making excessive profits(paywalled)
Michael Reddell: Bank failure

EDUCATION
Lee Kenny (Stuff): Backlash as academics warned to remain ‘politically neutral’ ahead of general election
Anna Whyte (Stuff): Where political parties sit on teacher pay and conditions as thousands prepare to strike
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Pay parity ‘unviable’ for some early childhood centres, body says
Gianina Schwanecke (Stuff): Early childhood centres struggle with pay parity for experienced teachers
John Gerritsen (RNZ): There will be 30,000 fewer school-aged children in 2032, ministry predicts
George Heagney (Manawatū Standard): ‘Crying out for help’: Principal says more funding needed to support primary schools
Dave Armstrong (Stuff): You can combat truancy with a stick, you can also use a carrot
1News: Northland school closing as it can’t practise conversion therapy

HEALTH AND DISABILITY
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Health is increasingly shaping up as an issue to win or lose this election
Ian Powell (BusinessDesk): Hand grenade lobbed at Health NZ staff
Jonty Dine (RNZ): Wheelchair users say they are being charged up to four times as much for tickets to events
Ian McCrae (BusinessDesk): Healthcare – the next policy mess that needs to go on Hipkins’ bonfire
Herald Editorial: Have we not learned virus vigilance yet? (paywalled)
1News: Covid-19: Two people in 30s among 22 deaths, 11,544 cases

EXTREME WEATHER, INFRASTRUCTURE, CLIMATE CHANGE
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Nobody To Shoot
Jane Nixon (1News): Residents without wastewater sent portaloos weeks after Auckland floods
1News: State of emergency ends tomorrow in Hawke’s Bay, Tairāwhiti
Rob Stock (Stuff): Banks urged to extend interest-free period on emergency flood and cyclone loans
Michelle McCormick (Stuff): The private sector has to help solve our infrastructure challenge
1News: Coromandel’s SH25A not expected to re-open for ‘9 to 12 months’
1News: Dave Letele calls for PM to visit flood-stricken areas again
Shanti Mathais (Spinoff): What does climate change adaptation actually look like?

LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Tom Hunt (Stuff): $15.1m in ratepayer money for a pedestrian crossing and speed reduction
Cameron Bagrie (BusinessDesk): Ratepayers should brace for a hit to their pockets(paywalled)
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Auckland water prices to rise 9.5 per cent, follows price path approved by the board of directors
1News: Auckland water prices to rise 9.5% from July
Bernard Orsman (Herald): Auckland floods: Auckland Council joins the Government with tightening its belt to pay for storm damage
Barry Curtis (Newsroom): Don’t sell Auckland airport shares – there is an alternative
Simon Wilson (Herald): If Auckland is a ‘city of culture’ why is Wayne Brown cutting the arts budgets? (paywalled)

CENSUS
Chris Marriner (Herald): Census 2023: Why was New Zealand European used instead of Pākehā?
Herald: Te Pāti Māori is counting on a better Māori turnout for Census 2023
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Well done on the census

ECONOMY, BUSINESS, EMPLOYMENT
Liam Dann (Herald): Boom or bust: Does this week’s GDP reveal still matter? (paywalled)
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): Industry transformation? Try harder (paywalled)
Dan Brunskill (Interest): Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash takes aim at poor productivity and wages with Advanced Manufacturing Industry Transformation Plan
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): ‘Let’s talk post-Budget’: Stuart Nash hints at funding for high-tech factories
BusinessDesk: Govt’s depreciation plan for advanced manufacturing (paywalled)
David Schnauer (NBR): New Zealand commerce: owned from offshore (paywalled)
Bay of Plenty Times: Government announces $ 5.1 million investment into four Māori horticulture businesses in the Bay of Plenty
Tema Hemi (Whakaata Māori): Submissions open for Māori Fisheries Amendment bill
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): Downturn warning: Guarantors losing houses over failed business loans
Hannah McQueen (Stuff): Why your property may start to cost you more money soon
Asia Martusia King (RNZ): Why Aotearoa’s strippers are so fired up and standing out
Rob Stock (Stuff): MPs lament lack of courtesy from recruiters after young jobseeker petitions for anti-ghosting law

FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE
Gordon Campbell: On AUKUS and Australia’s decision on nuclear subs
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Govt’s new climate funding plan for Pacific
Dita De Boni (NBR): Unbreak our hearts: More effort required if NZ wants India FTA(paywalled)

MEDIA
Daniel Dunkley (BusinessDesk): $1.6b deficit looms for public broadcasters, board warned
Gavin Ellis: Media employees’ right to voice personal opinions

CRIME, CORRECTIONS
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Stuart Nash says new recruits and gear will keep police on top of crime spike
1News: ACT renews calls for youth offenders to wear ankle bracelets

TRANSPORT
Andrea Fox (Herald): Cook Strait ferry troubles: KiwiRail stuck with ageing Interislander fleet until 2025 (paywalled)
Len Gillman (Herald): Why NZ should lower motorway speed limits for SUVs and other high-emission vehicles

OTHER
Claudia Orange (E-Tangata): The role of the Treaty today
Denis O’Reilly (E-Tangata): The obligation of citizenship
Philip Matthews (Stuff): Chasing the conspiracy: The long history of racism and extremism in New Zealand
1News: Online hate towards Muslims ‘increasing’ since mosque attacks
RNZ: For victims and their families, there are still lingering questions about the Christchurch terrorist attack
Sam Olley (RNZ): Ngāpuhi parents take Julian Batchelor to task after his calls for co-governance to be ‘expunged’
Angela Barnet (Spinoff): Is ageism the last acceptable bastion of workplace prejudice?
Damien Venuto (Herald): The Front Page: The massive gap in New Zealand’s arts funding
Jody O’Callaghan (Stuff): Hopes demolition of Linwood Mosque this month will relieve some trauma
Hanna McCallum (Stuff): Another conspiracy group’: British anti-trans rights activist plans stop in Aotearoa as part of global tour
Geraden Cann (Stuff): Top-end suburbs see house prices fall by $300,000 or more