Just a few weeks ago, the general election looked set to be a contest between Andrew Little and Bill English: battle of the grey bores! The only question was which camp Winston Peters would choose. Well, what a turnaround! The election campaign has been a rollercoaster.
On 16 June, in a speech at a Green Party policy launch, co-leader Metiria Turei blasted into the open the disgrace of the punitive and inadequate welfare system. Her confession that she over-claimed benefit in the 1990s while a solo mother lit the blue touch paper. At first this did no harm to the Greens’ popularity; in fact, the first opinion poll taken after Turei’s speech recorded support edging up to 15 percent.
At the same time that the Greens were in the limelight for standing up against poverty, Labour had a slump in poll ratings, including their own polling contractors recording only 23 percent support. On 1 August Andrew Little resigned and Jacinda Ardern was voted in as Leader by Labour’s caucus. Meanwhile, sensing blood, the media pursued Metiria Turei’s benefit fraud confession relentlessly. All parties joined in the witch hunt. Ardern fired a dart on 4 August when she ruled out Metiria Turei serving under her in a Labour-led cabinet. Then on 7 August Turei was stabbed in the back by two Green MPs from the right of the party. On the 9th Turei, defeated, stood down as Green co-leader and from the party list. The first poll taken after this turmoil recorded a meltdown of the Green’s support to 4.3 percent. The same poll gave Labour’s support at 37 percent, their best score for years: Jacindamania was confirmed. National had been smugly making jibes at the left parties’ leadership woes, but it was they who suffered next when on 21 August, without so much as a by your leave, Peter Dunne, a National support partner, threw in the towel.
Labour’s change of leader has worked. It is not just opinion polls that say this. Labour supporters are turning out in numbers for Jacinda Ardern rallies: well over two thousand in Central Auckland, 1,400 in Christchurch, and hundreds at Dunedin and in South Auckland, all in one week. These rallies, and countless media interviews with the public, testify to an important development: a lot of working-class people have become imbued with hope. It is as if people’s long-suppressed desires for better public services, a better life, are bursting into the open. There is a belief that, just maybe, Labour could do it. This is a far better state of affairs than the glum resignation that prevailed before. Jacindamania is an expression of working-class hope and is to be welcomed by all socialists. People want National out; we want National out. People want the reforms Labour are offering; we want them too. The new mood is one that can be tapped by revolutionaries as well as the Labour reformists.
Of course, we in the International Socialist Organisation know that Jacinda Ardern’s elevation to Labour’s leadership has made no real difference to the party’s policy. If anything, Ardern is more a Blairite ‘Third Way’ politician than Little. It remains our duty to warn workers and students that Labour cannot be trusted to deliver on its election promises and that an Ardern-led government will be pro-capitalist. However, these warnings are not our opening remarks; they are conclusions to detailed arguments. The immediate task for the ISO is to participate in the election and share in the effort to get a Labour-led government using our ‘Kick National Out’ material. We have to earn the right to be listened to.
It may be that Winston Peters will be in the position of kingmaker after the election, but who knows? With polls having gone up and down like yo-yos, only the brave will predict the result. With a whole month to go (at the time of writing), the contest is wide open. The best outcome we can hope for, and a very real possibility, is a Labour-Green administration. These two parties have racked up so many election promises that they would have a hard job to explain away why they cannot be delivered if they have a parliamentary majority. If Labour does a deal with Winston Peters they will have more of an alibi for failing to implement reforms. Indeed, this is why there is a danger that Labour might ditch the Greens and do a deal with New Zealand First instead. However, that speculation is for after Election Day.
The main thing at present is that hope is out there. Let’s look forward to the working class using its vote to sweep away National Party government on 23 September. Getting rid of National is but a first step, but one that may just herald a revival of workers’ confidence. If a Labour-led government is elected revolutionary socialists will face new challenges, and that is an exciting prospect.