So, what does it all mean, and where to from here? Of course polls in New Zealand are notoriously unstable: fluctuations even from week to week are well-known, and the sample sizes often do not justify any meaningful statistical interpretation of the result. Über-partisan interpretations and hackish wank-fests often characterise the publication of one of the major polls. I think it’s important to separate all of this out from the rose-tinted commentary and critically evaluate what it will mean for the Left to lead a decisive and strong government from 2014 onwards.
Firstly, it’s pretty easy to make generic comments about the Rise of the Greens or the fact that Labour is making strides because it is (finally) coming out with some agenda-setting, radical policy. Unfortunately this theory has the drawback of being a little wrong. Why must every policy fluctuation be an indictment on Labour and the Left’s ability or otherwise to show a “radical” face to the public?
The problem is that people underestimate the intelligence of voters. Sure, they voted en masse for Key and National, but we have a lot to answer for ourselves in that respect. We know ourselves that our policy will make some wholesale and meaningful changes to the dominant neoliberal paradigm, but at the same time it is sensible, responsible, and it is the change that New Zealand desperately needs. So why do we say one thing amongst ourselves and another to the voters? It’s disingenuous and a little insulting, to be frank. National’s sell-and-burn brand of neoliberalism is at worst mildly unpopular with Kiwis precisely because it is sold as the pragmatic solution to our nation’s problems.
Why must we hamstring our own parties, the ones with the real pragmatic, fair, and effective solutions, by selling ourselves short? New Zealand voters have been only burnt by radicalism in the past 30 years, and no party has yet earned the trust, so to speak, to try a path that is radical again. Is it possible to paint the admittedly bold changes Labour and the Left want to make to New Zealand’s future trajectory in a light that emphasises how well-planned and necessary they are? Of course, but finding the right message won’t be easy. And that, above all, is the challenge that lies ahead.