Greens not hot on Goff’s apologies

by Jake Quinn

It’s funny watching the Greens (and many on the left) get their knickers in a twist over Phil Goff’s apologising for the ‘nanny-state-isms’ of the last Labour government. They say in bowing to pressure and conceding defeat over light bulbs and shower heads that Goff is handing victory to the right. Jeanette has an open letter to Phil Goff.  She says “Even using their term, “nanny state” fails politics 101 – never repeat your opponent’s terms of abuse.”

Phil’s actions could be an exception to the rule in this case. If you asked the tens of thousands of voters who abandoned Labour at the 2008 election why they didn’t vote for Labour most would answer in one of two ways: Either the “it’s time for a change” line, or the “Labour got too nanny state” one.  So the nanny state argument, a brutally successful tool devised by National, was won on election night.

So how do you come back from that? Do you pretend that the sentiment didn’t exist and keep trying to argue the merits of your initial position? Or do you say, bugger it, maybe we should have incentivised those energy efficient products rather than trying to ban the alternatives.

Sometimes in politics you have to concede defeat. Yes water efficient shower heads are a bloody good idea, especially if you can’t even tell the difference because of how well they’re designed. And yes, efficient bulbs are a bloody good idea too; they save money, power and with the newer flashier ones coming though, you can get the orange-light-effect so many people love about the old ones.

But, a ban is a ban is a ban. And when you’re party is on the ropes for banning too many things, you’re a fool to throw petrol on the fire (as Labour ending up doing).

So when you do, it is the right thing to do to man up and say sorry. Not sorry because the light bulbs or shower heads are crap, but sorry because it was stupid to try and force them on people sick to death of being told what to do. They should have instead just heavily subsided the things, requiring no ban, and people would have lapped them up.

All in all the Greens will be feeling pretty positive about the new niche they can now fill. With Labour hunting the working class tradition left ‘Waitakere man‘ vote, the urban liberal is free to flirt with Met and the Sues’. And in the end, if it works for Labour and they summon back some of those voting blokes they lost, (while the Greens pick up some of Labour’s more liberal academic types) it’s all about more votes for the left.

Update: head here for an interesting analysis of events by former senior advisor to Helen Clark, Rob Salmond (Like his former boss, Rob is now based in the US). Rob has a simple message for Labour’s top brass: Keep it simple.

Phil is right: Labour’s message needs to be simple and clear. By 2011, everyone needs to know that Labour is for improving quality of life for all in New Zealand by pushing lower-level living standards higher. Full stop. Elections are won with a very small number of clear and well-developed ideas, not with a plethora of ideas in various stages of development. Floating very public trial balloons about exciting things like the legal threshold for party representation undermines that clear and simple message.

So what should Labour say now? How about: “MMP can of course be modified, and we can talk about that later. But in order to improve MMP first you need to keep MMP, which the people will decide on soon. Labour’s focus is not on the electoral system right now. It is on improving quality of life for all New Zealanders…”