The problem

I had this big long post written out about the many, many issues I have with David Shearer’s speech: the constant buying into rightwing rhetoric and language, the illogical little anecdotes, the poor writing …

But all of that is actually beside the point, the core, the one big reason I cannot get behind David Shearer’s leadership, cannot stop criticising him, cannot stop being a terrible undermining everything-that’s-wrong-with-bloggers person.

Throughout his speech, David Shearer makes it very clear that Labour supports a specific type of New Zealander:  the employed New Zealander (secret code:  “hardworking”).

You think, “duh, it’s the Labour party!” and sure, you have a superficial point there.  But strategically, this is a really stupid thing for Labour to do.

There are a large number of voters who probably completely agree with Shearer’s dogwhistles – that paid work is the only valuable work, that you need to prove you’ve worked hard to deserve social support.  Those people are voting for National, because National offers them tax cuts – hey, you’re so hardworking, why should you pay for lazy teenagers who have a bazillion kids?

They’re not going to buy Shearer’s line because it’s still got a thin facade of leftwing policy.  If they don’t want their hard-earned money supporting DPB teens, why would they want it to go to helping lazy yuppies who can’t save a big enough deposit get a first home?  What about their first home?

They see Shearer’s dogwhistles and say “that’s good … but are you going to give me tax cuts?  Why should I have to pay taxes so other people can get houses?  I could use that tax money to buy my own house, with a nice little linen cupboard to keep all my bootstraps in!”

Then there’s the voters who realise that life and happiness are about more than being a good little productive economic unit, who believe that helping the worst-off benefits the whole.

They see Shearer’s dogwhistles and think “this is not a party of compassion.  This is not a party which cares about the welfare of society.  This is not a party which will protect the vulnerable – including workers – once they’ve been thrown on the scrapheap.  Sure, there’s a thin leftwing facade there, but what are you offering that’s substantively different to National’s approach?  Why would I vote for that when I could help the Greens or Mana have a real influence on you if you do recover before election 2014?”

And to both sides, the approach screams dishonesty.  Hang on, say the first group, if you agree that work is awesome and non-workers are scum, why aren’t you supporting National’s moves to reform welfare?  Why are your supporters declaring that you’re a fantastic social democrat Jesus?

The second group say, “if you really are a fantastic social democrat Jesus, why are you constantly using language to reassure the conservatives that really you hate the beneficiary menace too?”

Even ignoring my personal beliefs on the matter, this strategy does not strike me as good politics.  It’s not really working for anyone.  It’s not really giving a clear picture of either what David Shearer and Labour really stand for, or what they want us to think they stand for.  And to me, that leads to one conclusion:  they still just stand for saying whatever it is they think will get them elected and preserve their shiny Parliamentary pay packets.

That’s the problem.

ETA:  Just saying stole my thoughts and expressed them far more clearly; DPF unsurprisingly nails the scorn deserving of Shearer’s autocue use


This post isn’t getting cross-posted to The Standard, because I’m seriously bored with Shearer supporters

(a) acting like the kind of mealy-mouthed crap he delivered on Sunday is AMAZING ASPIRATIONAL DIRECTION-SETTING GODLIKE ORATORY

(b) acting like criticisms like mine are the real reason Labour’s polling 31%


  1. Tracey

    I’ve tried to “get” why Shearer is the man to lead Labour back to the government benches. I even thought he would make a good leader. However he has turned out to be nothing like I expected. He’s turned out to be, well, nothing.

    Key’s potshots today spoke volumes, National were scared of a Cunnliffe led Labour Party, imo.

  2. peterlepaysan

    i hate to be trite but the elephant thingy is that fuck all turned out to vote for labour in the last two elections.

    What the hell have the caucus cabal done to address that pachyderm?

    San fairy ann.

    • QoT

      I guess the answer’s obvious: trying to figure out why all those Labour voters stayed home would have involved self-reflection. Figuring out why other Labour voters voted National is easy: “John Key is the great hypnotic Satan”.

  3. Tamara

    You’ve nailed it here QOT. I’m in the second group of course. Greens’ latest housing policy looks pretty good.

  4. weka

    It does leave me very curious as to how the GP is going to manage this once in govt with the ABCs (or even pre-election). And it’s very hard to see where Labour should go from here. Obviously there are still good people in the organisation, but hard to know what their options are. The idea of them having to make the best of it makes me cringe 😦 And fucks me off no end when the GP deserves so much better in terms of a coalition partner.

    • QoT

      I’ve always hoped that the Greens get big enough (or, these days, the combo of Mana/Greens gets big enough) that Labour is basically forced to be the party it should be. This is where Peter Dunne and Winston Peters have probably done a lot of damage to Labour in terms of its leftwing cred.

  5. Bill

    I guess the only point I question is the one being made about the reaction to Labour’s housing policy. Many of those who don’t want “their hard-earned money supporting DPB teens” are the “lazy yuppies” or their parents. And on the premise they “can’t save a big enough deposit get a first home”, well…Labour has just stepped in to help these deserving souls. – Y’know, as David says :- “A Government that says: you do your bit, we’ll do ours. That’s what a Labour Government will do. That’s what a government I lead will do.”

    • QoT

      Actually, Bill, Labour’s policy doesn’t help those people at all, since KiwiBuild still requires you to be able to get a standard mortgage, unlike the Greens’ progressive ownership policy.

      If you want to see examples of exactly the kind of response I mentioned, I recommend every comment thread on the topic just after the Labour conference, including at The Standard.

  6. crazy

    its all well and good pointing out a problem, but if you cant come up with at least one solution then there is a larger problem here…

    • QoT

      crazy, I’ve provided plenty of suggestions for David Shearer and the Labour Party in my past posts. But I understand that actually looking at those would have taken up too much of your precious time, and all you really wanted to do was to make a drive-by derail which tries to write off my opinion as worthless.

  7. Frank Macskasy

    “Sure, there’s a thin leftwing facade there, but what are you offering that’s substantively different to National’s approach? Why would I vote for that when I could help the Greens or Mana have a real influence on you if you do recover before election 2014?”

    Nailed it.

    MMP did to politics what economic de-regulation did to the shelves of suprermarkets – gave us more stuff to choose from (and no, that’s not an endorsement of de-regulation). Which means that the voter can look at the labels on the Labour tins; Green tins; Mana tins, and vote accordingly.

    By contrast, National party supporters have the choice of…

    Act/John Banks? Oh yeaaaaah… *laffs my head off*

    Colin “I-can-be-gay-if-I-want-to/All-women-are-sluts” Craig? *snigger*

    Yeah, the Right is ‘spoiled’ for choices; one big pumpkin and a couple of little rotten potatoes…

    If one wanted to be cynical, you could look at it this way; Labour uses ‘code’ to draw off the fickle Middle Class swing vote from the Nats; Greens pick up the left and progressive middle class vote; and Mana attracts the left/hard left who otherwise wouldn’t bother.

    Only NZ First is the “wild card” – remember 11 December 1996?

    And Peters has also backtracked on one issue in Parliament…

    Whichever way we look at it, barring some unforeseen incident (another natural disaster; “terrorist” attack; unemployment halving, etc) – I think we can look forward to a change in guvmint in 2014, if not earlier.