Magazine article New Zealand Management

Labour's Love Not Lost

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Labour's Love Not Lost

Article excerpt

Labour parties face a special challenge which conservative parties are usually spared: how to stay in government and keep alive the reason for wanting to be there.

British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair put it this way in his recovery speech at his party s recent annual conference: Up to now there has been a ritual to Labour governments, Euphoria on victory. Hard slog in government: Tough times. Party accuses leadership of betrayal. Leadership accuses party of ingratitude. Disillusion. Defeat. Long period of Tory government before next outbreak of euphoria.

"For too many of our 100 years we have been a well-intentioned pressure group ... Our psychology has been that of people who know, deep down, someone else is the governing party and we are the ones championing the grievance."

Snap: the score here from 1949-99 was 38-12 to National.

So commentators are on alert for the break point, the moment Labour's governing leadership comes adrift from its rank and file and the slide to defeat begins.

One left-wing commentator thought he had found it in the Labour council's resolution in September backing the Greens' firmer stance on the Gambling Act that ministers had agreed with United Future. He recalled the great fissure of 1989, when New Labour broke with Labour over its economic reforms.

There is also evidence some Labour activists, particularly middle-class urban liberals, sympathise with the Greens' absolutist stance against genetic modification.

So will Labour's conference this month become a bitch session?

First, note Blair's particular plight. A majority thought he told lies over Iraq and said it didn't trust him. The Tories got ahead in the polls. The great majority of his party, some heavyweights included, deplored the Iraq adventure as apostasy--nearly as great as David Lange's on the economy ha the 1980s. But also note that Blair got a seven-minute standing ovation--plus one on his arrival and frequent applause while he spoke.

Lange would have given a political arm and leg for that in his second term. His 1987 conference, after a thumping electoral victory, was a battlefield. While he and his ministers were embarking on a second term in office, Labour party activists were re-entering opposition. Just as Blair depicted.

Third, note the difference between Helen Clark and Blair and Lange. …

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